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Utah parents prompt gender investigation after girl’s state title

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(Darryl Webb/USA TODAY Network)

A Utah girl won a state competition last year. What came after her athletic triumph serves as an example of the harm that can be caused by anti-transgender legislation.

After the champion “outclassed” her opponents, the parents of the second- and third-place winners submitted a complaint to the state athletics association questioning the champion’s gender, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News reported Wednesday.

The incident came to light as part a state legislative meeting on a HB11, a bill passed earlier this year that bans transgender girls from participating in school-sanctioned girls’ sports.

After receiving the parents’ complaint, the Utah High School Activities Association asked the winner’s school to investigate, and the school looked into the student’s enrollment records. Neither the student nor her family was informed of the investigation.

“The school went back to kindergarten and she’d always been a female,” said David Spatafore, the UHSAA’s legislative representative. He was addressing the Utah legislature’s Education Interim Committee on Wednesday as part of an update on HB11.

The sport, school and school classification involved in the incident were not revealed in order to protect the student’s identity.

The UHSAA has received other gender-related complaints, some claiming “that female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough,” Spatafore said. The association took “every one” of the complaints seriously, he said.

“We followed up on all of those complaints with the school and the school system,” Spatafore continued. “We didn’t get to the parents or the student simply because if all the questions about eligibility were answered by the school or the feeder system schools, there was no reason to make it a personal situation with a family or that athlete.”

The bill was passed during the final hours of Utah’s 2022 legislative session, and while Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed it in March, the veto was overridden.

A judge reversed the ban Friday pending a lawsuit filed on behalf of two transgender girls by the ACLU of Utah and other advocacy groups. The lawsuit alleges that the ban is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

While the lawsuit works its way through the legal system, transgender girls instead can go before a state commission of political appointees who will determine athletic eligibility on a case-by-case basis. HB11 created the commission as a secondary plan in case of legal challenges to the outright ban.

In the meantime, the UHSAA is doing its best to follow the state’s mandates.

“Quite frankly, this is new ground for us,” Spatafore said. “I’m not going to say we have it down pat, because I have no clue. I don’t think any of us in the office have a clue if we have it down pat. What we want to do is we just want to try to do our job.”