We Must Be Diligent to Protect Our Society from Prejudice – Legislative post by UEA Policy Ambassador Kristine Martin

Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Kristine Martin, math teacher at Grand Middle School in Grand County School District

It’s been a while since I have been so out of my element. This experience as a UEA Policy Ambassador has given me insight into how the legislature works beyond “Educator Day on the Hill.” Our UEA weekly meetings were a life raft that assisted in guiding and supporting me in this arena. There was a myriad of bills discussed, but I would like to focus on one in particular HB302: Preserving Sports for Female Students. Even though this bill was tabled in the Senate, this issue is of profound importance to me.

The bill was voted against on the national level and was being presented to states in an effort to gain momentum – four states so far have passed similar bills. Rep. Kera Birkeland and Sen. Curt Bramble presented this bill to the 2021 Utah Legislature. The bill passed out of the House but was tabled in the Senate.

I was a young activist and marched in the women’s movement in the mid 1960’s. My high school in metro Denver created an exploratory program for seniors, both male and female. ALTEX (Alternative Educational Experience) offered two outward-bound experiences, cooking classes, Native American tribal experiences as well as other exploratory sessions. We camped together, hiked, rock climbed, rappelled, worked cohesively, trusting and depending on each other no matter the gender. This experience left me with a lifelong attitude of basic human quality.

I have worked hard to have two successful careers and have fought against prejudice in the workplace. Women’s explicit equality rights are still not recognized in the 14th amendment as recently as 2019. The fight for equality is not over, and this bill with the pretext of “preserving” female sports is another classification of the weaker sex.

WITH A SINGLE letter, dated May 13, 2016, President Barack Obama and his administration altered the debate over rights for transgender youth in the United States. Using a mechanism known as a “Dear Colleague Letter,” Obama’s Justice and Education departments issued joint guidance on transgender inclusion in schools. The letter spelled out how the administration was interpreting Title IX and was unequivocal about the inclusion of transgender students in its protection.

Women have fought and won to participate in male sports nationally and locally. This bill also causes harm in the fight for equality in the transgender community. Working as a middle school teacher, I see students struggling with gender identity every year. This is the time when “tweens” who are transforming from children to teenagers are beginning to become aware of themselves and need the support of adults. By excluding these students, we are segregating them from the population and teaching non-transgender students that segregation is acceptable. We are leaving our transgender students without a life raft! How can they identify as a female and be excluded from a segment of the available activities for females?

Our school has both female and male locker rooms (as I’m sure all schools do), so the argument that they are protecting them is absurd. As is the argument that athletes who want to play “female” to gain some kind of advantage; remember, Billy Jean King proved that in 1973.

Our female athletes want to play the best and be recognized as the best. They want to challenge themselves, not be identified as the weaker sex! Our leagues already have A, B, C & D teams so all abilities can compete. The local schools are already identifying the needs of the students emotionally and socially.

My concern is that this bill will come back in the future, wrapped up in a package that appears to be supportive. This bill preserves and encourages prejudice against our females and our transgender community. We must be diligent to protect all segments of our society from prejudice now and in the future.

I look forward to participating again with the legislature and coming to a deeper understanding of what is at stake in our state and community. It has been a great experience!