Sporting a referees’ jersey, which normally symbolizes neutrality and fairness, Utah state Rep. Kera Birkeland introduced House Resolution 3 to “recognize the exemplary service of Donovan Mitchell to the Utah Jazz” and even “suggests consideration of making the ‘Spida’ the official state arachnid.”
Eight Days later, Birkeland filed House Bill 302, which would ban transgender girls from participating in female sports at the public-school level. The de facto argument for supporting HB302 is to protect cis-girls from perceived physical advantages trans-girls must inherently possess. While this argument may initially seem intuitively and instinctively instructive to most, it deserves a more in-depth and multiple-perspective review to understand its destructive nature.
Historically, similar arguments were made during the Civil Rights Era in blocking attempts to integrate public school sports by weaponizing the natural talent myth of Black athletes and suggesting opportunities for white athletes would be wrestled away from their black counterparts.
Even in 1988, then CBS Sports commentator, Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder, in an interview on Martin Luther King Day, stated, “The Black is a better athlete to begin with, because he’s been bred that way. Because of his high thighs that go up into his back. And they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs. This all goes back to the Civil War, when, during the slave trading, the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he would have a big black kid. That’s where it all started.”
He goes on with a slippery slope argument, “They’ve (Blacks) got everything; if they take over coaching like everybody wants them to, there’s not going to be anything left for white people.”
Similarly, making a blanket yet unempirical argument that transgender girls have an unfair advantage over cis-girls exposes the slippery slope argument fallacy. Instead of reviewing what measures are currently in place to ensure equity and fairness in sports, it uses an unfounded fear that trans-girl athletes will devour all opportunities for cis-girl athletes.
The Utah High School Athletics Association already has rules in place allowing transgender athletes to compete. They specifically state that female-to-male trans athletes can complete immediately in their sport. Male-to-female athletes need to be on hormones (estrogen) for at least one year prior to competing and must live their lives as a female identity. Currently, there has not been even one complaint filed by a female athlete that they lost a spot on a team to a transgender athlete.
The Olympics have allowed transgender athletes to complete with no restrictions since 2016 and yet cis-gender women continue to dominate in every women’s Olympic sport. The U.S. Tennis Association has allowed transgender women to compete since 1975 and we have yet to see any domination of the sport by trans women.
The NCAA strongly endorses allowing trans women to compete in sports and has issued a 38 page handbook on best practices for including transgender student athletes. Incidentally, of the 480,000 athletes competing in the NCAA there are approximately 150 to 200 trans athletes, or less than one half of one tenth of a percent.
If HB302 passes, it will likely meet the same fate as its Idaho counterpart did in less than six weeks after its implementation. District Court Judge David C. Nye, a Brigham Young University law school graduate, granted preliminary injunction against the law, and barred enforcement of the law pending appeal. Nye granted the preliminary injunction concluding that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail in their appeals.
In the meantime, only additional harm can occur. First and foremost, transgender youth in Utah remain at extremely high risk for suicide. According to a national survey on LGBTQ youth mental health, 52% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported that they’d seriously considered suicide within the past year (Trevor Project, 2020).
The NBA took its All-Star game away from Charlotte in 2016 when they passed their trans-bathroom law. It would not only be ironic but Shakespearean that the author of HR3, intended to honor Donovan Mitchell, deprives Utah from hosting Utah’s NBA All-Star game scheduled for 2023.
Instead, I encourage Rep. Birkeland, the Utah Legislature and Gov. Spencer Cox to don their referee jerseys to adjudicate non-discrimination and inclusion for all of Utah’s athletes.
Max Chang, Millcreek, is a community leader advocating the equity, diversity and inclusion in both the arts and education.