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The Unofficial Homophobia and Transphobia of the Utah State Board of Education

by Jayrod P. Garrett

Good day members of the School Board,

I am reaching out to you concerning one of your members. Her name is Natalie Cline, and speaking as a former teacher at your schools, her name is not one that I respect. It isn’t one that colleagues of mine respected. She is feared. Why, you may ask? Because Natalie is not interested in representing teachers while on your board, she's not even interested in promoting the views of parents. She has an agenda stating that schools and teachers are hurting children. She has called teachers and educators “complicit in the grooming of children for sex trafficking.” I have read her public posts that state teachers are grooming children. These statements mean she is accusing you, board members, of being complicit in grooming children for sex trafficking. If I were one of your members, I wouldn’t want her as a colleague for that slander.

Of course, as an educator, I believe in data. And you can get lots of data on what Natalie Cline believes just by looking at her Facebook page. She posts frequently, stating that these are not official USBE Board positions. I hope you realize that her use of that statement means unofficially they may be Board positions. Teachers are not dumb. We know how official and unofficial statements function. One drives policy, and the other drives public opinion. And you are happy to let Natalie’s agenda dictate what public opinion should be. So, let’s look at a few instances of her influence. What opinion is she looking to express?

In August 2023, she posted that a Queer Middle School in Phoenix will be funded by Taxpayer Vouchers. If you look at the response of the people following her Facebook page, they are angry about this. If you read the article, it outlines why Arizona is doing this. Their governor passed into law last year that Arizona's school voucher program will provide that every Arizona student can get a taxpayer-funded education even at a private school. People are fighting for voucher programs to fund private schools in this state, so why would Natalie have posted this to her page? It is because they plan to teach kids about LGBTQ+ history. History is good because America has systematically erased LGBTQ+ history for hundreds of years. But why is this bad? How is helping kids understand their identities and attractions something that schools should stop? Functionally, if there is not a religious hand in how schools function, there shouldn’t be an issue with this. Of course, Natalie is fighting for God. Thus, this opinion is based on the weaponization of her religion. In many regards, what Natalie is doing is no different than the Crusades, which were to free the Holy Land from the Muslims. Those also took place in the name of God. And lives were lost as a result.

On that note, let’s look at the suicide rates in our nation concerning LGBTQ+ teens. According to a Utah Department of Human Services survey in Utah, about 48% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual teenagers seriously considered suicide in 2021. The LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention Plan shares that LGBTQ+ teens are nearly three times as likely to consider suicide as their heterosexual peers (See the chart below from the LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention Plan.) Calling this an ideology, as Natalie and others do, is killing children. And while the board allows her to speak about the LGBTQ+ communities this way, it will continue to do so.

Another post she has from July 2023 is an interpretation of a lawmaker talking about a surgeon performing gender-affirming surgeries. (This surgeon would certainly know the challenges of helping people transition, considering they have had at least eight years of study to prepare them.) Her exact words on the post are: “Modern-day Barbarism exposed in this recent congressional testimony - in their own words. This is the dangerous depravity of the left and the radical gender ideology being pushed on children in our schools.” Now I’m curious as to who is pushing this ideology. I’ve worked in the school system in several capacities in the past three years. I’ve seen no evidence of an ideology of this sort ever being taught to children. Nobody talks about gender affirmation surgery. I’d much rather my students be able to understand proper grammar or write an essay than ever speak with them about gender affirmation surgery. But I like understanding why people say what they are saying, so I watched the clip from that video. The surgeon speaks with candor about the challenges and difficulties of doing these surgeries. But the lawmaker claims that the children are experiencing modern-day barbarism. The lawmaker doesn’t address that the kids would be there with their parents nor does he address that parental consent would be necessary to do this. He asserts that kids don’t have the understanding to make decisions of this nature without any evidence. Natalie agrees with this lawmaker. She doesn’t think that trans children should have choices concerning gender identity. Her religion states that there are only men and women. Now we can look at the history of the Indigenous members of this nation and find out that they have people among them known as Two-Spirited. According to the Indian Health ServiceTraditionally, Native American two-spirit people were male, female, and sometimes intersexed individuals who combined activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two-spirit people. In most tribes, they were considered neither men nor women; they occupied a distinct, alternative gender status.” Which historically states that how both she and the lawmaker believe is not a reality for every person in the world. In fact, as a nonbinary person myself, this is not how I experience the world either. Both posts are based on opinions. And both posts make it clear that Natalie does not like people who belong to the LGBTQ+ communities. That's a problem because we have students who belong to those communities. And when you have a person on the school board shaping the conversation around the LGBTQ+ communities to be entirely negative without any substantive proof or even an actual conversation with those students, that's a horrifying problem. Because Natalie’s membership on your board means you are okay with her saying these things. I hate her opinions. She is free, as any American is, to share them. But when your body allows a member to repeatedly state homophobic and transphobic information to the public in a gesture of safety, that is abhorrent. You’ve let the unofficial stance of your board become an echo chamber for people in favor of silencing the LGBTQ+ communities. Again, for this alone, she should be rejected from your body.

