Utah House passes invasive criminal anti-trans bathroom ban
The bill, which includes criminal penalties, would affect many public spaces and prevent local protections. Also: An explanation of Law Dork's legislative coverage plans.
The Utah House on Friday became the first chamber in the nation to pass anti-LGBTQ legislation in 2024, targeting transgender people with a statewide, criminal law severely restricting the use of gender identity-appropriate restrooms and changing rooms in many public spaces.
H.B. 257 would define “sex” and similar terms across state law to exclude trans people, criminalize many transgender people for using public restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity, and prohibit local governments from taking certain actions to protect transgender people in public spaces, among other steps.
It is extreme legislation that explicitly retrofits the crimes of voyeurism and criminal trespass in the state to allow for the prosecution of many transgender people for using the right bathroom.
The bill passed the Utah House this afternoon on a 52-17 vote and will be sent to the state’s Senate. Erin Reed covered the bill’s approval in committee earlier this week.
The bill broadly defines public spaces:
And then defines “privacy space” to undergird the ban:
It then creates the ban itself — which contains a disgustingly invasive “show me your papers and proof of surgery” scenario as the only exception for when a trans person would be allowed to use the appropriate restroom:
In addition to the invasive nature of the exceptions, it’s important to note how many states are making it more difficult for trans people to amend their birth certificates or get gender-affirming surgery. And how many states are making it take more time to do so. And, none of that addresses the fact that many trans people do not want surgery at all.1
And sets up the two potential criminal penalties for violating the ban:
The legislation then acknowledges how unrealistic its exception described above is and admits that even cisgender people are inevitably going to be targeted for prosecution by this anti-transgender law through its description of two defenses to the ban.
Specifically, (4)(a) would apply to cisgender people ensnared by the ban, and (4)(b) is a defense for those people prosecuted under the ban despite meeting the invasive exceptions to the ban described earlier.
Additionally, the bill would authorize the state’s attorney general to take action against any local government not enforcing the ban — as in, protecting trans people.
The bill, as noted above, will now go to the Utah Senate, and Law Dork will have more as the situation requires.
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Covering anti-LGBTQ legislation
Friday’s vote is a stark reminder that anti-LGBTQ bills are being introduced yet again across the country — and not just in Republican trifecta states like Utah where the GOP controls both chambers of the legislature and holds the governor’s office.
Even as litigation continues over laws passed in 2023 (and before), then, there will be new anti-LGBTQ legislation to cover. I will regularly refer to the ACLU’s legislative tracker in this coverage. It’s excellent, easy to use, and — importantly — links to the documents.
At Law Dork, I am still a one-person operation. As such, I obviously have limited capacity. Because of that, I want to ensure that my coverage is focused on my expertise and on where I can best add to an understanding of what’s happening.
What does that actually mean?
Generally, I will continue my practice from last year of covering legislation only once it has passed one chamber of a state legislature.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, it’s a way of prioritizing my coverage on bills that have a greater possibility of becoming law. Second, I’ve found it’s a better way to see the bigger picture of what is actually happening across the country. Finally, it’s a way of preventing unnecessary promotion of anti-LGBTQ politicians whose goal in introducing extreme bills that have no chance of passage is to get scary coverage.
There are exceptions to this. I have been writing about anti-LGBTQ legislation for more than two decades, and there are moments and there are bills that I will highlight earlier on in the process. We are in an extreme moment, and there are some bills whose extremism, I might decide, needs to be centered. I might also focus on legislation earlier in the process because I believe it is part of a new organized effort that we’re seeing across states or because it has support from state leaders who have signaled that the legislation will be a priority.
But, outside of those instances, my general rule in coverage is and will continue to be to focus on bills that have pave passed at least one chamber. This is, bluntly, because I’m Law Dork. I can give a good reading to a bill that has passed a chamber to highlight specifics of the legislative language. When legislative process questions arise as bills are being amended after passage in one chamber, I can dig in and explain what is happening. And, if passed by both chambers and signed into law, I can and do cover the litigation that can and often does follow.
All of that said, any person who cares about these bills and laws absolutely should be reading other coverage, too. My coverage, as I’ve just detailed, is not comprehensive. People should read LGBTQ media outlets that cover the news, some mainstream national outlets, state and local publications, and other resources including state advocacy organizations to gather a full view of all that is happening — in their state and elsewhere.
Specifically, I do want to highlight Erin Reed’s Erin in the Morning that I already highlighted above. Her work is essential reading for those like me who are trying to follow the anti-transgender — and some trans-supportive — legislation making its way through statehouses across the country. Erin’s threads and reports on hearings and coverage of trans issues has been so important to my understanding of this moment; I can’t begin to imagine how valued it is by trans folks across the country just trying to live their lives in the face of such aggressive anti-trans laws.
As cases — and bills — continue moving forward, I will try to remain as on top of things as possible. Please do reach out to me if I’m missing something or if there’s something happening that you think everyone’s missing. I can’t guarantee I’ll cover it, but I will look into it and it will then fit into my understanding of what’s happening across the country — which eventually becomes a part of my coverage.
With the exception of Ohio, where a bill from last year is still under consideration, the Utah bill that passed the House on Friday is the only anti-LGBTQ bill to have passed a chamber so far this year.
In Ohio, H.B. 68, the anti-transgender bill banning gender-affirming medical care for minors and containing an anti-trans sports ban, is still under consideration. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed the bill in December, but the Ohio House overrode the veto earlier this month — despite DeWine’s administrative actions barring gender-affirming surgery for minors and proposing limits on all gender-affirming care. Next week, the Ohio Senate is set to return, at which point it could consider the bill again. If that chamber also overrides the veto, it would become law despite DeWine’s veto.
This paragraph was added after initial publication at 5:25 p.m. to provide additional information.