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Utah’s anti-trans bathroom bill sparks debate, threatens federal funding

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A proposed Utah law restricting transgender bathroom access has ignited controversy, raising concerns about potential discrimination.

The “Sex-based Designations for Privacy, Anti-bullying and Women’s Opportunities” bill, also known as HB257, would bar anyone from using publicly funded spaces that don’t align with their assigned sex at birth. These spaces include bathrooms, locker rooms, schools, county buildings and domestic violence shelters.

The bill exempts intersex and transgender individuals who have legally changed their birth certificate sex marker and undergone surgery altering primary sex characteristics. Those unable to use facilities matching their gender identity would be relegated to single-use stalls or unisex bathrooms, which the bill mandates for increased availability in public buildings.

The Utah House recently passed the bill with a 52-17 vote, where only three Republicans joined all Democrats in the vote against. After a 5-3 vote in the Senate Business and Labor Committee, the bill now heads toward a full vote in the Senate.

Voices of dissent

Rep. Kera Birkeland, the Republican who sponsored the bill, claims the bill “creates privacy for every Utahn” and “doesn’t target one specific group.” Another Republican, Rep. Cheryl Acton, said the proposed legislation is “reasonable accommodations” and “augments peace of mind.”

However, numerous voices, including LGBTQ+ organizations, individuals and the state’s largest teacher’s union, vehemently condemn the bill for discriminating against transgender people and potentially paving the way for broader discrimination based on appearance.

Democratic Rep. Sahara Hayes, the sole openly LGBTQ+ legislator, argued that the legislation restricts the ability of transgender individuals to exist in public spaces, especially considering their already heightened vulnerability to suicide and depression.

“We are sending messages that people can be criminals for existing in bathrooms. And I don’t know what that says to LGBTQ and to transgender Utahns, who have just as much of a right to be here as everybody else when we imply that we don’t even trust them to pee in public. That’s a problem,” Hayes said.

Rep. Anthony Loubet, one of the three Republicans who opposed the bill, said he needed to make sure about its potential negative impact on his district.

“I couldn’t, in good conscience, vote for and support the bill at this time. In our democratic process, diverse opinions and perspectives are essential for robust decision-making. I respect the varying viewpoints within our legislative body and am open to constructive dialogue on this issue,” Loubet said.

Safe havens at risk

Thousands rely on Utah’s crisis centers and shelters for refuge after sexual assault and domestic violence. However, HB257 threatens to cut millions in federal funding, potentially incapacitating these vital services and leaving victims nowhere to turn.

The bill seeks to create “sex-based designations” in shelters and other spaces, effectively excluding transgender individuals. The segregation directly contradicts federal non-discrimination requirements for victim service grants, jeopardizing Utah’s eligibility for critical funding.

For some service providers, losing federal funding could mean a 70 percent budget cut, rendering them unable to provide critical assistance to victims of abuse. It would disproportionately impact survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence who already face significant barriers to receiving the support they need.

Opponents of the bill, including the heads of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, argue that it would further strain already underfunded programs and is “extremely detrimental” to victims of sexual assault.

Previously, Birkeland said she included said shelters in the bill’s provisions because she claims that there are people who would exploit loopholes to gain entry to the shelters and victimize the women there. However, during the Senate committee hearing, she said was unable to provide evidence of such cases.

More from So.Gay:

In a blow to trans rights, Ohio House overrides veto for trans healthcare, sports participation

California Attorney General deems forced outing ‘unconstitutional’

Proposed Florida bill gives $35K fine for speaking against transphobia

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