Utah transgender bill sparks concerns among state, students

An all-inclusive bathroom sign in Brooks’ Stop on campus between Campus View I and II. As the transgender bathroom bill progresses through the Utah House of Representatives, its impact on schools, universities and public spaces looms. Abigail Byington| Sun News

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Two different Utah State Representatives wrote two transgender bathroom bills. One of them went to the senate.

Currently, there are two lawmakers, Representative Kera Birkeland and Representative Phil Lyman, who have different bills pertaining to transgender bathrooms.

Birkeland’s HB257 is the one going to the Senate. Birkeland’s bill will restrict access to gender-specific bathrooms for transgender individuals unless they have gone through reproductive surgery. However, the bill will also increase the amount of unisex bathrooms in new government buildings.

Lyman’s HB253 restricts transgender access to both men’s and women’s bathrooms and locker rooms in public K-12 schools, colleges and universities. No solution or accommodations are mentioned.

How a bill gets passed in the Utah Senate

Vince Brown, instructor of the practice in political science, said the House and Senate must agree on the same bill. Once they agree on it, it can go to the governor for signature and become a law.

In the Senate, it can be amended and sent back to the House where they have to vote for it again. If it passes both the House and Senate, then it will go to the governor for his signature of approval. If the bill doesn’t pass the House, then the House and Senate will meet and discuss the bill.

How long it takes

Brown said: “Sometimes, a controversial bill can take the whole legislative session and will be passed or defeated on the last day. Sometimes, they can move a bill within a week. There is work being done on these things long before the session begins.”

HB257 is currently sitting on Governor Spencer Cox’s desk waiting for his signature for approval or his veto.

What it means for transgender individuals

“It means feeling like they can’t go anywhere in the state of Utah and be safe,” said Rowena Webb, the dance accompanist at Utah Tech University, who is a trans woman.

Benji Welch, a senior marketing major from Las Vegas, said it’s very scary for transgender and gender non-conforming students.

“I feel like it puts targets on a lot of people’s backs… or at least they feel like it does,” Welch said. “I feel like that has repercussions with mental health.”

Potential outcomes if the bill passes

Birkeland’s bill would be adding gender-neutral or single-stall bathrooms, which would take time and space. Currently, there aren’t many gender-neutral bathrooms on Utah Tech’s campus. Webb said the school might have to build a new building just for the bathrooms.

Welch said, “This is an opportunity for hate crimes and vigilantism and other things to kind of become, into a worse state than what they already are.”

The message it sends to the transgender community

Webb said it means that we are all equal. It doesn’t matter what your gender identity or expression is. We are all welcomed and accommodated for.

“It’s kind of neutral,” Welch said. “I think that there are positive aspects of it, but I think that because of the way that they are passing it, it has negative implications for concerns of safety.”

Welch organized a rally in support of the transgender community Jan. 30 from noon to 2 p.m. in the Gardner Plaza. The theme is “I’ll go with you.”

“We are here to say to our Utah Tech community and to our St. George community and southern Utah community that we are here to support our trans siblings and friends,” Welch said. “That we will go with you to the end…So many people think you are so brave for simply existing in this space that is hostile to you for simply being who you are.”