Editorial note: This story is part of a two-part conversation around a bill aimed at banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports in Utah. Read more and listen to the other side of the conversation here.
SALT LAKE CITY — A Republican lawmaker says changes may be in the works to her bill that would bar transgender athletes from competing against girls in school sports.
Rep. Kera Birkeland of Morgan said her bill is about preserving female sports in schools and safeguarding biological female players in contact games in a conversation with KSL NewsRadio’s Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry.
“You could have a transgender-female athlete step in and compete against the girls, compete against them for scholarships, for titles, for all kinds of opportunities. Also right now, there’s nothing that would prohibit [transgender athletes] from playing against [females] in a contact sport, which poses a significant safety risk for some of our athletes,” Birkeland said.
‘Not a transgender bill’
She said her goal is to ensure the playing field is fair and safe for female athletes playing in school sports.
“This bill is not a transgender bill. It is a women’s bill. It is pro-women. And I think the narrative are a little bit stolen, and that’s an unfortunate part of legislation, right? This bill is about making sure that women know that they matter, and that we respect them enough to provide a fair and safe playing field,” Birkeland said.
Lee pointed out that Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said he was uncomfortable with parts of the bill in its current form after the House passed it last week, mostly along party lines.
“Have you had interactions with with Governor Cox and is this bill moving forward?” Lee asked.
Birkeland acknowledged that the governor has reached out to her about her bill.
“Now, people are wanting to come to the table and compromise, which is wonderful to me. This bill was never about anything but the kids,” she said.
No third group for transgender athletes
“Can you talk to me more about what are some of these compromises? Like will there be maybe a third category of competitors?” Lee asked.
“No third category, that’s not something that we’re prepared to do right now,” Birkeland said. “This is a very sensitive issue. You don’t want anybody in this process to feel like they’re being seen as less than. Right? It’s hard to balance the concerns and needs of one group without taking away the civil rights of another group.”
No competition against biological females
Birkeland discussed what role transgender athletes would play under her bill.
“The idea that we’ve come up will allow all to try out and be part of a team, perhaps as practice players or actual participators on the team. But if they’re to compete as a transgender woman, their scores, their times and their stats, they will not be counted — so that they [transgender athlete] don’t compete for scholarships.
“They can be part of the team and can have the camaraderie that they’re seeking and be included, but it’ll create a balanced and fair playing field. They won’t be competing against biological females for those scholarships and those opportunities to have a state title or championship,” Birkeland said.
Opposition to the bill
Sue Robbins with Equality Utah spoke with Dave & Dujanovic earlier in the day on KSL NewsRadio.
Robbins said at the heart of the matter of the bill to bar transgender athletes from competing in female sports is older versus younger athletes, specifically prepubescent juveniles.
“When we look at those, they’re basically body neutral to each other. Puberty is where changes potentially come in,” she said. “Puberty is where we have transgender girls go on hormone blockers, which basically is a pause button and keeps them from going into puberty, so their body stays at that same level. They don’t build muscle mass. They don’t go through growth, etc.
“We’re in fear of these large boys with our girls, and that’s not the comparison that we should be doing,” Robbins said.
With the Legislature wrapping up its session on March 5, Robbins would like to see the discussion moved to the interim period for further study.
“There is no pressing need, yet we’re driving forward. And that’s the most concerning thing because the transgender kids are feeling like they don’t belong,” Robbins said.
The bill now moves to the Utah Senate.
Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.
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