Utah, again, passes the first new anti-LGBTQ law of the year

If the past two years are any indication, the Utah State Legislature and the governor’s office have a new “Utah Way.” This year and last, legislators pushed through anti-transgender bills within the first few days of the session, and the governor immediately signed them into law. The move limits the amount of discussion, and bad press, that these message bills produce.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, signed House Bill 257 into law, effectively restricting transgender individuals from using restrooms aligning with their gender identity in public schools and government-owned buildings. This move makes Utah the first state this year to enact such legislation, drawing condemnation from LGBTQ+ advocates.

Under the newly enacted law, “sex” is defined by a person’s genitalia.

The law reads: “‘Female’ means the characteristic of an individual whose biological reproductive system is of the general type that functions in a way that could produce ova,” and “‘Male’ means the characteristic of an individual whose biological reproductive system is of the general type that functions to fertilize the ova of a female.”

For a transgender person to use the facilities of their gender, the bill requires them to have, “legally amended the individual’s birth certificate to correspond with the sex designation of the changing room,” and have “undergone a primary sex characteristic surgical procedure … to correspond with the sex designation of the changing room.”

A primary sex characteristic surgical procedure is defined in Utah law as: “for an individual whose biological sex at birth is male, castration, orchiectomy, penectomy, vaginoplasty, or vulvoplasty;” and “for an individual whose biological sex at birth is female, hysterectomy, oophorectomy, metoidioplasty, or phalloplasty.”

Such procedures are extremely expensive and can be dangerous, and not all transgender people necessarily want to go through them.

The legislation imposes criminal penalties on transgender individuals found using facilities incongruent with their assigned sex, deepening fears of discrimination and marginalization within the community.

Cox defended the bill, saying its aim to bolster privacy protections for all individuals using public facilities. Opponents argue that the law unfairly targets transgender people, exacerbating existing stigma and exposing them to heightened risks of violence and harassment.

Critics have raised concerns about the potential repercussions of the legislation, particularly its impact on transgender students. The law mandates local school districts to establish “privacy plans” for transgender students, which some fear could inadvertently disclose their gender identity and subject them to further scrutiny and ostracization.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah vehemently opposed the legislation, denouncing it as discriminatory and urged the governor to veto the bill. Brittney Nystrom, Executive Director of the ACLU of Utah, emphasized that the law would only serve to increase surveillance and discrimination against transgender individuals going about their daily lives.

The Human Rights Campaign wrote a statement saying, “This bill is an invasion of the privacy of Utahns. No student should be denied access to the bathroom that aligns with who they are. No one should fear harassment in the most private of settings. Period,” said HRC President Kelley Robinson. “Unfortunately, we are already seeing similar types of bathroom bans–bans that are reminiscent of the infamous HB2 in North Carolina — introduced across the country. These escalating national attacks on the humanity of transgender people, from assaults on medical freedom in Ohio to this assault on access to bathrooms and other facilities in Utah, are an affront to American values. The American people will not stand for this invasion into our basic freedoms; they will speak up at state legislatures across the country and, if they are ignored, at ballot boxes in November.”

Sue Robbins, who serves on Equality Utah’s Transgender Advisory Council, has fears the new law will lead to problems as people walk into public restrooms, regardless of their gender identity.

“People are going to challenge each other based on what they view their femininity and their masculinity is,” she told FOX 13 News. “We are creating a mechanism where we’re having citizens challenge each other based on perceived issues that don’t actually exist.”

Indeed, School Board member Natalie Cline launched her political base into a frenzy when she misgendered a high school athlete on her social media page. (See the story on Cline in the news section.)

In defense of the bill, Utah Republican Representative Kera Birkeland, the primary sponsor, argued that it was necessary to safeguard women and children from potential harm. However, critics point out that transgender individuals are statistically more vulnerable to violent victimization, including rape and assault, underscoring the urgent need for measures that prioritize their safety and inclusion.

The enactment of House Bill 257 in Utah has ignited a fierce debate over transgender rights and equality, highlighting the ongoing challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in securing basic rights and protections. As advocacy groups vow to continue their fight against discriminatory legislation, the implications of Utah’s move reverberate beyond its borders, shaping the national discourse on LGBTQ+ rights and equality.

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