Skye Hansen listens to speakers during a protest on the steps of the Capitol in opposition to HB257 in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024. Source: Marielle Scott/The Deseret News via AP

Utah Joins 10 Other States in Regulating Bathroom Access for Transgender People

Amy Beth Hanson READ TIME: 3 MIN.

Utah became the latest state to regulate bathroom access for transgender people after Republican Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law Tuesday that requires people to use bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government-owned buildings that match their sex assigned at birth.

Under the legislation, transgender people can defend themselves against complaints by proving they had gender-affirming surgery and changed the sex on their birth certificate. Opponents noted not all states allow people to change their birth certificates and that many trans people don't want to have surgery.

The legislation also requires schools to create "privacy plans" for trans students and others who may not be comfortable using group bathrooms, for instance by allowing them to use a faculty bathroom – something opponents say may "out" transgender children.

"We want public facilities that are safe and accommodating for everyone and this bill increases privacy protections for all," Cox said in a statement Tuesday night.

At least 10 other states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee – have passed laws that seek to regulate which bathrooms trans people can use, and nine states regulate the bathrooms that trans students can use at school. West Virginia's Legislature is considering a transgender bathroom bill for students this year.

The Utah bill requires any new government buildings to include single-occupant bathrooms and asks that the state consider adding more of the bathrooms to increase privacy protections in existing government buildings. It did not provide any funding for such upgrades.

The sponsor, Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland, said she was trying to make it illegal for a naked man to be in a bathroom with an 8-year-old girl. She said that situation happened at a public facility in Salt Lake County and that officials said they couldn't do anything about it because the man said he was trans.

Opponents argued the legislation should target the behavior and not transgender residents and visitors.

"This bill perpetuates discrimination, needlessly imposes barriers to the everyday needs of people in Utah, and risks harmful and discriminatory enforcement against transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people," the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said Tuesday in a letter urging the governor to veto the legislation.

"All it does is invite scrutiny of people who are transgender or perceived to be transgender when they are lawfully going about their lives," the letter said.

Anyone who uses a changing room or locker room that does not match their sex assigned at birth could be charged with trespassing if "the individual enters or remains in the changing room under circumstances which a reasonable person would expect to likely cause affront or alarm to, on, or in the presence of another individual," under the legislation.

Those who violate the law could also be charged with loitering, lewdness or voyeurism, depending on their behavior.

Opponents said the law would still legally require a trans man who was taking testosterone and who may have grown facial hair to use women's bathrooms and locker rooms.

"Nobody I know cares if a transgender woman comes into their bathroom, uses it for its intended purpose and walks out," Birkeland said. "That is not what this bill is about."

The bill passed easily in the Republican-controlled House and Senate on Jan. 26 after a conference committee amended it to clarify that public school students cannot be charged criminally for using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Equality Utah, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, advocated for the amendment but still opposed the bill.

No lawmakers or members of the public spoke against the part of the bill that allows the state to enforce some federal Title IX provisions that require equal opportunities for male and female athletes in schools, along with equal facilities and equal access to preferred playing and practice times.

by Amy Beth Hanson

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