Champine: Anti-Trans Politicians and Groups Use Utah Children as Pawns


Marco Lozzi

Carolyn Tuft speaking during the March For Our Lives protest at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on April 5, 2023. (Photo by Marco Lozzi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Morgan Champine, Assistant Opinion Editor


On June 6, 2023, the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people. Utah’s LGBTQ+ community has suffered majorly over the past year, and Utah’s queer youth are being targeted the most by politicians and anti-transgender activists. With gender-affirming care being banned for youth and books being removed from libraries, Utah is an increasingly dangerous place to be a queer child.

Utah is a dangerous place for any child, with high rates of mental illness for youth regardless of identity. Painting transgender people as a risk for children was one of the most effective political choices anti-transgender activists could have made. They’re preying on fear, convincing parents that trans and queer people are targeting what they love most: their children. Utah politicians and activists are using children as political pawns for their own gain.

In the spring of 2022, high school and middle school students across Utah took a stand against banning transgender girls from high school sports. The protests were organized by students aged 13-17, who should have many different things to be worrying about. But we live in a state where students can’t even play sports in peace. This is not the way that children deserve to be treated. They should be able to enjoy their high school experiences and extracurriculars, no matter how they identify.

Reading and books are also being targeted in schools. An influx of parent organizations, such as Utah Parents United, have targeted books for their so-called inappropriate and pornographic material. The majority of these books center queer characters and queer experiences. Straight books get to be romantic, while queer books with the same messages and content are deemed vulgar and brainwashing. Politicians and conservative fear-mongers are twisting innocent childhood experiences into something inappropriate, targeting and harming queer youth.

Miles Hayes, a former student at East Hollywood High School, was very active in LGBTQ+ protests and fought for trans rights. He wrote a letter to Sen. Michael Kennedy regarding S.B. 16, which bans gender-affirming care for minors. Hayes received a response from the senator, whose reasoning behind the bill was, in Hayes’ words, “Mostly because kids can’t think for themselves, and adults have to approve whatever they want to do first.”

Kennedy is a family doctor and a father. He has a family and children of his own and chooses to target other people’s children. Conservatives claim that queer people are disrupting the traditional family system, yet they insert themselves into the relationship between trans children and their parents. It’s not transgender people who are ruining families. It’s fear-mongerers desperate to spread their harmful rhetoric.

Regarding S.B. 16, Gov. Spencer Cox said, “We sincerely hope that we can treat our transgender families with more love and respect as we work to better understand the science and consequences behind these procedures.” This statement is hypocritical. Cox signed a bill into law that gives anti-trans groups more ammunition in their fight against transgender children and their families. He is not giving any of the love and respect he is asking the community to give — he’s signing it away.

It’s hard to feel that things will ever get better. As children and students remain major targets of anti-transgender parties, the question on parents’ minds is how to keep their children safe, happy and healthy at school. The question on students’ minds is how to fight for their rights and make their existence easier.

One of the best things we can do for children at a time like this is to educate them. Children will grow to make their own choices and choose their own battles, but adults can still fight to make the world safer for them — and to get them off the front lines. Coming up with a concrete solution to protect children is difficult, especially as they reach high school age and want to protect themselves. But we can teach them how to do so.

Students can also find independence and strength in sticking up for themselves. As Hayes said, his activism makes him feel “pride and powerful.” Teaching children how to use their voices the proper way can give them their power back. If conservatives are going to target children, it’s vital we teach them how to fight back. Leaving children defenseless is not an option.

It’s never easy to watch someone suffer at the hands of someone who should be protecting them. Fear tactics are discouraging to see, especially when they appear to be working. To keep children safe, we have to stand up to those who want to use them as pawns and force them to face people their own size instead.


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