Utah families file lawsuit challenging ban on transgender girls playing school sports

Two Utah families filed a legal challenge in Utah state court Tuesday against House Bill 11, which prohibits transgender girls from competing in school sports.

The law, which the Legislature enacted over Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto, singles out transgender girls in order to exclude them from girls’ sports. It bars every transgender girl from competing on a girls’ team regardless of her medical care or individual circumstances.

The students included in the challenge are transgender girls who are current public-school students, love sports, and want to participate in sports with other girls. The families of these children are proceeding anonymously to protect their children. They include Jenny Roe, a 16-year-old high school junior who wants to play volleyball her senior year and Jane Noe, a 13-year-old swimmer. If HB11 is allowed to go into effect, these children will be barred from playing the sports they love.

“My last season playing volleyball was one of the best times of my life. I loved my teammates, felt part of something bigger than myself, and finally had a way to socialize with friends after being cooped up during the pandemic, Jenny Roe said. “This law devastated me. I just want to play on a team like any other kid.”

“It feels like an attack on our family,” Jenny’s mother, Debbie Roe added. “Parents want their kids to be happy and to be surrounded by people who love and nurture them. This law does the opposite — it tells my daughter that she doesn’t belong and that she is unworthy of having the same opportunities as other students at her school.”

“As parents, we want our children to be healthy and happy,” said Jean Noe, mother of 13-year-old Jane Noe. “My husband and I love Utah and our children have benefited from living here. This law changes all of that and we are having serious conversations, for the first time, about whether we can stay here. It is deeply unsettling that the state would want to strip our child of the love and support she has received from her teammates, coaches, and entire sports community.”

“This law bans transgender girls from competing with other girls in every sport, at every grade level, and regardless of each girl’s individual circumstances,” said Justice Christine Durham, former Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court and senior of counsel at Wilson Sonsini. “It cannot survive constitutional scrutiny and it endangers transgender children.”

By singling out transgender girls for disfavored treatment, the children and their families allege, HB11 violates multiple provisions of the Utah Constitution.

HB11 is one of hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills pushed in state legislatures across the country in 2022. Health care organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have opposed such legislation, as has the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

Prior to the passage of HB11, the Utah High School Activities Association had guidelines governing the participation of transgender students in school sports. UHSAA provided information during the legislative session that only four transgender students had even used their process and that they had not had any complaints from students, families, or school administrators. Of the 75,000 students who play high school sports in Utah, only four are transgender and only one had played on a girls’ team.

HB11 sponsor Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan wrote in a statement that the bill was aimed at protecting girls’ sports.

“The lawsuit filed today is not surprising, as such actions have been threatened since the beginning. My goal has always been to protect girls sports and female athletes across the state and I hope the courts will recognize that and uphold the legislation,” Birkeland wrote.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, bypassed all standard legislative procedures on the final day of the session and was able to pass an all-out ban on transgender girls in school sports. The original version of the bill proposed by Birkeland sought to create a commission to decide if each child can play — a proposal that will still take effect if the ban gets halted.

“HB11 is trying to protect two things: safety and the integrity of competition,” McCay said in a statement. “It is our responsibility as lawmakers to pass legislation that ensures women still have a place in their sport. HB11 does just that. At times, litigation is part of the process, and we will work within the legal system to get answers.”

Utah Sen. Curt Bramble wrote that if the lawsuit is successful against HB11, a second part of the bill “puts Utah ahead of the curve by creating an unbiased, data-driven commission, continuing to protect female athletes.”

“All kids deserve fair opportunities,” Bramble said, “however, we must acknowledge the fact that biological boys and girls are built differently. HB11 doesn’t prevent athletes from competing as they can still compete against their same biological gender. The intention of HB11 is to preserve women’s sports and protect future athletic opportunities.”

The suit states that HB11 “is based on unfounded stereotypes, fears, and misconceptions about girls
who are transgender. It is not supported by medical or scientific evidence,” and that if HB11 goes into effect, the girls will “be denied an equal opportunity to play school sports on the same terms as other girls. The Ban stigmatizes and discriminates against Plaintiffs because they are transgender girls, singles them out for less favorable treatment than other girls, denies them equal educational opportunities, and subjects them to serious adverse effects on their physical and mental health.”

The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Utah, the National Center for Lesbian Rights,
and the firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

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