Birkeland, McCay bring new anti-transgender bill to the Utah Legislature

In their continuing efforts against the rights of transgender people, Utah Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, and Utah Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, have introduced a bill that aims to restrict access for transgender individuals to restrooms and locker rooms in government-owned facilities. The proposed legislation, known as HB257, also includes provisions requiring taxpayer-funded buildings to provide more unisex or single-occupant restrooms to enhance privacy for all individuals.

Rep. Birkeland, who was a key figure behind a bill passed in the 2022 session restricting transgender girls from participating in high school sports, believes that these measures are essential to clarify restroom usage and ensure maximum privacy. However, previous efforts by lawmakers to address transgender issues have faced criticism from activists who argue that such bills disproportionately target an already vulnerable population.

Equality Utah, an LGBTQ advocacy group, has been engaged in discussions with Birkeland regarding the new bill but remains concerned about certain aspects of the proposed policy.

HB257 meticulously defines both “male” and “female” and prohibits individuals from using restrooms or locker rooms designated for a different gender unless they have legally amended their birth certificate’s sex and undergone a primary sex characteristic surgical procedure aligning with the designated gender of the private space.

“This will be across the board in any government-funded facility,” Birkeland emphasized. “Schools, of course, yes. We want to make sure that in the schools, people understand with clarity where kids should be going, what restrooms they should be using. The most important part of what restroom they should be using is the restroom that gives everybody the most amount of privacy.”

The bill defines an individual’s sex based on biological factors at birth such as reproductive organ anatomy, chromosomal makeup, and endogenous hormone profiles. It seems to draw inspiration from the “Women’s Bill of Rights,” crafted by the conservative-leaning nonprofit Independent Women’s Forum, which seeks to define who can be considered a woman and could potentially impact state laws protecting women.

HB257 also mandates that new public buildings ensure a percentage of toilets and showers are single-occupant facilities. While existing facilities can undergo a 20 percent reduction in restroom fixtures to accommodate more single-occupant spaces, the bill does not set a specific timeline for these conversions.

Birkeland believes that the majority of state-funded facilities already have unisex or single-stall spaces available and anticipates minimal impact on infrastructure if the bill passes.

“I don’t think this will really impact, in any way, the behaviors and actions of anyone because a lot of people who align with the LGBTQ community are already using the single-occupancy bathrooms,” Birkeland told the Deseret News. “What I hope that we can do with this is ensure that the people who are trying to use the pretext of being a member of the LGBTQ community, they can no longer perpetrate on people in these facilities because people will have a greater sense of privacy now.”

Marina Lowe, policy director for Equality Utah, expressed concerns about the bill, stating that it is “too restricting of a bodily function that we all as human beings have to engage in” (using the restroom.) She particularly questioned the enforcement mechanisms outlined in HB257, wondering how individuals violating the rule would be identified and dealt with.

Despite the concerns, Birkeland reassured that using restrooms for “inappropriate purposes” or with harmful intent would be clear violations. She emphasized the importance of taking the issue seriously and outlined penalties for those making false allegations about restroom usage.

Lowe appreciated Birkeland’s approach of promoting more unisex and single-stall facilities rather than outright barring certain individuals from using their preferred restrooms, a tactic seen in bathroom bills from other states.

“This is, generally speaking, a relatively small population of individuals. And to have, year after year, the Legislature sort of focus on increasingly specific aspects of their lives probably doesn’t feel very good,” Lowe commented on the continued scrutiny faced by transgender individuals in the state.

In addition to provisions related to transgender individuals and restroom use, Birkeland’s bill incorporates language similar to the federal Title IX law, aiming to address gender imbalances in educational programs. The bill seeks to make it easier for individuals to lodge complaints when Title IX is violated, with Birkeland expressing a desire for a more responsive Utah government.

Transgender advocate Sue Robbins encouraged people to contact their representatives about the bill.

“Tell the stories of how these bills will harm you or your children,” she said.

As the bill makes its way through the legislative process, it remains to be seen how the proposed measures will impact transgender rights and the ongoing discourse surrounding LGBTQ issues in Utah.

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