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Michelle Deininger: Utah bill to ban transgender athletes is cruel and pointless

Like girls before them, young trans people should not be denied the chance to participate in sports.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the House of Representatives are partitioned by plexiglass as the Utah State Legislature opens the 2021 legislative session at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.

Our eldest dabbled in many sports through elementary school — lacrosse, field hockey, soccer — before settling into a fierce love of softball and what turned out to be enough talent to play first base and rack up an impressive win record for several years.

That ended in ninth grade. He came out, and trans boys can’t play softball. He misses it, and dreams of starting an intramural league in college. He is one among countless examples of transgender students who do not play team sports in Utah.

Despite the fact that there are no transgender student athletes playing any sports in Utah schools currently, the Utah House Education Committee Thursday advanced a bill that would ban trans girls from playing sports from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Never mind that Utah’s economy, pandemic response and infrastructure needs amid exploding population growth — things that affect 100% of Utahns — might be a better use of the Legislature’s time than a bill that will become a lawsuit magnet if passed.

Never mind the taxpayer money that will be spent on those lawsuits, which, given the affirmation of trans rights by the Supreme Court in a 6-3 majority vote last year, would likely end in defeat of a discriminatory law.

Never mind the entirely foreseeable economic hits Utah invites with extremist legislation: Loss of federal funds due to noncompliance with federal laws. Canceled Olympic hosting chances because House Bill 302 runs afoul of International Olympic Committee rules. Canceled companies moving here to hire Utahns. Canceled movie productions that provide jobs.

The worst part of HB302 is the cruel, pre-emptive exclusion of a group of kids from something as simple and cherished as playing sports.

Can we not come up with a more loving solution that honors all children? Wrestling is ordered by weight classes. Levels of play in many sports are determined by qualifiers like speed. Athletes’ bodies already vary so much. There are small football players, short basketball stars, ballet dancers who are not willowy. Serena Williams wins matches while pregnant.

Being born biologically male does not determine athletic superiority. If one could look at an athlete and discern ability or potential, Tom Brady would not have waited through six rounds of the NFL draft before finally being the seventh quarterback drafted when he began his career, becoming the 199th player drafted in 2000.

Parents of cisgender athletes know how sports enrich their children’s lives, by providing community and friends, building strength and health, conferring priceless life lessons about teamwork and resilience, possibly garnering college scholarships. Trans children are worthy of those benefits too.

Rep. Kera Birkeland of Morgan, who sponsored the bill, invoked the frustration of girls and women struggling to play sports decades ago, which resulted in the passage of Title IX in 1972. Others in favor of HB302 passionately recounted the rough road girls have faced to play sports.

Those speakers missed the obvious parallel: Adults who love trans kids are now in the exact same struggle. And before the bitter fight over Title IX was another struggle, involving adults who loved black children and wanted them to have the same education opportunities as white children.

Though HB302′s proponents insisted their position was pro-girl rather than anti-trans, they revealed their bigotry by repeatedly calling trans girls “boys.” The Supreme Court has already begged to differ on that; civil rights rulings have historically not been reversed as time passes.

Despite high turnout and dozens of people waiting to make 60-second comments, public comment ended after less than 45 minutes, leaving many (including myself) unable to participate. A motion to “hold” HB302 to allow more public input was denied.

HB 302 advanced by an 8-6 vote. It goes next to the House for a full vote. The cost of its passage to Utah – reputational, societal and economic – is incalculable.

Michelle Martin Deininger

Michelle Deininger is a former daily newspaper reporter and editor, now a freelance writer living in Park City.

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