- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah lawmakers on Tuesday voted to hold a hearing sometime this summer looking at how schools and transgender students will be affected by the Obama administration’s recent directive that transgender students be allowed to use facilities that match their gender identity.

Republican members of the legislative management committee on Tuesday originally sought to keep the discussion at the upcoming hearing, which has not been scheduled, to the effects on schools. But after prodding from Democrats, they agreed to also have the committee look at the effect on transgender students and issues they face such as bullying or violence. No hearing date has been set.

“I think that they are tied together,” said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City. “This is a serious problem.”

The Mormon church, meanwhile, isn’t directly supporting or opposing the directive and instead calling on public officials to create rules and laws that balance safety, privacy and dignity for all, church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement Tuesday. “We believe reasonable solutions can usually be found when people of goodwill come together to find answers,” Hawkins said.

The guidance from the Obama administration is not legally binding, but schools that refuse to comply could be hit with civil rights lawsuits from the government and could have their federal aid cut.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said in statement last week that he would fight the order if necessary and called it “one of the most egregious examples of federal overreach I have ever witnessed.”

He was more muted on Monday, telling reporters that he thinks local officials need to study the issue before taking action and that he wants to hear from families affected by the directive.

The state school board will also study the issue, Herbert said.

State Board of Education Chair David Crandall told schools in Utah last week that they don’t have to make any policy changes yet.

Leaders with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which more than half of Utah residents are members, recognize that transgender issues are “difficult and sensitive” and encourage members to be prayerful and loving toward anyone struggling to live within doctrine, Hawkins said.

But because of the religion’s belief that gender is part of a person’s “eternal God-given identity and purpose,” people planning transgender operations aren’t baptized and those who go through with the operation risk losing their membership, Hawkins said.

A person who has already undergone a transgender operation and wants to join the religion must interview with a mission president and get approval from high-ranking leaders at church headquarters, he said.

The church has been trying to take a softer tone on LGBT issues in recent years. Church leaders gave key support to a state law passed last year that protects gay and transgender people from housing and employment discrimination, while also protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals.

But the religion still opposes gay marriage, teaches that homosexuality is a sin and recently drew the ire of gay rights advocates for banning baptisms for children living with gay parents.

Church leaders have not talked much publicly about transgender issues. But high-ranking leader Dallin H. Oaks touched on the topic during a January 2015 appearance on The Salt Lake Tribune’s “Trib Talk” series.

“We need to acknowledge that while we have been acquainted with lesbians and homosexuals for some time, being acquainted with the unique problems of a transgender situation is something we have not had so much experience with,” said Oaks, a member of the religion’s top leadership council called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “We have some unfinished business in teaching on that.”

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