Dalila Ali Rajah
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Judge Blocks Utah Trans Sports Ban, While Probe of Athlete Emerges

Athletes and files

A judge in Utah has blocked enforcement of the state’s transgender sports ban, days after news emerged that parents of cisgender female athletes had filed a complaint about an alleged trans competitor who turned out not to be.

Judge Keith A. Kelly in the Third District Court of Utah, located inose Salt Lake County, issued a preliminary injunction Friday against the state’s blanket ban on trans girls in girls’ school sports, meaning it can’t be enforced while a lawsuit against it proceeds. The ban is only one section of the law passed as House Bill 11. He left the rest of the law intact, including the requirement for trans girls to go before a commission to determine their eligibility to compete in girls’ sports.

“Thus, the effect of this preliminary injunction will not mean that transgender girls will automatically be eligible to compete on their school’s girls’ teams,” Kelly wrote. “Rather, it will allow them to compete only upon the commission’s determination that their being able to compete is fair under all of the circumstances.”

Utah lawmakers overrode Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto to pass the legislation in March.

The injunction comes shortly after another development regarding the law. The parents of the second- and third-place finishers in a state-level girls’ sports event complained to the Utah High School Activities Association that they suspected the winner of the event was trans, David Spatafore, legislative representative for the association, told the Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee Wednesday, the Deseret News reports. The UHSAA had the student’s school investigate, looking over her records all the way back to kindergarten, and it turned out that she was not trans. He didn’t identify the student, the school, or the sport, citing privacy considerations.

He said the association has received other complaints about supposed trans competitors, sometimes with people saying a girl simply “doesn’t look feminine enough.”

Opponents of the law said this shows major problems with it. “We warned about this being a possibility, that everyone would accuse everyone who is successful of being transgender,” Sue Robbins, a member of the Transgender Advisory Council of Equality Utah, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It becomes about judging women’s bodies. And no body is safe.”

At his monthly press conference Thursday, Gov. Cox called this investigation a disturbing development. “My goodness, we’re living in this world where we’ve become sore losers, and we’re looking for any reason why our kid lost,” he said, according to the Tribune. “I have a real problem with that story. ... I just wish we could be a little more thoughtful in life and a little less critical of other people.”

Meanwhile, the parents who filed suit against the law welcomed Friday’s injunction. “My husband and I are very relieved by this decision,” Debbie Roe, a parent plaintiff in the lawsuit, Roe v. UHSAA, said in a press release. “We are grateful the court understood how much harm this law has caused, which has been a huge source of stress and trauma for our child. Our daughter just wants the same chance as other kids to make friends and play on the team she loves. Today’s ruling gives her the opportunity to do that.”

“This is a win not only for my child but for all girls in this state,” added Jean Noe, another parent plaintiff. “This law is based on stereotypes and misconceptions that are harmful to all girls. I am grateful the court has put this dangerous law on pause and that, at least for the moment, all Utah children can know that they are valued and supported.”  

“We are very pleased by the court’s decision,” said Justice Christine Durham, former chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court and senior of counsel at Wilson Sonsini, one of the lawyers representing the parents. “Thus far, every court to rule on a similar ban has barred it from taking effect, due in part to the serious harms caused by excluding an entire group of students from such an important school activity. We read today’s decision as recognizing that the law is not only discriminatory but puts Utah children at needless risk of lifelong harm. We look forward to moving forward with the case and securing a permanent decision blocking the law from taking effect.”  

In addition to Wilson Sonsini, the parents are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

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