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  • Nicolas Robichaux

Utah Restricts Transgender Bathroom Bill

Courtesy of the New York Times


On January 30, 2024, Utah’s Gov. Spencer J. Cox (R-UT) signed into law House Bill 257, joining ten other states in restricting the right of transgender people to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Under House Bill 257, transgender people would have to prove that they have a gender identity that corresponds with the designated bathroom or changing room they want to use within public schools and government facilities. The bill outlines that any individual could question someone’s gender identity and report them, which would then require the accused to provide evidence of their gender identity, such as their birth certificate matching the individual's gender identity or proof that the individual underwent gender-affirming surgery. 


H.B. 257 is a part of a larger legislative pattern as the Utah State Legislature has recently enacted several laws restricting transgender youth rights. In 2022, H.B. 11 passed after the Utah Legislature overrode Gov. Spencer J. Cox’s (R-UT) veto; the bill prohibited the inclusion of transgender athletes in school sports. In 2023, the state outlawed gender-affirming care in Senate Bill 16, including surgery and hormone blockers.


Transgender rights activists have voiced concerns that H.B. 257’s requirements of proof are unrealistic. These activists claimed that not all states permit citizens the ability to change their birth certificate’s gender and that not all transgender people want to undergo costly surgery. The consequences of not providing proof include charges of criminal trespassing and voyeurism, which can result in a thousand-dollar fine and six months in jail. Transgender activists also expressed that the bill would restrict transgender people’s ability to travel safely, as the Salt Lake City airport is a hub of flight connections.


Before the law was signed, human rights organizations spoke out against House Bill 257, fearing it would enable a witch hunt in attempts to purge transgender people from public bathrooms. The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah expressed that “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.”


State House Rep. Kera Birkeland (R-UT), who sponsored House Bill 257 and sponsored other bills restricting transgender students' inclusion in sports, explained that the law would protect cis-gendered women, stating, “Let’s be clear, sexual assault knows no boundaries. Keeping men from women’s spaces is an appropriate and much-needed boundary in Utah and across America.” However, during a public hearing about H.B. 257, the public questioned the legitimacy of that concern. Rep. Birkeland was unable to provide or cite a police report that demonstrated that a sexual attack had occurred from a transgender person in any bathroom. But even with hundreds of local activists and opponents of H.B. 257 rallying against the bill at Utah’s State Capital, the bill became law.


Gov. Spencer J. Cox (R-UT) made a statement of support after signing House Bill 257, stating that the bill was not discriminatory but increased the privacy of everyone. However, many opponents have cast doubt on the claim, instead stating that the bill denigrates the privacy of transgender students and specifically targets them. In H.B. 257, schools have to establish privacy plans that outline how transgender students are to use faculty bathrooms if they do not want to utilize the bathroom that aligns with their birth sex. Opponents of Bill H.B. 257 believe that this separation will lead to othering of transgender youth and that establishing these privacy plans will “out” transgender students to their parents.


State Rep. Sahara Hayes (D-UT), the only LGBTQ+ member of the State Congress, explained that she is worried about the day-to-day obstacles the bill will present to transgender students and adults to operate in public. Rep. Hayes stated before the bill passed, “I'm scared for every kid that has to face the choice of outing themselves to people that might not be safe for them....I'm scared for every transgender person who has to choose between holding their bladder or potentially being seen as a criminal.” Rep. Hayes also expressed the likelihood that H.B. 257, in conjunction with the other recent anti-trans bills passed in Utah, will cause transgender adults and families with transgender children to flee the state.


The Utah Democratic Party issued a statement before the bill’s voting, asserting that Utah House Republicans are targeting Utah’s transgender community and condemning the stigmatization of transgender women as sexual predators. The Utah Democratic Party proceeded to explain that Republican legislators continuously allocate resources to hinder the human rights of a minority population. Utah’s Democratic leaders pointed out that H.B. 257 and similar bills will lead to further marginalization of the already embattled LGBTQ+ community and attested that combatting this discrimination will require voting to change Utah’s leadership


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