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Utah's ban on transgender girls competing in girls' sports is blocked temporarily

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Utah's ban on transgender girls competing in girls school sports was blocked temporarily in state court. That ban has been on the books in Utah since March, when the state legislature overrode a veto by Republican Governor Spencer Cox. Now, even with the ban on hold, transgender girls will need to get approval from a state commission before they can compete. Sean Higgins with member station KUER has more.

SEAN HIGGINS, BYLINE: On Friday, a judge in Utah's Third District Court put a pause on the transgender sports ban, saying it gave transgender girls, quote, "plainly unfavorable treatment." That order prevents the ban from being enforced while a lawsuit filed by families of three transgender girls is resolved.

SHANNON MINTER: The great news for these girls and their families is that, no matter what happens next, the ban cannot be enforced until there's some final resolution, which may take quite a while.

HIGGINS: That's Shannon Minter, one of the lawyers who represents the families and the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Minter's team has argued that the law is discriminatory and violates the state's constitution. The bill's original sponsor, Republican State Representative Kera Birkeland, says she was saddened by the decision and still stands by the bill.

KERA BIRKELAND: I think we have failed to see the damage that is being done to biological girls who are competing against transgender girls. They come away from their competition feeling inferior.

HIGGINS: Even though the ban has been paused, transgender girls still face an obstacle to competing. The law was written so that in the event that an outright ban was struck down or halted by a court, a commission would be established to evaluate whether transgender girls could participate in girls sports on a case-by-case basis. Republican legislative leaders say that commission will be put in place in the coming weeks.

Sue Robbins with the LGBTQ-plus advocacy group Equality Utah, says her group will be watching closely to see how that commission makes their decisions. But for now, she hopes Friday's order helps transgender youth feel more welcome in Utah.

SUE ROBBINS: It was very difficult on them earlier this year to go through the roller coaster ride of everything that was changing. So it is good to start getting a positive trajectory to the way things are going.

HIGGINS: Lawyer Shannon Minter says the case could go to trial next year unless the state attorney general successfully appeals the ruling. For NPR News, I'm Sean Higgins in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sean Higgins