Here's a conversation.
"I saw a salesperson there"
"Was it a girl?"
Is it OK to use "it" when you refer to the salesperson?
Or should you use "that" instead of "it"?
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The use of "it" or "that" when referring to a person would depend on context and intent.
In the scenario you lay out, it is correct to say "Was it a girl?", (assuming you didn't see the salesperson and thus don't know their gender). You would not say "that" in such a scenario.
If you were walking with a friend and passed a person of ambiguous gender, you might turn to your friend and ask "Was that a girl?", which could also be read as "Was that person a girl?". (This could be considered insulting to the person of unknown gender, but that doesn't mean the sentence is wrong...just don't say it in their hearing; just as you wouldn't ask that person "Are you a girl?" (for the same reason))
Typically, I would put forward that if you could/would point to a person while making the statement/question, you should use 'that': [while pointing] "Who is that?", "Is that who you mean?" etc.
If instead you are referring to a theoretical person, or a person who you haven't seen with whomever you are with, you would use 'it': "Who was it?"
The above is why you often hear 'it' being used to refer to infants - often, the speaker can't tell the gender and, rather than using an inappropriate pronoun, will use 'it'. When saying "It's a boy/girl", you are explaining that the infant (of previously unknown gender) can now be qualified as a given gender. From then on, the parents, doctors, etc would generally begin using the appropriate pronoun.
That said, if there is a more appropriate pronoun, it should usually be used. "It" and "that" tend to be more objectifying, and thus could be at the least odd and at the worst insulting. In all the examples I gave, an appropriate pronoun can replace both 'that' and 'he': "Who is he?" "Are they who you mean?"/"Is he who you mean?" "Who was she?"
Yes, it's common and generally accepted to use Was it a girl? in this situation, at least in "US English". It could also be Was it a girl (you saw)?
The I have the feeling, but don't know for sure, is that or was that would be used in "British English", instead or alternatively.
"Was it a girl?"
It is not an English Usage Expert that determines the answer to this question. The sentence "Was it a girl?" is fully formed as a sentence and grammatically correct. It is not outside the realm of understanding as stated, and would not be found unheard in many a jurisdiction, even if one's opinion about the sentence's context might deem it insensitive.
As I say:
In any statement, there exists: what can be said, what should be said, what was said, and what was heard.
It will be obvious to the listener what was meant, and as grammar was established as correct, the rest is opinion. But to make the sentence less offensive, if it needs to be, the use of it or that should be effectively replaced by the person or the salesperson:
Was the [sales]person a girl?
Problem solved. it and that are both wrong, if right/wrong need to be established, because both have the same difficulties as using insensitive gender agnostic pronouns to refer to a person of indeterminate gender. Just be glad that English allows person to be gender neutral.
If I was approached and someone said, "Was it a girl?", I wouldn't answer. I would, instead, want to know why he referred to the salesperson as it. Generally, if your puzzled by someone's appearance, I guarantee, that the most common expression, would be "Was it a girl."
Think about it, you are referring to someone you two just saw. Therefore, saying that refers to that person. Also, it is a bit inhumane. It almost gives the presence that such a person you are referring to is not human, but an object. That, in my argument, gives personage to an already existing subject.
Lastly, if your truly spiteful, saying "was that a girl" give's more power in your argument. It gives off the presence that you are defining the definition of what a woman should be.
The proper use would be "Is that a girl?" Using "Was it a girl?" makes a girl seem like an object. Using "that" makes it sound like you're actually talking about a person. If you are unsure of the gender, you should still use "Was that a girl?" because you are not referring to an object, but to a person.