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Letter to the Editor: The Dangers of Respectable Bigotry in Utah

In order to combat the influx of trans hate we must become familiar with their tactics.
Elle Cowley
Protestors hold and wear transgender flags at a demonstration against H.B. 257 at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 25, 2024. (Photo by Elle Cowley | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


Not even a month after H.B. 257 was signed, we are already seeing the continuing effects of legalized transphobia. State Board of Education member, Natalie Cline, posted a Facebook post accusing a high school student athlete of being transgender. This post resulted in massive hate and threats towards this student and her family. Because of this, many have called for Cline’s resignation, including a multitude of Utah state legislators who are working on proper measures to address her behavior. This culmination of hate is a result of the language used to maintain and propagate transphobia within Utah’s culture today. And in order to combat the influx of trans hate we must become familiar with their tactics.

In order to continue transphobia, the purveyors of such have adopted a language of justification. Justifying that separating trans people from cis people actually protects trans people from hate. Justifying that discrimination against transness is for the “safety” of children. That separating us is for the good of society. They respect us because they don’t outlaw us entirely, they listen to our testimonies, they allow us to protest, and we are still allowed in the daylight, so they must be the bigger person. They are respectable bigots. They will exercise bigotry but in a manner that befits the marble columns, gold trim, tailored suits, and the well-mannered. The falsehood of respectable bigotry is dangerous. Respectable bigotry adopts the position of a moderator. They are here to listen to both sides, to use the language of empathy and concern in order to excuse and enact hate. Progressive language is a guise for their true intentions.

I find it laughable that the state legislature is appalled by Cline’s post when this is the precedent that they set up. Why is it appalling to even allude to a student being trans, but when actual trans people get these swarms of hate and threats directed toward them, it is applauded? The applause rings for legislation like 2022’s transgender sports ban H.B. 11, and this year’s H.B. 257 transgender “privacy space” ban. The legislature is continuing to sow the seeds of fear that H.B. 257 enabled through bills like H.B. 424 which furthers the myth that trans people are child sex predators. H.B. 424 directly coordinates with H.B. 257 within its text. These bills are the swarms of hate, and they build the cultural malice towards people like me.

I am a transgender person taking masculinizing hormone replacement therapy. Since the passing of H.B. 257, my fear of being trans on campus and in public has increased immensely. My appearance exists in a limbo between “man?” and “woman?”, and since H.B. 257 extends to institutions of higher education, the possibility of being accused of criminal activity is ever present in my mind every day, every class, everywhere. Even if I forgo “sex-designated” restrooms for gender-neutral restrooms, I am not safe. Entering a gender-neutral restroom makes it clear to those around me that I am trans. It puts a target on my back the moment I walk through the door.

Establishing the precedent that trans people should use a gender-neutral restroom as an alternative to “sex-designated” restrooms, will only result in fear around the individuals using them. Unless gender-neutral restrooms become normalized in cisgender society, they will still be a facility for hate. In regards to the backlash from Cline’s post, the crime is not insinuating that a person is trans, the crime is bastardizing trans identities and making even the thought of transness unacceptable to “decent” society.

My heart goes out to the student athlete and their family. Nobody should have to fear for their safety over speculation of their identity. For any who also have shared their sympathies for this family, I would invite you to examine if you share the same for trans people and their struggles as well. Because even if this student is cisgender, our struggles are the same. You cannot call for justice for this student, and condemn transness in the same breath. Respectability does not justify bigotry, you cannot have it both ways, there is no separate but equal.


– Mors Smith, (They/He), University of Utah Student

View Comments (8)
About the Contributor
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.

Comments (8)

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  • M

    MichaelFeb 20, 2024 at 8:26 pm

    As a proud conservative and Utah resident I am glad for these laws. It’s about time these adult children learn how the real world is. Just because you say you are something does not make it true. And thank God for the ban on the mutilation of children. No sane individual should condone such actions. Thank God for the great state of Utah.

