Carlene Coombs

Transgender youth sit on the steps at the Utah State Capitol on March 24, 2022 as the crowd surrounding them chanted “We love you.” (Photo by Carlene Coombs | Daily Utah Chronicle)

News x Opinion: Anti-Trans Violence in Utah

January 6, 2023


Sarah Karr

Bulletin of available programs, resources, stickers and related pamphlets at the University of Utah LGBT Resource Center in Salt Lake City on Oct. 24, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Karr | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Recognizing Violence Against Transgender Individuals in Utah

In 2021, 42 of the 134 hate crimes reported in Utah targeted the LGBTQ+ community, up from 22 in 2020, with six offenses targeting transgender people, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Nationwide, the LGBTQ+ community has also been targeted by legislation, with the number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills skyrocketing in recent years. State lawmakers proposed a record 238 bills in 2022 that would limit the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans, according to NBC. About half of them target transgender people specifically.

University of Utah student and Armed Queers organizer Ermiya Fanaeian said, “The rhetoric really promotes and exacerbates … the mass amount of violence that we face.” She added that transphobic rhetoric makes people feel like it is acceptable to behave violently toward transgender people.

Recent Incidents

In August, a drag show hosted by Tea Zaanti, a local tea and wine cafe, faced backlash when a young girl joined a performer on stage to dance and sing along to a Disney song. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the shop owners, Scott and Becky Lyttle, were called “child abusers, groomers and disgusting perverts.”

Fanaeian said there is a constant Puritan fear-mongering created around drag shows and an idea of, “Oh no, if we accept these people in our communities they are going to come after our children.”

It’s politically motivated rhetoric and is often followed by laws to ban the expression of queer and transgender people at drag shows and other events, she added. 

Tea Zaanti faced an onslaught of negative comments on Google Reviews and Yelp. Some comments even suggested the girl be taken away from her parents.

At the U, two student attendees at a Recognized Student Organization meeting were reported for using homophobic slurs. According to the report, a student said one of his reasons for joining the group was to “bring the gospel to the liberals and the f***.” Another student at the meeting repeated the slur in response to LGBTQ+ community members wanting to be addressed by their correct pronouns.

Fanaeian said the U has a long way to go in providing material support for trans individuals.

“It’s about a lot more than diversity campaigns, and it’s about a lot more than just pronoun events, more than coloring the block U rainbow a couple of times a year,” she said. She added that in terms of providing health care, the U needs to provide free housing for escaping domestic violence and hold their police officers accountable when they don’t do anything to protect from domestic-based, gender-based violence.

Transphobia within higher educational institutions is not unheard of, Fanaeian said.

“BYU, for a long time, the students there have been struggling against the institutionally permitted discrimination against queer and trans people,” she said. 

At the U, she said students have been struggling against right-wing clubs that are allowed to stoke transphobic rhetoric. She said students need to show mass solidarity so “those individuals and those bigoted ideologues understand that this kind of rhetoric is not to be allowed and it’s not to be agreed upon by our collective.” 


In October, the Utah legislative committee advanced a proposal that would deny gender-affirming surgery for minors. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the bill would allow for surgeries of medical necessity, but not for those diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The bill will be proposed in the 2023 legislative session, which begins in January.

“​​We’ve seen far too many young people take their lives because they did not have access to this care,” Fanaeian said.

In March, Utah passed a bill banning young transgender athletes from competing in girls sports. That law, however, is currently on hold after a judge granted an injunction in August due to pending litigation.

Fanaeian said this lawmaking “makes it seem as though we’re simply something to be debated over.”

She added right-wing lawmakers are shaping a negative and propagandist view of transgender individuals, which increases individual, gender-based and state violence against members of the community.


The LGBT Resource Center on campus provides help and support to all members of the LGTBQ+ community. Coordinator of Queer and Trans Students of Color Initiatives Olga Rodriguez said, “We’re just here to help be an advocate and create space for queer students on campus.”

The resource center has several events and groups that trans individuals can participate in.

Rodriguez said the Beyond Binaries group is put on by the University Counseling Center and is a space where students can “see and feel some gender euphoria within that group and be euphoric with themselves.” 

The LGBT Resource Center hosts Pride Week at the U. The next Pride Week will be held from March 27 to April 1 of next year. Students can learn about the history and culture of the LGBTQ+ community in a welcoming environment. 

The LGBT Resource Center can also help with name or pronoun changes on Canvas, Campus Information Systems, attendance rosters and diplomas.

“I think that the most important thing is just to make sure you have a community, you’re wanted in this world,” Rodriguez said.  

For on-campus resources and support, visit the LGBT Resource Center and the University Counseling Center. For trans-peer crisis support, call the Trans Lifeline Hotline at 877-565-8860. For LGBTQ+ crisis counselor support, call the Trevor Project Hotline at 1-866-488-7386.


[email protected]



Sarah Karr

Front sign of the University of Utah LGBT Resource Center in Salt Lake City on Oct. 24, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Karr | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Cowley & Torres: Stop Normalizing Anti-Trans Violence


In the U.S. today, the assault against trans people has never been so large scale. Unfounded transphobic rhetoric creates a moral panic. 2022 is on track to see a record number of anti-trans bills hit legislatures nationwide, with one-third of the bills targeting trans youth. A common rebuttal to holding anti-transness accountable is that such views are nothing more than opinion. Passing off anti-trans rhetoric as mere opinion does nothing but normalize violence towards trans people.

