An angry Utah parent accused a high school basketball player of being transgender. Will it keep happening?

The angry father was banned from future games; the Utah High School Activities Association has so far not released data on how often such challenges are occurring.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune file photo) In 2022, Clayton Middle School students chanted "Let them play!" while protesting HB11, which bans transgender students from competing in sports. The law is being challenged in court and is on hold; a father in a different school district recently challenged the eligibility of a basketball player he believed to be transgender.

The father of a junior varsity girl’s basketball player confronted the principals of both his daughter’s school and the opposing school a week ago, demanding one of the girls not be allowed to play because he believed she was transgender.

“The upshot was this parent was vocally challenging the eligibility of the player based on his perception of the student-athlete’s gender,” Jeff Haney, spokesperson for Canyons School District, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Both principals assured the parent at the Jan. 19 game that the girl, like her teammates, had uploaded the required birth certificate documenting her age and gender and that “every player on both teams was 100% eligible to be on the court,” Haney said.

The angry parent wasn’t satisfied. After the game, he confronted the principals again and, according to one of the principals, said, “I wasn’t born yesterday, I know that’s a boy and you better be able to prove yourself because I am going to the top.”

He became belligerent enough that they asked him to leave the building, Haney said.

“The principal has made the decision not to allow him to return to any other games,” Haney said. “We do not tolerate people coming into our community and our schools and harassing our student athletes.”

The 17-year-old basketball player told The Tribune Thursday that, while the episode has been stressful she is “just playing basketball as usual and trying not to think about it.” The Tribune is not identifying the player or the schools that played the game, due to her parents’ concerns about her privacy.

Friday’s basketball game was not the first time such an incident has occurred since Utah lawmakers began discussing and passing legislation focused on transgender students. In 2022, The Tribune reported that two parents challenged the gender of a girl who had beaten their children at a track meet. The Utah High School Activities Association investigated, pulling the accused student’s records back to kindergarten, and found that she had always been female.

Other similar incidents have occurred since then, but UHSAA has so far not released data on their frequency.

Marina Lowe, policy director for the LGBTQ-rights group Equality Utah, said the Canyons School District encounter speaks to the climate that has been created in the state since the Legislature has targeted transgender individuals.

The 17-year-old’s father said that, while someone might have the right to ask if players are following the rules, “there’s got to be a line where they trust that the schools and officials are doing their job properly and legally. … You don’t need to waste everybody’s time.”

The players, he said, “should not have to worry about who’s up in the bleachers and who’s pointing fingers. They don’t need to think about that. Just keep them playing ball.”

The girl’s mother said that she hopes people think about “the impact this has on the kids.”

Two years ago, the Legislature enacted a law prohibiting transgender girls from playing girls high school sports. That bill has been blocked in court as a group of student athletes challenge it, contending it violates the Utah Constitution by singling them out because of their gender identity.

As that lawsuit runs its course, the Utah High School Athletics Association policy requires students to upload a birth certificate verifying their gender or, for transgender girls, provide documentation showing they have undergone at least a year of hormone therapy.

Last year, the Legislature banned gender-affirming treatment for minors. The association declined to comment on the latest eligibility challenge at the girls basketball game, citing the pending litigation over the transgender sports policy.

On Friday, the House gave final passage to HB257, which bans transgender Utahns from using the bathrooms or locker rooms of the gender with which they identify in schools or other government buildings. The bill now goes to Gov. Spencer Cox for his signature or veto.

Lowe said she believes the conflict at the basketball game “gives us a preview of what we’re going to see, especially now that we’re putting in place even more legislation that essentially allows the public to sit in a place of judgment or assessment of people’s physical characteristics and whether they’re feminine enough or masculine enough to be in certain spaces.”

Such potential confrontations are most problematic, she said, when they target children.

“This doesn’t just harm the trans community. It really harms us all,” Lowe added. “Because once we get in the business of policing someone’s appearance … all of us are going to be subject to this sort of inquiry potentially.”

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who co-sponsored last year’s ban on transgender athletes and this year’s bathroom legislation, argued the bill is needed to protect women and children. During debate, he read through a list of news articles about cases where young girls were raped, sexually assaulted or accosted by men in bathrooms.

“These are real incidents with real issues related to the wrong gender in the wrong bathroom,” said McCay, who later conceded that none of the perpetrators were identified in the articles as being transgender. “I have four daughters. I’m done with it.”

He acknowledged the bill will likely be challenged in court.

Similar legislation in other states has been struck down by federal appeals courts in two parts of the country and upheld in a third. Legislative attorneys wrote in a legal analysis that “there is a significant risk that a court in Utah could hold unconstitutional any draft that treated a student differently based on their gender or gender identity, but there is no conclusive consensus in cases involving access to restrooms and locker rooms.”

Sen. Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, said he feels the bill is “tiring. It’s unnecessary. It’s the third year in a row we’ve targeted the trans community.” He’s worried, he added, that “the bill is going to [cause someone to] hurt themselves. I’m worried [it will] embolden somebody to hurt someone else.”