Utah will prohibit transgender people from using bathrooms in public schools and government-owned buildings that align with their gender identity, after Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill on Tuesday imposing the restrictions.
The bill, House Bill 257, which passed the Legislature last week, set sweeping restrictions for transgender people.
Under the bill, also known as Sex-Based Designations for Privacy, Anti-Bullying and Women’s Opportunities, transgender people can use bathrooms that match their gender identity only if they can prove that they have had gender-affirming surgery and have had the sex on their birth certificates changed.
In public schools, students can now use only a bathroom, shower room or locker room that aligns with their sex assigned at birth, with few exceptions. For government-owned buildings, including state universities, the restrictions apply only to showers and locker rooms.
Violators may face charges for loitering, and government-owned institutions may face fines if they do not enforce the new rules. The state auditor will be required to establish a process to receive and investigate reports of violations.
The legislation also narrows the definitions of “male” and “female,” basing it on a person’s biological reproductive system. Opponents of the bill say these designations apply specifically to cisgender people and exclude those who identify as nonbinary.
Governor Cox, a Republican, has taken mixed positions on legislation over transgender rights.
In 2022, Mr. Cox vetoed a bill that would have barred young transgender athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports teams, which the State Legislature overrode. But last year, he signed a bill that blocked minors from receiving gender-transition health care.
Why It Matters
This is the first legislation this year that targets transgender people’s rights to use bathrooms of their choice, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Dozens of other states are considering bills that would limit bathroom access for transgender people, according to the nonprofit Trevor Project. Currently several states, including North Carolina, Iowa and Alabama, have such bans in place.
The Utah bill is part of a national wave of laws that aim to restrict the rights of transgender people. Last year, at least 20 states passed bans or restrictions on gender-affirming medical care for minors.
What Supporters and Critics of the Bill Say
In a statement, Governor Cox said “we want public facilities that are safe and accommodating for everyone and this bill increases privacy protections for all.”
Representative Kera Birkeland, a Republican who wrote the bill, said on X that the measure was intended to keep women and girls safe from male perpetrators who go into the bathroom to harm them under the guise of, and “at the expense of,” transgender people.
Opponents of the bill have said there is no evidence of such incidents. Ms. Birkeland countered that she had seen multiple police reports involving bad actors.
“Let’s be clear, sexual assault knows no boundaries,” Ms. Birkeland wrote. “Keeping men from women’s spaces is an appropriate and much needed boundary”
Advocates of L.G.B.T.Q. rights say the legislation is harmful. Marina Lowe, policy director for Equality Utah, said the bill gave the public license to judge a person’s gender identity based on appearance, which is “troubling.”
Salt Lake City officials have opposed the ban as well, saying it contradicts and undermines the state’s commitment to embracing diversity.
But critics have said some provisions of the bill are positive changes.
The legislation codifies Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in school sports. It also requires new government buildings to have single-occupancy bathrooms and asks that the government look into building more such bathrooms in already existing facilities. And schools are required to create a “privacy plan” for students who do not feel comfortable using group bathrooms, because of their gender identity or concerns of bullying.
Nevertheless, Ms. Lowe expressed concern over the new law and how it would affect the transgender community.
“That’s really harmful to everyone,” she said. “It’s not theoretical, it’s happening.”