The Rise of Anti-Trans Legislation

In the last couple years, legislation targeting trans individuals has exponentially increased. Utah was one of the first states to ban trans athletes from participating in sports. Out of an entire state of athletes from all disciplines, this law only affected a total of three athletes. While a judge reversed the ruling this past summer, the fact that the law passed at all shows how over-inflated this fear of individuals who do not conform to the societal standard of binary gender really is.

On top of the ban on transgender athletes, Utah is seeking to pass legislation that would further restrict gender affirming care. The proposed bill would prohibit minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria from receiving any sort of gender affirming surgery. These laws aren’t productive; they only serve to further oppress marginalized communities.

Life for queer and trans youth is hard enough as it is. Queer kids are more likely to be bullied in school than their straight counterparts. According to the Utah LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention Plan 2020-23, in Utah, queer youth are three times more likely to consider suicide. Forty percent of trans adults have attempted suicide at some point in their lives. Adults playing political chess with trans lives pave the path for further violence.

Jesus Wouldn’t Promote Hate Rhetoric

Private religious universities across the country hide behind their religious status to discriminate against trans people. Brigham Young University in Provo is notorious for being one of the worst campuses in the country for queer students. The previous president of BYU, Jeffery Holland, has gone on the record stating that he “would like to hear a little more musket fire in this temple of learning.” This statement was made in regard to “the same sex topic.”

BYU’s transphobia goes far beyond statements made by leadership. In February of 2022, BYU cancelled care for transgender patients at its speech clinic. Six months later, BYU removed its LGBTQ+ materials from welcome baskets for new students. These represent just the most recent instances in a long history of religion-justified oppression of queer students at BYU.

The 2017 Supreme Court Case Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission used religious exemption to justify some shop owners’ homophobic reservations against baking a cake for a same-sex wedding. The implications of this ruling set a foundation to promote discrimination against queer community members. The Gay and Trans Panic Defense for the murder of LGBTQ+ people is still legally viable in several courts of law. This defense is successfully used to reduce sentences for up to a third of defendants. Allowing exemptions on the basis of religion turns a source of community and hope for some into a foundation of hate and fear for queer and trans people.

Deeper than Chromosomes

Transphobic talking points base themselves on a platform of biological essentialism — the idea that gender and sex are inseparable, and that there are only two chromosomal variations. The scientific community recognizes this as false. Studies have also shown that trans peoples’ brains operate more like their desired gender, even from a young age.

At a smaller magnitude, biological essentialism presents itself in ways like inappropriate public fascination with trans people’s genitalia, but it leads to larger consequences like transmedicalism. Pinning transition on a medical diagnosis fails to dissect the role of societally constructed gender identities. Pushing this rhetoric places real lives in danger.

The declaration of trans-exclusive radical feminists such as JK Rowling that trans women are inherently violent and predatory stems from biological essentialism. It incorrectly implies that being born male creates inherent aggression and violence. Its phony cries of  co-opting the women’s rights movement ignore that trans-women are murdered at an exorbitantly high rate.

Experts have described violence against trans people as a form of genocide. The intentional extermination of the trans community is witnessed not only in our legislation, but in our religions, institutions and public figures. By allowing this, we mirror our country’s past with the eugenics movement, a time when we had scientific racism explicitly coded into law.

What was previously unthinkably discriminatory is now on the ballot as public figures debate the rights of vulnerable groups for publicity. This threatens the legal basis of the basic human rights of all marginalized people. By building legal precedents of what is considered a legally “valid” body, the foundation for discriminatory legislation grows stronger. Real people are dying and we must do everything in our power to put a stop to damaging discrimination disguised as “beliefs.”


For trans peer crisis support, call the anonymous Trans Lifeline Hotline at 877-565-8860.

For LGBTQ+ crisis counselors, call the anonymous Trevor Project Hotline at 1-866-488-7386, text “START” to 678-678 or visit their website.


[email protected]


[email protected]


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About the Contributors
Photo of Elle Cowley
Elle Cowley, Multimedia Managing Editor
Elle Cowley (they/them) is a Junior at the University of Utah pursuing a degree in Strategic Communications. Currently, they work for The Daily Utah Chronicle as Multimedia Managing Editor, at Slug Magazine as an Editorial Intern and at KUER as an Intern for RadioWest. Their favorite part of their work is talking to lots of different people and telling their stories. Some of the work they're the most proud of is their work on the narrative podcast, Can of Worms and their Op-Ed series on anti-trans legislation in Utah. When Elle isn't out in the field, they enjoy knitting, visiting record stores and reading pulpy sci-fi.
Photo of Gaby Torres
Gaby Torres, Opinion Writer

Gaby Torres is an opinion writer for The Daily Utah Chronicle and is a computer science and gender studies double major. Her passions lie in transforming technology into a tool for social justice and exposing how the world of tech exploits those that it marginalizes. When she isn’t coding in a library, Gaby can be found bingeing horror movies or anime like it's an Olympic sport.

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Vanessa Hudson, Editor in Chief
Vanessa is from Grand Junction, Colorado. She's a junior majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism and minoring in modern dance and political science. She is passionate about what she reports on, and she usually winds up writing about local politics and issues. When Vanessa isn't writing, you can find her trying out some new choreography, listening to public radio or watching Marvel and Star Wars movies.
Photo of Sarah Karr
Sarah Karr, Photographer
Sarah Karr was born and raised in Springfield, Oregon, and is attending the University of Utah with a major is communication and a minor in digital photography. Sarah is working with the Chronicle to improve her photojournalism skills and gain some experience in the newsroom. In her free time, Sarah likes to play online games, read and tend to her plants.

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