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Transgender student athletes seek to block Utah law from going into effect

Posted at 9:23 PM, Jun 23, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY — Three transgender student athletes are asking a state court judge to block a new law from going into effect, banning them from playing sports matching their gender identity.

A request was filed this week in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court, asking a judge to issue a preliminary injunction.

"The ban is complete and absolute. If a girl is transgender, she is barred from competing on a girls’ team. Rather than providing due process, the law provides no process at all—no opportunity to be heard, no individual review, no exceptions, and no avenues for appeal. If the Ban takes effect, these Plaintiffs will be barred from school sports because of a trait that is unrelated to athletic ability or performance," wrote their attorney, retired Utah Supreme Court Justice Deno Himonas.

The athletes are suing the Utah High School Activities Association and the Granite and Jordan school districts, where they are students who have been participating in school sports. Earlier this year, the legislature introduced a bill to create a special commission to evaluate a transgender student's eligibility to participate in sports matching their gender identity. The governor and LGBTQ rights groups were negotiating for a compromise. On the last night of the 2022 legislative session, a floor amendment was introduced that enacted an all-out ban.

Governor Spencer Cox vetoed the bill, objecting to the ban, and the legislature met in special session to override that. The legislature did include a clause that if the courts were to strike down the ban, it would default back to the special commission.

Attached to the motion for a preliminary injunction were declarations from the students themselves, filed under pseudonyms. They described the process of coming out as transgender and how the Utah State Legislature's actions have made them feel.

"In the fall of 2021 when I was a junior, I played on my high school junior varsity volleyball team. That was the first time I played volleyball as a team sport and I loved it. Before that season, I felt isolated at school and did not have much of a social life. Once I joined the team, I had a great group of friends who supported me and who I loved being around," wrote Jenny Roe, a 16-year-old senior.

In her affidavit, Roe described trying to keep her grades up to participate in sports and wanting to continue to participate in girls volleyball. The new law, she wrote, "scares me."

"I cannot imagine missing my last volleyball season with my team and I have been really upset just thinking about this. If I cannot play with my team, I am worried that I will not even want to go to classes or to school. I feel like a different person when I am with my team and playing volleyball has helped me to get the best grades I can," Roe said in the affidavit. "I am also afraid that other people at school and in Utah will think it is okay to target transgender people because of the law. I know how it feels to be hated for who you are. When I was in junior high, another student threatened to kill me because I am transgender, and my neighbors used to harass me because of that too. I am afraid this law will make that happen more."

Jill Poe, a 14-year-old, said she first told her family she was transgender last year. She wrote that she likes running cross-country.

"I just want to go to school and plays sports and not be the focus of negative attention," she wrote, adding that she would not participate if she could not do cross-country meets.

"I also understand that I could try out for the boys’ teams, but I would never do that. It took me two years to come out to my family and because of that, I finally feel comfortable in my body. Being on the boys’ team would be embarrassing and stressful," Poe wrote. "The ban scares me. Some days I feel hopeful that this lawsuit will stop the ban, but other days I just feel sad."

Jane Noe, a 13-year-old, wrote that she wants to be on the swim team when she goes to high school.

"I have played sports all my life and I cannot imagine not having them. My teammates are my friends and sports are fun. Sports have also taught me how to control my nerves, how to be a good cheerleader for my teammates, and how to stay healthy," Noe wrote.

"Many adults in my life have supported me and encouraged me to play sports. This includes my parents, other parents, teachers, coaches, and people who work at my school. I cannot imagine not having that support or having to stop playing the sport I love. The law that Utah passed about transgender girls playing sports really scares me. It hurts to know that some people think I do not belong on my team or with my teammates. It feels like they wish I did not even exist. If I cannot be on the girls’ swim team in high school, I am not sure I will go to school at all. I might just try to do school at home instead. No one wants to be where they are not wanted and the last thing I want to do is draw attention to myself."

In the motion for an injunction, Himonas notes that out of 75,000 students who play high school sports in Utah, only four identify as transgender. He argued that biological differences stem from testosterone levels and stigmatizing them causes long-term damage.

"The Legislature concedes that a less restrictive alternative is available and has gone so far as to offer that alternative in H.B. 11. This alone renders the Ban of the statute unconstitutional," Himonas wrote.

The Utah Attorney General's Office, which represents the UHSAA and the school districts, will respond to the motion for a preliminary injunction. Court records show Judge Keith Kelly has scheduled an August hearing on whether to grant the restraining order request.

Read the filings here:

This story was originally published by Ben Winslow of KSTU in Salt Lake City, Utah.