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State Rep. Kera Birkeland, a Republican high school basketball coach who led Utah’s efforts to ban transgender girls from youth sports, addresses a crowd of supporters on the steps of the Utah State Capitol on Friday, March 25, 2022, in Salt Lake City. Lawmakers convened to override Gov. Spencer Cox, who vetoed their proposed ban.

Anika Bateman holds a “You belong here” sign during a rally to support transgender youths outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Utah’s Republican lawmakers were preparing for a Friday push to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of legislation banning transgender youth athletes from playing on girls teams, a move that comes amid a brewing nationwide culture war over transgender issues.

Peoples attend a rally to support transgender youths outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Utah’s Republican lawmakers were preparing for a Friday push to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of legislation banning transgender youth athletes from playing on girls teams, a move that comes amid a brewing nationwide culture war over transgender issues.

Samuel Metz, Associated Press

State Rep. Kera Birkeland, a Republican high school basketball coach who led Utah’s efforts to ban transgender girls from youth sports, addresses a crowd of supporters on the steps of the Utah State Capitol on Friday, March 25, 2022, in Salt Lake City. Lawmakers convened to override Gov. Spencer Cox, who vetoed their proposed ban.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers have approved the override of Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of House Bill 11, the measure that bans participation by transgender athletes in girls high school sports.

“This bill is purely about preserving women’s sports,” said Rep Kera Birkeland, the Morgan Republican who sponsored HB 11. The measure is to take effect July 1 per Friday’s override, presuming a court doesn’t strike it down.

The measure has drawn strong fire from the LGBTQ community and others, though, who see it as an affront to a transgender community that already faces marginalization. That opposition came out during Friday’s special override session on the matter, spurred by Cox’s veto of HB 11 last Tuesday.

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“They’re struggling. Is this the best way of addressing their concerns and needs?” said Rep. Brian King, a Salt Lake City Democrat.

The override passed 56-18 in the Utah House, with the six Republican lawmakers serving Weber County voting for it — Reps. Ryan Wilcox, Steve Waldrip, Cal Musselman, Kelly Miles, Mike Schultz and Matt Gwynn. Waldrip had voted against HB 11 when it initially came before lawmakers on March 4.

Kristin Murphy, The Deseret News via AP

Anika Bateman holds a “You belong here” sign during a rally to support transgender youths outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Utah’s Republican lawmakers were preparing for a Friday push to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of legislation banning transgender youth athletes from playing on girls teams, a move that comes amid a brewing nationwide culture war over transgender issues.

Rep. Rosemary Lesser, an Ogden Democrat, voted against the veto override, in line with her vote against HB 11 on March 4.

On the Senate side, the override passed 21-8 with Weber County’s three senators favoring the action — Sens. Gregg Buxton, John Johnson and Ann Millner. Millner initially opposed HB 11 when first approved by the Senate on March 4.

The 13 House members and eight Senate members serving Utah County all voted for the override.

Parallel to the override and in anticipation of a potential lawsuit over enactment of HB 11, the Utah House and Senate approved a separate measure, HB 3001 earmarking $500,000 to cover legal costs in the event of a court challenge.

Cox had vetoed HB 11, in part because of the lack of debate the measure received. It represented a tougher version, introduced on the last day of the regular 2022 legislative session, of an earlier measure lawmakers had been considering.

Kristin Murphy, The Deseret News via AP

Peoples attend a rally to support transgender youths outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Utah’s Republican lawmakers were preparing for a Friday push to override Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of legislation banning transgender youth athletes from playing on girls teams, a move that comes amid a brewing nationwide culture war over transgender issues.

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In response to Friday’s action, he lauded “the heightened debate and input” on the proposal over the past few weeks. Still, he doesn’t necessarily see HB 11 as the end of the debate.

“I remain hopeful that we will continue to work toward a more inclusive, fair and compassionate policy during the interim,” Cox said.

One of the key points in the debate over HB 11 was whether transgender girls have a physical advantage over cisgender girls in sports and, if so, if it’s fair to let the groups compete together. That’s the point that backers of the measure like Birkeland focused on.

“H.B. 11 is not about discrimination, it’s about keeping sports fair,” Senate President Stuart Adams said in a statement. “As state leaders, we also must consider all students, including the thousands of high school female athletes who are worried about their future collegiate and professional opportunities.”

What’s more, Birkeland said, the measure doesn’t prohibit participation by transgender girls in intramural or coed sports, just in interscholastic sporting activities between schools.

But the key aspect for critics was the message they saw coming from HB 11 that transgender girls are unwelcome. “This is rushed. This is not caring. This does not show moral uprightness,” said Sen. Kathleen Riebe, a Cottonwood Heights Democrat.

Rep. Carol Moss, a Salt Lake City Democrat who voted against the override, said the bill “will marginalize kids who already feel marginalized.” She described the measure as fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. In a press conference after Friday’s action, Birkeland said she’s aware of six to eight transgender athletes competing across Utah in high school athletics.

Backers of the override, however, emphasized they they too are sympathetic toward members of the transgender community and don’t mean to malign them.

“We need to show compassion for all of our youth, especially those who are struggling,” said Rep. Judy Rohner, a West Valley City Republican. Though backing the veto override, she also aims to “champion” the cause of transgender people.

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Such measures have been the focus of intense debate in other U.S. states and speculation about whether they are legal.

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In fact, should bans on transgender girls in sports be deemed illegal, HB 11 contains language calling for creation of a special commission that would decide on a case-by-case basis if transgender girls can take part in girls high school teams.

Similarly, HB 3001 is meant as an antidote to the possibility of legal action on the matter. It indemnifies local school districts and the Utah High School Athletic Association from legal responsibility should HB 11 be successfully challenged in court.

Aside from costs brought on by legal challenges, though, some have expressed concern that passage of HB 11 could spur other sports organizations, like the National Basketball Association, to shy from involvement with Utah. Salt Lake City is to host the NBA All-Star game next year and Utah is also a potential contender to host the Winter Olympics in 2030 or 2034.

Birkeland, though, countered the notion that passage of HB 11 will have negative economic repercussions for Utah. Backing women and girls through passage of the measure will have a bigger ripple effect.

“They will be the greatest economic engine the state will ever know,” she said. She’s not worried about what outside organizations may or may not do.

Adams, in the press conference after Friday’s action, said he hasn’t received word from NBA reps about possible repercussions stemming from enactment of HB 11. He also noted that other states with professional sports teams have also approved measures similar to HB 11, including Florida and Texas.

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