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Utah legislature advances an extreme trans bathroom ban

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Photo: The Gender Spectrum Collection

On Friday, Utah’s state House of Representatives distinguished itself by becoming the country’s first legislative body to pass an anti-trans bill in 2024.

It also happens to be dangerously extreme, by seeking to make it a criminal offense for people to use a bathroom in a public building that doesn’t correspond with the gender on their birth certificate. According to Erin Reed, who tracks anti-trans legislation nationwide, the law raises the prospect of people forced to “potentially undergo a genital examination if under criminal investigation for being in the bathroom.” People determined under the law to have used the wrong bathroom inside public spaces, from colleges to Salt Lake City’s airport, could be sent to jail for up to 6 months. 

The bill, which would need to pass the state’s Senate and be approved by the governor to become law, is so extreme that Reed and others have said it could even ensnare cisgender people and subject them to prosecution if someone thinks they’re peeing in the wrong place.

As Chris Geidner writes at Law Dork, “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.”

When pressed on the House floor, the bill’s sponsor could not point to a single example of inappropriate behavior by a trans person in an Utah bathroom. But members of the Utah House—which meets for only 45 days a year and just started its 2024 session on Tuesday—nonetheless voted 57 to 17 to police bathrooms.

That the obviously transphobic and culture war catering move was a top priority says a lot about the leadership of my home state, which is on its way to becoming an uninhabitable toxic wasteland unless its politicians can stop the Great Salt Lake from drying up. Historically, Utah’s Republican majority has claimed to want to get government off your back—except for when it wants to look down your pants. Indeed, Utah legislators have long seemed to have a rather prurient interest in residents’ private lives and private parts.

Take the not-so-long-ago time Utah installed a “porn czar” in its attorney general’s office. In 2001, the state hired an unmarried Mormon virgin to police the state for smut and combat “cyber-sex.” The Washington Post reported that in her first months on the job, the bureaucrat was called upon to intercept a Victoria’s Secret catalog from a family mailbox, bar nude mannequin displays in store windows, and purge local libraries of R-rated movies. In 2018, the state legislature overturned the law creating the post. “The whole thing was a public-relations nightmare and kind of made Utah the laughingstock of the nation,” Sen. Todd Weiler, a Republican cosponsor of the rollback bill, told the Salt Lake Tribune.

The bathroom bill is, of course, far more intrusive, and would have far more harmful and repressive impacts than the porn czar ever did. But the drive for invasive legislation that could literally see local cops checking people’s genitalia overlaps with the lawmakers’ longstanding and unhealthy interest in what goes on behind closed doors.

This article first appeared on Mother Jones. It has been republished with the publication’s permission.

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