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Judge blocks Utah ban on transgender girls in school sports as case proceeds; legislature’s backup plan goes into effect

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A Utah judge granted a motion for a preliminary injunction on Utah’s law banning transgender girls from competing in school sports, stopping the controversial ban from being enforced as the case is heard. A second provision in the law that requires transgender girls to go through an approval process that includes physical measurements will now go into effect.

Third District Court Judge Keith Kelly ruled that the state’s ban would harm transgender girls by blocking them from competing.

“The ban singles out transgender girls and categorically bars them from competing on girls’ sports teams,” he wrote. “At the same time, other girls are free to compete. This is plainly unfavorable treatment.”

“Both a plain reading of the Ban and relevant case law demonstrate that the legislation classifies individuals based on transgender status and, therefore, on sex. The bill discriminates against transgender girls by providing that for purposes of school sports, a student’s sex is based on an ‘individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth,’” he wrote.

The ruling is at least a temporary win for transgender girls and advocates and possibly an indicator of how the judge may ultimately rule in the case.

“The Court finds that there is a substantial likelihood that the Plaintiffs will prevail on the merits of their claim under Article I, section 24 of the Utah Constitution,” the judge wrote.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed in early June in Utah by the families of three transgender girls in response to Utah’s HB 11, which banned transgender athletes from competing in school sports that match their gender identities.

The complaint was filed in the 3rd District Court by the ACLU of Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, alleging the ban is discriminatory against the girls because they are transgender and denies equal opportunity for sports participation.

The lawsuit says that the law, by singling out transgender girls for disfavored treatment HB 11 violates multiple provisions of the Utah Constitution. 

As the fate of the outright ban is decided in courts, a backup section of the law requires a commission to determine on a case-by-case basis whether a transgender girl can compete in their school’s sports. The girls would be subjected to an evaluation that might include their wingspan, weight, and height to determine if they might have an unfair advantage.

“Today, we celebrate that harm was presented to Judge Kelly, and he concurs that the law ‘treats transgender girls less favorably than other girls,’” said transgender advocate Sue Robbins. “Tomorrow, we will start working on the commission, as we were in discussions on it and the issues with the commission and its make-up when the ban was added and took all the attention away from the issues. We certainly have more work ahead of us, but the affirmation that transgender youth have rights and are harmed by exclusion is huge, and we celebrate this recognition.”

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