Schools, airport and enforcement questions

Schools, airport and enforcement questions


A sweeping bill that targets less than 1% of Utahns by excluding transgender people from gender-specific public spaces like bathrooms and changing rooms was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday after it was quickly passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature last week.

“We want public facilities that are safe and accommodating for everyone and this bill increases privacy protections for all,” Cox said in a statement Tuesday evening.

But questions remain about how the law will be enforced and how the hundreds of lines of new legal code will impact Utah’s transgender community.

Titled “Sex-based Designations for Privacy, Anti-bullying and Women’s Opportunities,” HB257 will change the state’s legal definitions of “female” and “male” to categorize Utahns by the reproductive organs they were born with. It passed out of the Legislature on Friday.

Statistically, trans people are four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violence, and half will be sexually abused at some point in their lives, studies show. They also are far more likely to struggle with mental health, with higher rates of depression and suicide than the rest of the population.

[READ: Utah transgender bathroom ban goes into effect after Gov. Cox quickly signs bill]

Here are the answers to some of the pressing questions about the new law:

When will the restrictions begin?

The majority of the legislation went into effect when it received the governor’s signature, although government entities have until May 1 to comply.

Who can use which restrooms and locker rooms?

Under the bill, people can only use a changing room — including locker rooms, showers and dressing rooms — in a government-owned and government-controlled building if they meet the legal definition of sex that corresponds with the space. Those who don’t meet that definition can use the space if they have legally amended their birth certificate — which isn’t possible in five states — and had bottom surgery, which can be costly and invasive.

New legal definitions of “women’s restroom” and “men’s restroom” also say that only people who are legally considered “female” and “male” can use those spaces, but the law does not explicitly say that it is criminal for trans people to access them.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Republican Sen. Dan McCay from Riverton, told reporters Friday, “A person should go to the bathroom of their birth sex, and if there’s questions, they find a non-gender-specific bathroom.”

The requirements don’t apply to dependent minors or adults who need assistance in a restroom or changing room. They may use the space that corresponds with their caretaker’s sex.

The rules do not apply to intersex individuals.

It also does not apply to public safety workers — like police and firefighters — health care workers assisting a patient and employees responsible for cleaning and maintaining the space.

How are Utah’s public schools impacted by the bill?

Those rules are similar in schools, where students can only access a sex-designated “privacy space” — including restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms — if they meet the legal definition of sex that corresponds with that space.

So people assigned female at birth may not use boys’ restrooms and locker rooms, and people assigned male at birth can’t enter girls’ restrooms and locker rooms, no matter their gender identity. Schools’ rules also do not apply to intersex individuals.

Trans students who don’t feel comfortable using a restroom that doesn’t align with their gender identity can request access to a different one, and schools are required to work with parents to develop a “privacy plan.” Students would likely get permission to use a unisex or single-occupant facility, which may be a faculty or staff bathroom.

If such a facility isn’t available, students will be granted private use of a sex-designated privacy space through staggered scheduling or another policy that allows temporary private access.

In what other places do those rules apply?

The rules apply to restrooms and changing rooms in publicly owned or controlled facilities, meaning a state or local government at least has partial ownership, or a government entity is overseeing a program or event in that space.

Among the impacted spaces are libraries, public pools, recreation centers, courthouses, and some music venues and sports arenas.

Can transgender people use the bathrooms at Salt Lake City International Airport?

Technically, no, if they haven’t had bottom surgery and changed their birth certificate.

The airport is owned by Salt Lake City and administered by its Department of Airports, so all of the restrictions in the bill will also apply there. But there is only a criminal penalty if an individual who is legally not allowed in the restroom is loitering, or committing another crime.

What behavior is a crime?

A person who doesn’t meet the legal definition of sex that corresponds with a changing room — locker room, shower or dressing room — can be charged with criminal trespass “if the individual enters or remains in the changing room under circumstances which a reasonable person would expect to likely cause affront or alarm to, on, or in the presence of another individual,” according to the law.

A person can also be charged with criminal trespass for loitering in a restroom, or “if the actor intentionally or knowingly remains unlawfully in a privacy space.”

“Going into a bathroom that is not consistent with your birth gender, or your birth sex, you are putting yourself at greater risk,” McCay told reporters Friday. “I think that’s the best way for everybody to look at it and say, ‘How do I avoid risk? How do I avoid risk of arrest?’”

Criminal trespass is a class B misdemeanor, for which someone can spend up to six months in jail. It becomes a class A misdemeanor, doubling potential jail time, if the individual is also committing lewdness, voyeurism or is loitering.

While behaviors like lewdness and voyeurism are already criminal, an individual who is accused of committing them while in a changing room or restroom that doesn’t align with their sex assigned at birth will face a higher penalty than someone who did it elsewhere — a third-degree felony, or up to five years in prison.

Making a false reports of individuals violating these laws to police also becomes a class B misdemeanor if done repeatedly.

How will these laws be enforced?

The legislation says government entities must report complaints or allegations that someone is violating the law to police, although that obligation is removed when addressing student behavior.

The bill requires the state auditor to establish a process to receive complaints about government entities that are not complying with its restrictions and to then investigate those complaints.

A government entity will have 30 days to resolve a violation. If it fails to do so, the auditor will report the entity to the Legislature and the attorney general’s office, who will then impose a fine of up to $10,000 per violation per day.


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