Students ‘thrilled’ as Utah judge reverses cruel ban on trans kids playing sports

A person holds up a sign that reads "Trans athletes belong in sports" during a demonstration

A Utah judge has granted a preliminary injunction meaning that trans girls will be able to play on girls’ school sports teams.

Despite Utah governor Spencer Cox initially vetoing House Bill 11 (HB 11), a ban on trans students participating in girls’ K-12 sports, Republican lawmakers in the state managed to gain enough votes to overrule Cox and enact the legislation.

The ban went into effect on 1 July, but after its implementation, the families of three trans student athletes sued Utah for what they described as “disfavoured treatment”, claiming that their respective daughters were “denied an equal opportunity to play school sports on the same terms as other girls”.

On Friday (19 August), Judge Keith Kelly, of the Third Judicial District Court for Salt Lake County, granted a preliminary injunction against the legislation, acknowledging that all of the plaintiff’s had suffered “irreparable harm due to the ban”.

In his decision, Kelly wrote: “The ban singles out transgender girls and categorically bars them from competing on girls’ sports teams.

“At the same time, other girls are free to compete. This is plainly unfavorable treatment… Plaintiffs identify and live as girls, interact with others as girls, and are taking medication to prevent them from going through male puberty. But the ban does not treat them as girls.”

While “proponents of the ban claimed that it is necessary to protect girls’ sports”, the judge explained: “Unlike boys, transgender girls do not have many opportunities to play school sports. Under the ban, they have none.

“If they are not eligible to play on girls’ teams, they have no meaningful opportunity to play at all.”

However, trans kids will not automatically be eligible for the sports teams that align with their gender – the decision specified that it “will allow transgender girls to compete on girls’ teams only when it is fair, as confidentially determined by a legislature-created commission”.

This is because the injunction only affects one part of HB11 – part nine, which bans trans athletes from competing.

But anti-trans Republicans who created the legislation included a fall-back position in anticipation of a court challenge.

In the case that the ban is enjoined, a “commission will be established to consider confidentially, for each transgender girl who seeks to compete in school athletics, whether it would fair to permit that transgender girl to compete on girls’ teams”. 

In real terms, this means that each trans girl who wants to compete in school sports will have to go in front of a panel of Republicans, who will assess her to decide if she has an unfair advantage.

Nevertheless, the lawsuit’s success is a step in the right direction.

Legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights Shannon Minter, who represented the trans athletes in the lawsuit, told CNN: “We are thrilled, and the girls and their families are hugely relieved.”