Jul 11, 2022 - Politics

The economic repercussions of Utah's transgender athletes ban

Illustration of a ref holding a whistle and a red penalty card with the transgender symbol on it.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

California has restricted state-funded travel to Utah, and three other red states, for passing a controversial law that bars transgender girls from competing in school sports matching their gender identity.

Why it matters: The travel restriction could mean a loss of economic and local business revenue in the state.

  • Visit Salt Lake told the Deseret News in March that the law's passage could cost the state an estimated $50 million in lost economic opportunity.

What they're saying: "Make no mistake: There is a coordinated, ongoing attack on transgender rights happening right now all across the country," California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement announcing the travel restriction.

  • "Blanket legislation targeting transgender children is a 'solution' in search of a problem. It is detached from reality and directly undermines the well-being of our LGBTQ+ community."

Between the lines: California passed a law in 2016 that would bar state agencies from allowing state-funded travel to states that repeal protections against the discrimination of LGBTQ people.

  • Some public schools in California have previously stated their sports teams will still travel to restricted states, but instead rely on private donations or non-taxpayer funds, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Background: The Republican-controlled Utah Legislature passed the law in question, HB11, in March.

  • Republicans said the law would protect the integrity of girl's and women's sports.
  • Gay rights advocates and mental health experts said the law sends a message that transgender people that don’t belong and could fuel more bullying and suicide risk among LGBTQ youth.

The other side: Senate President Stuart Adams told Axios he was disappointed in California's travel restriction, but said he wasn't worried about economic repercussions.

  • When HB11 was being debated there was speculation that its passage would prompt the NBA to move its 2023 All-Star game from Salt Lake City.
  • "I'm not seeing any of that happen. In fact, I'm seeing the opposite — that actually we've got more sports events coming than anybody anticipated,” Adams said, referring to the Ironman World Championship in St. George that was announced in 2021 before the ban was introduced in this year's session.
  • Adams said he's been asked if Utah would restrict state travel to California, but said he didn't believe "in that type of process."

Flashback: It's not the first time state leaders' political positions have driven away economic possibilities.

  • In 2017, the Outdoor Retailer said it would move its biannual trade show to Denver in protest of Utah leaders' support to reduce the size of national monuments and public lands.
  • The move cost Utah about $45 million in lost revenue a year.

Yes, but: This year the trade show said it would move back to Salt Lake City in an effort to have a seat at the table and effect "meaningful change."

The latest: Utah's transgender athletes ban is currently being challenged in a lawsuit by two families represented by the ACLU of Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.


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