SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A ban on transgender athletes playing on girls’ sports teams is being challenged in court in Utah, one of more than a dozen states that have passed similar bans throughout the last two years.
Two anonymous families who sued Tuesday said the ban wrongly keeps their children from playing the sports they love with their friends.
In a lawsuit filed in state court, they argue categorical bans on transgender athletes violate provisions of the state constitution that ensure men and women enjoy equal rights and due process. Similar suits have been filed in states such as Idaho, West Virginia and Indiana.
Utah’s ban is part of a wave of similar bans sweeping statehouses around the country. Supporters say transgender athletes can have a physical advantage and compromise fairness in girls’ sports. Still, there have been almost no cases of potential competitive advantages in K-12 sports in states passing bans, including Utah.
“My last season playing volleyball was one of the best times of my life,” one plaintiff, a 16-year-old high school junior, said in a statement. “I loved my teammates, felt part of something bigger than myself ... I just want to play on a team like any other kid.”
For the Utah lawmakers who sponsored the ban, the lawsuit came as little surprise. The threat of a lawsuit was a subject of discussion throughout the legislative process and informed the way the ban was written.
After observing courts strike down or pause similar bans, Republicans passed a two-pronged law that they said at the time would ensure matters of gender in high school sports would be regulated even if courts intervened.
If courts decide Utah cannot legally implement a ban on transgender athletes, the state will fund lawsuits and convene a commission of politically appointed experts to make eligibility decisions about athletes on a case-by-case basis.
Opponents could still challenge the legality of the commission.
On Tuesday, the ban's proponents said transgender kids can still compete on the teams of their gender assigned at birth.
“The intention of H.B. 11 is to preserve women’s sports and protect future athletic opportunities,” said Republican Sen. Curt Bramble in a statement.
It was passed after state lawmakers overrode a veto from Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, who drew national attention with an emotional plea about how transgender sports bans target kids already at high suicide risk.
The legislation, hastily rewritten in the final hours of the annual session, didn’t originally pass with a veto-proof majority. But several lawmakers changed their votes after hearing from a vocal conservative base that has particular sway during primary season.
As of March, the Utah High School Activities Association knew of only one transgender girl playing in K-12 sports who would be affected by the ban. There have been no allegations of any of the state's four transgender youth athletes in Utah having competitive advantages.
The other plaintiff in the lawsuit is a 13-year-old transgender swimmer. Her mother said in a statement the family loves the state but is seriously considering moving away for the first time.
“It is deeply unsettling that the state would want to strip our child of the love and support she has received from her teammates, coaches, and entire sports community,” the mother said.
Idaho became the first state to ban transgender athletes from playing on female sports teams in 2020. A federal judge blocked that law in court after an athlete sued; it’s now being considered by an appeals court. Several states followed with similar bans, and West Virginia’s ban was challenged in 2021.
Indiana lawmakers overrode a gubernatorial veto there earlier this month and it was quickly challenged by the ACLU.
AP writer Sam Metz contributed reporting.
Lindsay Whitehurst, The Associated Press