Judge weighs whether to suspend enforcement of new Utah high school transgender sports ban
SALT LAKE CITY — A judge who on Wednesday declined to dismiss a lawsuit by three transgender girls hoping to play high school sports on an all-girls team is now considering issuing an injunction that would stop enforcement of the new law that prevents them from do it.
Lawyers argued the case before the judge in a hearing on Thursday, debating the legal standards that must be met for an injunction to be granted and the burden of proving to the judge that those standards have been met.
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and an attorney representing the three transgender girls and their families, said there would be serious consequences in the girls’ lives if HB11, a 2022 law passed in the final hours of the Utah Legislature session, is not put on hold while the trial progresses.
“This damage is not only imminent, it is immediate,” Minter said.
Third District Judge Keith Kelly takes the time to consider the evidence that has only been presented to the court through exhibits and plans to issue a ruling on whether to prevent the application of the law over the next few days. Kelly said he would announce the decision either through a written order or a verbal decision at a hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning.
To protect their privacy, the plaintiffs and their families did not watch the hearing from the courtroom, but were able to view the proceedings from another room in the courthouse.
Jenny Roe, as given in the lawsuit, is a 16-year-old girl who came out four years ago and has been on medical hormone therapy for the past four years. Minter said that although her grades have suffered in the past, being on the women‘s volleyball team in her freshman year was a game-changer. Although her grades aren’t good enough to compete, she wants to play volleyball in the fall or basketball in the winter.
“This law scares me. I can’t imagine missing my last volleyball season with my team,” Roe said in a quote read by Minter.
Through the lawyer, Roe’s mother said that Roe also lost his group of friends and that his grades suffered after the law came into effect in July, and that the motivation to be part of the team could help.
“This period – six months in the life of a teenager – can be extremely critical,” Minter said.
Jane Noe is in eighth grade, but Minter said her motivation is to continue training for the high school girls’ swim team. Minter said Noe’s friends and teammates have always known her as a girl because she hasn’t come out publicly as transgender. She has, however, changed her legal name and gender. The lawyer said the recent law had threatened Noe’s privacy and that if she couldn’t make the women’s swim team, she planned to homeschool.
“The law that Utah passed really scares me. … It’s like they wish I didn’t even exist,” Minter said, quoting Noe.
He said that although Noe is in eighth grade, the ban is affecting him now and has had a drastic impact on his life. Noe’s mother said the law undermined her confidence.
Jill Poe, named in the lawsuit, is a ninth grader who recently came out to her parents and started taking hormone blockers. She hopes to eventually join her high school’s women’s cross country and track teams. Although before HB11 passed, Poe would have had to be on hormone blockers longer to play women’s sports, Minter said she would still benefit from being able to apply to join the team as she would have. before transgender girls were completely banned from performing. girls sports.
“The ban scares me. … Some days I’m hopeful that this lawsuit will end the ban, but other days I just feel sad,” Minter said, quoting Poe.
Poe’s father said he felt Utah lawmakers were trying to erase their children, according to Minter. He said the ban is not only hurting these three girls, but their families, who want to help and support them.
Minter said that while girls have other barriers that might prevent them from playing sports in high school at the start of this school year, their rights are being violated because they don’t have the opportunity to try sports or apply. to try to have the opportunity because of HB11.
Injunction not justified, according to the State
On Wednesday, the judge ruled in favor of the families on two separate motions to dismiss and a motion for a specific order, though some issues within one motion are still under review.
Thomas Lee, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, said the burden was different at Thursday’s hearing in that families must prove the criteria are met for an injunction to be issued. He said the families had not proven that the girls would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction was not issued, nor had they demonstrated that there was a substantial relationship between the intention of the Utah legislature and the law passed.
Lee spoke on behalf of those against whom the lawsuit was filed: the Utah High School Activities Association, the Granite School District, the Jordan School District and the superintendents of those districts.
He argued that HB11 is about restoring protection for women and that sometimes equality – especially gender equality – requires treating people differently instead of treating them the same. He said it was undisputed that once a transgender girl had reached puberty, she had physical advantages over other girls.
Lee said asking the court to cement a constitutional standard for a relatively new issue that is still developing is a drastic move on the families’ part. He said the presumption should be that the law is constitutional and that the courts should not go against a law unless the families have borne the burden of proving it is necessary.
He also argued that while each of the plaintiffs cares deeply about the law, none of them are in a position where a court order in the case could allow them to play sports for girls in high school. ; they each have other barriers.
The families’ attorney disagrees
In his arguments, Minter asserted that the burden of proof shifted to the state because of the type of constitutional issue raised. If the judge decides that is correct, then if neither party has proven their case, a preliminary injunction could still be issued. He said a gender-based law requires a higher level of scrutiny from the courts.
Minter spoke about Governor Spencer Cox’s response to the bill, a response he vetoed although the veto was overruled, and underscored a point that he said Cox had argued that this legislation only causes significant damage to a few who are already at high risk.
He said that out of 75,000 college students in Utah, he only knows of about four transgender kids trying to play sports.
“The only impact of this law was to exclude transgender girls,” Minter said.
Lawyers for the family said the other side would have to prove that a comprehensive ban is necessary to advance the interests of the state and that there is no less restrictive alternative that would work for the injunction is refused. He pointed to section 10 in HB11, which he says is the less restrictive alternative. Unlike section 9 of the bill that the lawsuit challenges, section 10 would allow transgender students to appear before a commission with details about their particular circumstances and request permission to perform.
Minter said the judge should consider ‘the devastating harm done to a group of children’ on his side, versus the state which he said could point no harm to anyone by law ending its effects . He said each of the transgender girls showed they had gender dysphoria and were on medication and they had all had a positive impact on their lives through sport.
Minter said the ban on playing on women’s sports teams took away part of their identity and had negative effects on their mental health, their desire to play sports and their grades.
6:00 p.m. Judge weighs whether to suspend enforcement of new Utah high school transgender sports ban