The Utah House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill that would restrict transgender people from using bathrooms, locker rooms, and other private spaces that match their gender identity in publicly funded facilities. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, would also require more unisex or single-stall facilities in all public buildings and define sex as based on biological characteristics at birth.
Bill aims to increase privacy and safety
Birkeland said her bill, HB257, is an effort to increase privacy and safety for everyone, especially children, who use public facilities. She said she has heard from constituents who have felt threatened or violated by people who claim to be transgender, but did not provide any specific examples of such incidents.
The bill would prohibit anyone from using a gender-designated facility unless they have legally changed their sex on their birth certificate and undergone a sex characteristic surgical procedure to correspond with the sex designation of the facility. The bill defines male sex characteristics as having a reproductive system that functions to fertilize the ova of a female, and female sex characteristics as having a reproductive system that functions to produce ova.
The bill would also require public schools, universities, prisons, and other government buildings to provide at least one unisex or single-stall facility for each sex-designated facility. The bill would allow exceptions for certain situations, such as medical emergencies, custodial staff, or parental assistance.
Bill faces opposition from LGBTQ advocates and service providers
The bill has faced opposition from LGBTQ advocates and service providers, who say it is discriminatory and harmful to transgender people. They argue that the bill would violate federal anti-discrimination laws, threaten federal funding, and create legal challenges for the state.
Equality Utah, the state’s largest LGBTQ organization, said it has been working with Birkeland behind the scenes on the bill, but still has “significant concerns” with the policy. The group said the bill would stigmatize and isolate transgender people, who already face high rates of harassment, violence, and suicide.
The group also said the bill would hurt domestic violence shelters and other service providers, who receive federal and state funding and serve transgender clients. The bill could limit the services they could provide and expose them to lawsuits.
Gary Scheller, with the Utah Office of Victims of Crime, said his office has been unable to verify that the bill would not have negative implications for shelters and other providers. He said he hoped the bill would be amended to address those concerns.
Bill follows previous legislation on transgender issues
The bill is the latest in a series of bills that have targeted transgender people in Utah in recent years. In 2023, the Legislature passed a bill that banned transgender surgeries for minors and placed an indefinite moratorium on new hormone treatments for transgender youth. Gov. Spencer Cox signed that bill into law, saying it was necessary until more research was done on the long-term effects of such treatments.
In 2022, the Legislature passed a bill that banned transgender girls from competing in high school sports, saying it was unfair to cisgender girls. Cox vetoed that bill, citing suicide statistics and saying he wanted transgender people to live. The Legislature overrode his veto, and the law is currently on hold while it is challenged in court.
Cox has not taken a public position on the current bill, but has said he wants to treat transgender people with more love and respect. The bill passed the House Business and Labor Committee on Wednesday, and is now awaiting a vote from the full House.