Jan 18, 2024 - News

Utah Republicans race to upend DEI, and restrict trans rights

Photo by: Jon G. Fuller/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Utah Republicans are speeding through two divisive bills the first week of the legislative session that would upend diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs and restrict the rights of transgender Utahns.

State of play: HB 261, co-sponsored by state Rep. Katy Hall, a South Ogden Republican, would restructure DEI programs in Utah's public colleges and universities. Instead, institutions would be required to "ensure that all students have access to programs providing student success and support," the bill reads.

  • In a statement last week, Hall said the measure "aims to support all students and faculty while promoting an environment of free, diverse and open opinions."

Context: DEI programs in higher education institutions are designed to close college attainment gaps among historically underrepresented students, including people of color, people with disabilities and veterans.

The other side: CEO of Dragonfly Wellness and restaurateur Hoang Nguyen, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam, spoke out against the proposal.

  • "We credit DEI efforts for leveling the playing field that gave us the opportunity to build and create what we have here and to be able to contribute to the robust economy of Utah," she said at a committee hearing on Wednesday.

HB 257, co-sponsored by Morgan Republican state Rep. Kera Birkeland, would restrict transgender people from using gender-specific public bathrooms and facilities that align with their gender identity.

  • The proposal would require government entities to have a certain number of single-occupant restrooms and locker rooms in new buildings.
  • The bill follows the state Legislature approving legislation in the past two years that bans transgender girls from competing on school sports teams matching their gender identity and another that prohibits gender-affirming health care for transgender youth.

The latest: Both measures passed House committees on Wednesday. They're now expected to move quickly through the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Flashback: Last year, GOP lawmakers sped through a high-profile bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender children and teens to the governor's desk within the first two weeks of the legislative session.

The big picture: Measures targeting DEI in higher-ed and restricting the rights of transgender individuals have grown widespread in Republican-majority statehouses nationwide.

  • Last year, the governors of Florida and Texas signed legislation defunding DEI offices in public colleges.

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