The law, which includes a section outlining the ban, went into effect in July after the Republican-led Utah Legislature overruled a veto by Republican Gov. Spencer Cox. Anticipating a possible injunction against the law, Republican lawmakers have mandated the creation of a commission that will determine whether a transgender girl receives an unfair advantage – taking into account the child’s height and weight, for example, when ‘she weighs those decisions.
In granting the preliminary injunction on Friday, Salt Lake City Third Judicial District Court Judge Keith Kelly said attorneys representing the families of the three transgender girls had shown the law had already done harm by “singling them out for a unfavorable treatment as transgender girls”. He added that the injunction allows transgender girls to compete in women’s sports “only when it’s fair”.
The injunction comes two days after the state legislature’s interim education committee asked how the Utah High School Activities Association, the organization that oversees the activities of high schools in the state, is handling the complaints. regarding the participation of transgender students in sports.
David Spatafore, the association’s legislative representative, said he had received a handful of complaints, including some in which parents argued that a “female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough”.
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According to a complaint, a competitor “outclassed” the rest of the field in a state-level women’s competition last year. Subsequently, the parents of the contestants who placed second and third complained to the association, questioning the gender of the winning student.
Spatafore said the charity asked the winning student’s school to investigate and, after reviewing the student’s enrollment records dating back to kindergarten, found that “she had always been a woman”. Spatafore said he did not reveal the student’s sport, classification or school to protect his identity. The association did not inform the family of the offending student.
In a recent phone interview with The Washington Post, Spatafore said issues related to transgender student eligibility were “one of the most critical, one of the most contentious, and one of the most time-consuming in which we have been involved”. especially over the past three years. He said the association began receiving “a handful” of complaints last year, which he suspects were related to the attention given to Lia Thomas, a transgender woman who competed for the team of swimming from the University of Pennsylvania.
“We have been governing high school sports for 75 years. We are not new in this field. But this is a new problem,” Spatafore said. “It has become such a burning issue that we are preparing to receive a number of complaints.”
Of Utah’s 75,000 school sports participants — a total that counts multisport athletes once for each sport they play — only four are transgender, Spatafore said.
The Utah law is part of a spike in policy proposals and codified laws that prevent transgender girls from participating in K-12 athletics. Across the country, 17 other states have passed similar laws, though some are also being challenged in court.
While some proponents of an outright ban have argued that Utah’s law doesn’t go far enough, opponents have said the complaints Spatafore and the UHSAA must investigate are an anticipated effect of those laws.
“It’s not surprising to me,” said University at Buffalo history professor Susan Cahn, whose research focuses on transgender athletes and gender testing of female athletes. “What I think is that not everyone can see is that these laws are also dangerous for cisgender girls and women. [The bills] are often offered as a way to protect girls’ sport and women in sport, but I think it gives new impetus to an old accusation, an old suspicion, which is the belief that a truly gifted person in sport may be a man. And so it undermines the real girls who are now going to be investigated, whether they’re trans or not.
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Suspicions about the gender of some athletes go back decades.
In the 1940s, female athletes had to bring medical “femininity certificates” to prove their sex before international competitions. In 1966, the International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body of international athletics, required female athletes to submit to a gender test known as a “naked parade”, in which their bodies – especially their genitals – were inspected. Complaints about this practice led to chromosomal testing and, later, DNA testing. The IAAF ended mandatory gender testing in 1991 and the International Olympic Committee ended the practice in 1999.
This history and current reality explain why Cahn views laws such as the one blocked in Utah as part of a larger campaign to restrict women’s rights.
“It’s a step on a path that conservatives have been developing for a long time now,” Cahn said. “It just seems like they’ve figured out that anti-trans stuff sticks more than anti-gay legislation. I think the anti-trans stuff is politically more powerful, and it’s part of a larger project to restore what I see as a male-dominated society where men are in charge.
“I think [these laws] do a disservice to women’s sport. And they’re not just about sports — I think they’re about undermining the validity of trans existence.