Joel Briscoe: The troubling appointment to Utah’s transgender sports eligibility commission

It’s disheartening to see what was initially an opportunity for trans youth to have their voices heard by a panel of experts taking a step backward.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Onlookers fill the gallery of the House Chamber as the Utah Legislature voted to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of HB11, which bars transgender girls from participating in school sports matching their gender identities, in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 25, 2022.

The Utah Speaker of the House is responsible for appointing a “board-certified physician with expertise in gender identity health care” to the Utah School Activity Eligibility Commission. A glaring issue has emerged: The appointed individual doesn’t meet the sole qualification for their role, which is expertise in gender identity health care.

More concerning still, Dr. Paul Hruz has a significant history of misrepresenting their proficiency in gender identity health care, a fact substantiated by multiple judges who’ve rejected his testimony in court due to these misrepresentations. The legislation doesn’t require it, but shouldn’t the physician appointed to make decisions about Utah’s youth be required to practice medicine in Utah?

I voted against HB 11, a bill aiming to restrict transgender participation in sports. Nevertheless, I did appreciate the fact that the bill established the School Activity Eligibility Commission, which allows transgender youth to apply to the commission to be able to participate in Utah High School Activity sponsored sports. Instead of simply telling trans youth, “No, you can’t play,” the commission was touted as an objective group that would weigh the merits of individual students, offering a lifeline for our transgender youth, granting them access to the world of sports, instead of an outright ban.

Engaging in sports is vital for adolescent development, contributing to physical and mental well-being while teaching important life skills such as sportsmanship and teamwork. The commission appeared to be a beacon of hope, a path for trans youth to partake in sports they love.

The primary concern of this commission should be the well-being of our state’s transgender youth when making decisions about school sports participation eligibility. In an arena that’s already highly emotional and impactful, the person appointed as the “board-certified physician with expertise in gender identity health care” should be highly qualified and respected within the medical community. Unfortunately, the Eligibility Commission has been politicized by Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson’s appointment of an out-of-state doctor whose testimony about transgender youth has been thrown out of some U.S. courts. This doctor refuses to treat transgender youth. How can a doctor know anything about the people they refuse to treat?

It’s disheartening to see what was initially an opportunity for trans youth to have their voices heard by a panel of experts taking a step backward. However, this setback must not deter us from our commitment to supporting the transgender community. We must unite with unwavering determination to ensure that transgender individuals are fully recognized and valued as essential members of our community. We must not allow the state to create categories of “others” who are denied an equal opportunity to participate simply because of who they are.

Together, we can work to ensure the commission fulfills its original purpose: to provide an equitable process for transgender youth to participate in sports. I won’t remain silent on this matter until the current doctor is replaced and a physician who commands the respect of the medical community in this field is appointed.

I invite you to take action with me by reaching out to your state representative. You can discover who represents your community by visiting the Legislature’s website. We have a distinctive opportunity on the horizon – the current Speaker’s resignation in November. It’s imperative that you communicate to your state representative that this matter should be a top priority during the election of the new Speaker. They must commit to appointing a qualified doctor. Let’s make this issue our collective focus.

Joel Briscoe

Joel Briscoe serves as the representative of House District 24 in the Utah Legislature. This is his opinion and represents his perspective both as an elected official and as a citizen with more than three decades of residency in his district.

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