A portion of a Utah bill aimed at restricting transgender student-athletes will be changed to remove a requirement to report body measurements in order to play sports.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a proposed bill — which had required transgender kids to have some elements of their physical characteristics measured in order to participate in sports — will scrap that provision.
Transgender sports participants would still be up to a government-appointed panel of experts under the proposal moving through the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland, who is also a junior varsity basketball coach, said Wednesday that she was in the process of removing a list of physical attributes from her proposed “School Activity Eligibility Commission,” which would have used criteria such as bone density, hip-to-knee ratio, and oxygen saturation to determine eligibility, the AP reported.
The list of physical attributes provoked an outcry from parents of transgender kids and LGBTQ advocates.
“We are still working on a couple of details,” Birkeland said, according to the AP report. “We just want to make sure that it’s legally tightened up and we address as many of the concerns that we can,” Birkeland said she expected the changes to be introduced in the next day or two.
The most recent version of the bill would leave eligibility criteria up to the commission. Birkeland said it could still consider the attributes initially included as part of the bill, but would have more flexibility to tailor decision-making to individual sports, for example, using different criteria for golf versus basketball.
“They’ll still consider anything that can give them athletic advantage. They can go back and look at those things and consider hip-to-knee ratio. They can consider that the muscle mass or height ... We don’t want to pin-cushion them in and tell them, ‘Just consider these things,’” she said, as reported by the AP.
Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, said LGBTQ advocates expected changes to be introduced, but didn’t know the extent of them.
The revision came as GOP-majority legislatures throughout the U.S. debate banning transgender student-athletes from youth sports. According to Associated Press reports, at least 10 states have passed bans on transgender student-athletes in school sports.
Birkeland is proposing creating a first-of-its-kind commission for Utah that transgender kids would be required to go before if they want to compete in leagues that correspond with their gender identity, rather than the sex listed on their birth certificates.
Birkeland, who led last year’s failed push to ban transgender student-athletes from girls’ sports in Utah, said the commission balanced two legitimate competing priorities: ensuring transgender kids don’t feel ostracized and protecting fairness in girls’ sports.
She has framed her proposal as a compromise that would allow transgender athletes to play, while still answering conservatives’ concerns that those players could have a competitive advantage in girls’ sports. She hopes, if passed, the commission won’t be challenged with lawsuits like bans in other states such as Idaho.
Out of the 85,000 students who play high school sports in the state, four have gone through the Utah High School Activities Association’s transgender participation eligibility review process, the association said Tuesday. Birkeland said she has heard of or observed at least eight more competing.
Though the number of athletes affected is central to the question at hand, she declined to substantiate that number, out of concern for student-athletes who may not want their gender identity to be widely publicized.
The Associated Press last year reached out to two dozen lawmakers in the more than 20 states considering similar measures and found that they could cite few instances where transgender athletes playing high school sports were causing problems.
There are no public accusations of a transgender players having competitive advantages in Utah.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem this month signed into law a ban on transgender girls from playing in women’s sports at the youth and college level and Indiana lawmakers passed a ban bill Tuesday , sending it to Gov. Eric Holcomb for approval.
Birkeland’s proposal must be finalized this week because the Utah Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Friday.