Hibben: Utah Creates Barriers For Transgender Kids


Brooklyn Critchley

Members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community gather for the Pride Rally at Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 6, 2021. (Photo by Brooklyn Critchley | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Aya Hibben, Opinion Writer


As support for transgender people has increased across the nation, those who feel threatened by their existence have found ways to limit their freedoms. Rep. Kera Birkeland and Sen. Curtis S. Bramble are sponsoring House Bill 11, which allows transgender children to play sports only if they receive permission from a commission. The School Activity Eligibility Commission will establish a “baseline range of students … for a given age,” meaning they will create arbitrary standards for children’s bodies. These standards and a doctor’s opinion, who will inspect transgender children’s bodies, will determine if a child can compete in their gendered sport. H.B. 11 passed in the House and Senate, a frightening step backward for Utah.

This bill targets the development of children’s bodies and puts transgender children at risk for abuse. Transgender children deserve to grow up and pursue their dreams in safe environments that celebrate their bravery and abilities. They should not have their bodies inspected, separated and put at risk for mistreatment from their peers and adults in positions of power.

H.B. 11 and Other Efforts

Utah has made efforts to expand transgender rights. A sharp contrast to these advancements, Rep. Birkeland has spearheaded two anti-transgender bills.

Rep. Birkeland sponsored her second anti-transgender bill with H.B. 11. She failed last year to completely ban transgender girls from female sports. Both bills ban children from living as the gender they identify with and severely restricts their human rights.

H.B. 11 would create a commission that would evaluate transgender children on their physical characteristics, like weight, flexibility, bone density or “the extent of physical characteristics affected by puberty.” It’s strange and discriminatory for a panel of adults to discuss a child’s body. Only cisgender students are allowed different body types, as transgender students would be forced to fulfill preset standards. The narrative that transgender children need to fit a male or female standard damages their mental and physical health.

This bill responds to a new conversation surrounding transgender athletes competing in sports. Rep. Birkeland commented that the bill “empowers the girls … that they’re here playing on a fair, even playing field.” She said her bill also enables transgender students to feel like “I do belong here.”

Rep. Birkeland’s continued efforts to push transgender children out of sports are eye-opening enough to show this bill will not empower our youth. A panel of adults should not have the power to dictate if a child’s gender is valid. Her comments are patronizing and minimize the struggles and adversity transgender children face every day.

A Toxic Environment for Transgender Children

It is disgusting to examine children’s bodies and discuss how they fit standards. Transgender children already face tremendous obstacles. They experience higher rates of violence than cisgender individuals and have high rates of attempted suicide, depression and anxiety. 44% of transgender children said they considered attempting suicide in 2019. Transgender children often experience bullying in school, and this bill would add to their ostracization.

In addition, this enhances an already-great risk for sexual violence against transgender children. Transgender children are more likely to be sexually assaulted than heterosexual children, and one in two transgender individuals are sexually abused in their lives.

The Benefits of Sports

Facing these odds is an overwhelming challenge for children. One thing that can help, however, is extracurriculars like sports. These activities allow students to shine and provide growth opportunities.

Children who participate in sports are healthier in their adult life, as well as children in active communities. Children also develop better cognitive skills with sports, and child athletes are more likely to attend college than non-athletes.

Sports also alleviate mental health issues. Inclusivity in schools comes with lower suicide risk and an increase in safety for transgender students. Transgender students at schools with inclusive athletic policies consider suicide less than others, and transgender student-athletes have higher grades and lower rates of depression.

Rep. Birkeland argued that this bill will help empower cisgender girls and help keep them safe. But girls’ participation in sports decreased in schools where exclusive policies like H.B. 11 exist.

We often brag that Utah is a child-friendly state. But this bill aims to harass and take opportunities away from children. The misinformed and incorrect opinions of Republicans in Utah’s Legislature are not reason enough to damage their childhoods. All students deserve equal access to extracurriculars, no matter their gender. We risk further abuse and mistreatment of minors if we pass this bill. Let’s protect our future generations because discriminatory laws are not the future of Utah.


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