  • C

    Cindy Solomon-KlebbaFeb 15, 2024 at 10:40 am

    Thank you for calling out the utter hypocrisy of our legislators/governor.
    We need cisgender allies to get off the sidelines. If we ALL line up at gender-neutral bathrooms and refuse to use segregated toilets we can offer some protection to the trans community and send the message that we are all deserving of the dignity of simply living our lives in public spaces.

    As an androgynous-identifying person, my stress level has certainly risen of late. Because I am who I am I also have determined to direct that stress into stubborn action. I dress in a more masculine manner and make sure I am visible entering the women’s restroom. I have always gotten stares and questions anyway, so I try to use those moments as “educational opportunities” about how problematic such regulations are.
    We must all do things that are safe for us (not everyone can take direct action.) But the key is “ALL.” Every person of conscience can do something–big or small. And Every person of conscience should be voting!!! I get it–it’s Utah. The GOP will rule. But even narrowing the margins can send a message.

    Please stay safe. Take care of yourself. And know that you are not alone. You matter. You are perfect as you are. I am honored to share the planet with you.

    Cindy Solomon-Klebba

  • J

    JP "Systeen Chapelle" VarneyFeb 15, 2024 at 9:06 am

    I am with you and the trans population of Utah and the world over.
    I myself am not trans but visibly non-binary. There is no hiding that I am unique and definitely not cis. I am very uncomfortable using men’s shared public bathrooms. There is a constant fear of violence even more so now that bigots have been a lot more vocal and out and proud with their ignorance. I cannot begin to imagine how it would be for a trans person to be put in the same predicament.
    I am also a drag queen. There is a threat of sexual violence when entering a room full of men in their most vulnerable while being dressed as girl. I can hold my own but I fear for people who cannot. I fear for the children, our children. The children who seem to always be left out in the coversation.

  • J

    John HedbergFeb 15, 2024 at 3:36 am


    With respect and compassion, treating other people’s concerns and feelings as equal to your own is not bigotry, it’s emotional maturity, and it forms the basis for human rights by allowing that every one/person has value, so to short-change the value of one person or group is to undermine every person and group, since treating any person’s humanity as “lesser” is, in effect, to “dehumanize” them, and once it’s OK to dehumanize one, it becomes open season to dehumanize any and every one.

    You personally may not feel awkward or intimidated sharing bathrooms or changing spaces with people who have male genitalia, but there are reasons that other people do which have nothing to do with whether they’re trans or not, so why not inclusively #Listen to these voices and their reasons along with your own, and find ways that everyone’s feelings and concerns can be accommodated?

    Meanwhile, no one should be treated with hate or abuse, and to those who’ve received any of this, you have my empathy. I’ve had plenty of this myself, from other students, from University employees (including “Social Justice” Equity Red Guard), and even sadly from faculty on occasion~! Lo Siento: I definitely feel for you, but I also acknowledge that this behavior is endemic at the moment, and if often has little to do with me as a person, and more to do with the issues and insecurities being projected outward by those who display the fear-based behavior towards me and others who have nothing in common with me besides the fact that we all look alike in the eyes of one kind of bigot or another (infinite varieties).

    Why join the bigots by blindly attacking anyone who has a diverse point of view before considering that their feelings and concerns may not be so different from your own, once you think about their own humanity alongside your own? As Atticus Finch related in “To Kill A Mockingbird” (nice film, great book), you don’t really know someone else until you walk around in their shoes a little bit, and that works in all directions, since we’re a very diverse group of beautiful human beings, and we’re all shaped by experiences which may not be completely evident until we do walk around wearing them ourselves?

    Best Regards from an “intersectional BIPOC undergrad” who’s known some harassment and discrimination (intimately) from a very young age, and who doesn’t wish to add any burden to what you’re already carrying besides honesty and friendship (not always easy, but worthwhile)~ Cheers!

    • G

      Gwen ChaseyFeb 15, 2024 at 3:32 pm

      John, trans people do not need to justify their presence in single sex spaces or public to anyone.
      We are not asking anyone to be comfortable with ludeness. Merely respect to exist in society. You can’t know the complexities of anyone’s identify in public without further questioning and you are asking trans, intersex, and gender non-conforming cis people to be subject to that in public or be segregated entirely.

