Editorial: 2023 Legislative Session Brings Fresh Attacks on Trans Youth


Madelyn Foulger

(Graphic by Madelyn Foulger | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


Today is the first day of what is sure to be a tumultuous 45 days amid Utah’s 2023 General Legislative Session. There are plenty of issues at stake, with bill topics ranging from parental involvement in school instruction, assault-rifle purchases and child abuse reporting among clergy members. Noticeably missing from the legislature’s website are policies protecting the Great Salt Lake. One of the most concerning issues at hand, however, is Utah representatives’ unwavering commitment to attacking transgender youth.

Last year, the Utah State Legislature overrode Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto to pass H.B. 11, a bill barring transgender athletes from competing on high school sports teams aligning with their gender identity. Cox cited numerous reasons for vetoing the bill, including high rates of suicidality and attempted suicide among trans youth. But after taking effect July 1, the bill became law and successfully prohibited four trans student athletes from participating in high school sports.

The impact has been far reaching for students like one 13-year-old girl, who quit competitive swimming following Utah lawmakers’ relentless attacks against transgender girls — girls like her. She’s quoted in The Salt Lake Tribune saying, “The state is saying I’m not girl enough to compete, and that really hurts. Because I am. I am girl enough.”

While the law allows for exceptions to the ban, those exceptions involve a state-appointed commission to determine trans youth’s eligibility on an individual basis. To play high school sports, trans youth must undergo a rigorous and invasive screening process to ensure no “risk or danger” comes to female athletes. They must actively seek and disclose their access to gender-affirming healthcare, including receiving hormone therapy and sex-characteristic changes. The exceptions are hardly any better than the exclusion itself — they dehumanize and force trans youth into complying with arbitrary biases.

Now, legislators seek to throw those exceptions out with the introduction of H.B. 132 and S.B. 16.

This legislative session, Sen. Michael Kennedy seeks to prohibit sex-changing surgical procedures on minors, while Rep. Rex Shipp seeks to prohibit healthcare providers from performing sex-transitioning medical procedures on minors. Restricting trans youth from gender-affirming healthcare infringes on their right to choose and conform to their desired gender identity — something we don’t restrict cisgender youth from doing. And as a marginalized identity, trans individuals already suffer enough of dehumanization through violence, media and legislative rhetoric.

For trans youth, who endure negative classroom experiences and bullying, denying them their choice and undermining their gender identity jeopardizes the little mental health they have left. Shipp and Kennedy’s legislative efforts are indicative of the Utah legislature’s anti-trans agenda, and are the latest policy-makers in a long line of Republicans waging a war on transgender youth.

The argument against trans individuals is no longer about preserving “the integrity of women’s sports,” as sponsor of H.B. 11 Rep. Kera Birkeland has stated. Utah’s legislators are trying their best — and succeeding — in denying the existence of trans people and limiting their opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Banning hormone therapy and sex-changes for trans minors not only contradicts the previous law’s precedent for allowing conditional trans youth participation in sports, but it reinforces Utah beliefs that transgender individuals have no place here. Transphobia is in action, stronger than ever before.

2022 was the worst year for anti-trans legislation, and this year’s latest legislative attacks are similarly vindictive. How many times must we cite the devastating mental health impacts of transphobic legislation to end such rhetoric? How many LGBTQ+ shootings will convince lawmakers to take a stand against hate? States across the country are creating and passing anti-transgender bills, under the guise of protecting our youth, but these legislators have seemingly and conveniently forgotten that trans youth are youth.

Trans people are not dangerous and do not deserve the persistent hate and policies targeting their very existence. Enough is enough. Our safety isn’t at stake, and neither are our scholarships.

And while it’s imperative that we as a community pay close attention to our representatives as an act of accountability, it’s also part of our civic duty to criticize policies and policymakers wherever we see fit. That includes representatives like Kennedy, Shipp and Birkeland. The Utah legislature’s new attacks on trans youth are unforgivable and alarming just as they were last year. We must always call out the powerful when they neglect to do their part to support us and our causes, or worse — when they’re doing everything in their power to undermine us.

Trans people are people, and it’s time the Utah legislature recognizes and understands that. Until then, we must keep protesting for the LGBTQ+ community and standing up for those who are denied the right to exist. Don’t falter in the fight for trans rights, especially not during this year’s legislative session.


The Daily Utah Chronicle Editorial Board is a group of senior opinion journalists who rely on research and debate to write staff editorials. Editorials represent the majority view of the editorial board and are written separately from the newsroom.