Saturday, April 13

Utah School Board Member Is Censured After Questioning Student’s Gender

A Utah State Board of Education member was stripped of her committee assignments and asked to resign this week after she questioned the gender of a high school basketball player in a Facebook post.

Natalie Cline, the board member, posted photos of a flier and a banner for a high school basketball team in Salt Lake County on Feb. 6 with the caption “Girls’ basketball,” suggesting that one of the girls featured in the images, who had short hair, was not female. The post, which was reported on by KSL TV, a television channel in Salt Lake City, has since been deleted.

The board said Wednesday that, after an investigation, it had decided to censure Ms. Cline, request her resignation and ban her from attending board committee meetings for failing to respect the privacy of students, including portraying them publicly in a negative light. The Utah Legislature passed a resolution on Thursday against Ms. Cline for her “abhorrent actions” that had led to “relentless harassment and bullying, including threats of violence” of a student.

The parents of the 16-year-old girl who was targeted in the post, Al and Rachel van der Beek, wrote in a column in the Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday that Ms. Cline, “did the very thing we teach our children not to do in terms of bullying, mocking and spreading rumors and gossip about others.”

Mr. van der Beek said in an interview on Friday that Ms. Cline had exposed their daughter to a barrage of ridicule and hateful comments for the 16 hours that the post was on social media. He said that her comments and the reaction to them was one of the most painful things the family had endured.

He said that his daughter, a lead scorer on the basketball team, had already faced bullying from other students after she decided to cut her hair, with some shouting derogatory comments at her while she played, like, “Get that boy out of the game.”

The comments from Ms. Cline thrust the issue into the public, representing “a whole other level of despicable-ness,” Mr. van der Beek said.

Ms. Cline’s behavior would have been unjustifiable even if it had been based in fact, though it was not, he said.

He said that his daughter, after the last several basketball games, has been distraught and frustrated. “She came home last night and yelled, ‘I hate basketball,’” he said.

Several state legislatures have in recent years become more hostile toward transgender people, passing laws focused on restricting their access to health care, bathroom access and participation in school sports. More than 425 bills focused on limiting rights for L.G.B.T.Q. people are being considered by state legislatures, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The heightened focus on transgender issues, a political and cultural flashpoint in the United States, has thrust transgender people into the spotlight, with some reporting increased levels of harassment and discomfort.

In January, Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah, a Republican, signed a bill prohibiting transgender people from using bathrooms, shower rooms or locker rooms that align with their gender identity, with few exceptions. Last year, Governor Cox signed a bill blocking minors from receiving gender-transition health care, which can include puberty-suppressing drugs, surgeries and other medically accepted treatments.

In a survey of more than 92,000 transgender and nonbinary Americans in late 2022, nearly one-third of respondents said they had been verbally harassed in the previous year, and 3 percent of respondents said they had been physically attacked in the last year because of their gender identity.

Ms. Cline, who was elected to the board in 2020, did not respond to a request for comment early Friday. In a follow-up Facebook post on Feb. 8, she apologized for “the negative attention” that her post drew.

“We live in strange times when it is normal to pause and wonder if people are what they say they are because of the push to normalize transgenderism in our society,” Ms. Cline wrote in that post. She added that the student she had referenced had “a larger build, like her parents.”

The Utah School Board of Education apologized to the student. “No individual, especially a child, should be subject to such comments and judgment,” the board’s statement said. Ms. Cline, in a letter posted to Facebook on Wednesday, asserted that the board’s investigation had been rushed and had deprived her of “a fair process for addressing allegations.”

Governor Cox signed the Utah House resolution on Thursday. “The vast majority of Utahns agree that Natalie Cline’s behavior was unacceptable,” he wrote in a statement. “I’ve spoken with the student’s parents, and I’m heartbroken for this family.”