      To the point of concern about people not wanting to see genitals in public.
      Build gender neutral single stall facilities that anyone cis or trans can use to feel more comfortable but don’t set up a regiment of interrogating people for existing in public the wrong way.
      There are legitimate complexities of identity present in what you are trying police here that can only be resolved with authoritarianism.

      • J

        John HedbergFeb 15, 2024 at 6:49 pm

        Have you been #Listening to women and what they have to say about their feelings and their concerns? This is not a trans issue, but rather deals with genuine concerns women have always had with sharing bathrooms and/or changing spaces with anyone with male genitalia, no matter how they identify. It may not simply be a question of visibility, but rather security, with thousands of years of observation underpinning this concern.

        Try thinking about it from both points of view, and see if a good compromise suggests itself, since it’s important to respect the feelings and concerns of trans persons, and it’s just as important to respect the feelings and concerns of everyone else in the room, no exceptions, no preference, since everyone there is equally human and has equal concern in the matter.

        #Listen and give equal weight to the concerns of everyone when it comes to genetic females sharing intimate spaces with those who have male genitalia, trans or not: identity makes no difference. This is a human question (many important questions are).

        Be as kind with other people’s feelings as you want them to be with your own. OK?

        • G

          Gwen ChaseyFeb 15, 2024 at 9:32 pm

          Some trans people have operations, some people have birth defects, some people just have genitals that don’t look the way one would assume.

          You are making incorrect assumptions about trans people and biology that are leading you to wish to enact a regiment that cannot be enforced on to reality. As we’ve seen this week from our school board attempting to do so would be error prone and cruel to anyone accused of being in the wrong place.

          You cannot forecable segregate trans and cis women. Not ethically and not practically.

          Respecting any person’s gender identity is not a social nicety. Gender is not essentialist it is based on many different factors both biological and social. Many of which can be changed including biological facets.
          A trans person’s identity is not a eccentricity society is polite enough to indulge sometimes. It’s is based in material reality.

          You are saying to listen to women but what you really mean is to listen too some women and not others.
          Over whelmingly most cis women and trans women do not have an issue sharing space.

          You as a man are advocating only listening to women that share your views.

          You are focused on trans women and penises in women’s spaces even if they are not visible but have no thoughts for the comfort of women if they were forced to share facilities with a cis passing trans masc person. We can’t know what other’s genitals are and there is no practical or ethical way to separate people based on genitals. Trans and gender non conforming people have used single sex spaces for years before this became the latest culture war issue.

          No one is entitled to facilities where everyone’s genitals look the same and this has never been the case ever. If genitals are not being displayed in the open it is not salient. In cases where they are and people legitimately do not want to see genitals there should be private spaces anyone can use.

          • J

            John HedbergFeb 15, 2024 at 11:57 pm

            It sounds like it’s OK with you to marginalize and suppress the feelings and concerns of anyone who does share legitimate concerns which have nothing to do with identity, trans or not, and everything to do with biology and security.

            How long have there been separate bathrooms, changing spaces, and sports leagues for genetic men and genetic women, and it was considered so ethical it was put into civil rights law?

            You want to put one group of individuals’ feelings ahead of another, which is discrimination and dehumanization against the persons whose feelings you say matter less than your own, even though they’re human beings like you are. How is this ethical?

            You’re assuming that every person with male genitalia who shares intimate spaces with genetic women is 100% ethical. I guess you can afford to be flip and take that chance on behalf of everyone else who lives the consequences if you’re wrong (when you’re wrong, as often as you’re wrong). That’s very kind of you to be willing to take that chance on behalf of all the people who disagree with you, many of whom have had bad experiences going back to childhood and would rather not have to bear the security concerns of your decision about what you think is best for them, despite what they’ve seen with their own eyes.

            Either you have compassion and empathy with thousands of years of learned/lived experience, or you decide some human beings are just not worth listening to.

            It sounds like it must be wonderful to be you~ 😂🤪😋