On July 22nd, she made a post on Facebook that states: "More PROOF Utah's students are being massively groomed and sexualized!" In the linked story she shared, a mother is concerned about her child’s experiences in the school system. I'm going to share quotes from the post about the "grooming" that this mother believes is taking place. (Note: All of these posts are public so anyone can check them out. The names have been changed to protect the identities of the children.)

"When our girls were in online school, they both got an introduction to the LGBTQ community. Becca not as much, but Ella was bombarded with it. In one of her classes in the private chat, a girl started talking about being bisexual and if Ella wanted to date her. Ella was around 12 years old at the time, and didn’t know what bisexual meant, but thought it sounded interesting, so she told me about it.

“During the end of the 2018 school year, Ella received an IEP and was switched into the SPED classes for English and Math. In her English class, two of her friends asked the teacher if they could go into a breakout room with her. Somehow the chat from this breakout room was able to be seen in the main room. Ella’s friends that were both girls told the teacher that they were dating each other. When Ella saw that chat, it stressed her out and caused a lot of anxiety because she didn’t want to be hit on or lose their friendship. A week or so later in a private chat, one of the girls told Ella about dating this other girl and asked her if she supported it. Ella said, ‘I don’t support it, but we can still be friends.’ The other girl responded and said, ‘It’s okay. I understand.’ Unfortunately, a while later this same girl in the private chat when Ella reached out to her told her in a rude way to go away.

"In another circumstance, Ella had a crush on a boy, and he had a crush on her. Sometime later after meeting one another, he told Ella that he had kissed a boy and that he was pan sexual. We found this out through reading her text messages, which she had been hiding. We had never heard of pan sexual and had to look it up. We had a deep conversation about this. That was our introduction to other genders and sexuality. I’m glad we caught this in the beginning before anything serious could happen.

"In 2020 things really ramped up with Ella being flaunted with LGBTQ. One of the girls in her SPED classes was texting her over the phone. They were having an EMOJI war. Ella asked her what she was doing, and her reply was, ‘I’ve been flirting with a girl for the past half hour.’ Ella immediately felt uncomfortable and left the conversation. Later that day she came and talked to me about it. I told her to just ask her friend if she was a lesbian or bisexual, so she did the next day. Her friend told her that she was pan sexual.

“In her English SPED class, she became friends with a boy. Shortly into their friendship, he asked her who she would want to have sex with. Before she replied back, she came and showed me his messenger text and I helped her form a reply. The gist of the reply was that sex is a sacred act and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. His response was friends or not friends. Ella said it would be best not to be, so he unfriended her. Also, this boy may have been involved in the LGBTQ community not absolutely sure though. He had a pride chat theme and he wanted to be a furry for Halloween and he kind of had feminine features; he looked girly. These are just observations.

“In 2021 at the start of Pride month, one of Ella’s friends who is bisexual and had severe depression brought up in a text conversation that she was happy because her month was back. Ella was confused and asked her what that meant. ‘It’s Pride month!’ she replied back. ‘Oh,’ Ella said. This girl instantly went into victim mode and told Ella that her reply of oh stung a little. Things got awkward, and she didn’t talk to Ella as much. The friendship struggled and eventually fizzled out.

“Another circumstance happened while playing Minecraft with some friends. One of the girls was non-binary and said that her pronouns were they, them, and their. Another friend playing couldn’t see the chat and he kept calling her a she, and this girl got offended over and over because he wouldn’t call her by her pronouns. Eventually she ended up leaving.

“In the beginning of the third term of the 2021-2022 school year in Seminary, a girl told Ryan and Sam and another boy that she was demisexual. Later on in the year, Ella was leaning her hand on her head and this girl was copying her, and told Ella, ‘This is how I look at my girlfriend. Way to make you feel uncomfortable.’”

Now, please allow me to share with you the definition of grooming from the Oxford Dictionary: “the process in which an adult develops a friendship with a child, particularly through the internet, with the intention of having an illegal sexual relationship.” That is grooming. In this post, all the people are adolescents. Which functionally means they can’t groom anyone. And please consider that in only one instance was sex itself talked about. The others were children talking about who they were attracted to or how they identified regarding gender. Attraction doesn’t equal sex. Gender doesn’t equal sex. How is any of this grooming? How is any of this the sexualization of children? Nobody was looking to have sex with anybody else. They talked about sex like teenagers do. If we look at the Merriam-Webster definition, we’ll find that grooming means: “to get into readiness for a specific objective.” By that definition, what are these kids trying to share with their peers? Their identities? To whom they feel attracted? That’s it. And teachers cannot talk to students about how they can navigate any of this without fearing for their jobs. We cannot give proper definitions. We (teachers, parents, and students alike) are at the mercy of the internet to teach our children about these things. And most kids I have known who are part of these communities seek each other out because they are picked on. And people hurt them. And when we let folks like Natalie Cline speak her mind about these children, the children learn that we do not care about them. Teachers are afraid of Natalie Cline because if we wanted to help students understand any of this or get an education to help them comprehend any of this, she would come after our jobs, and I have no reason to believe that you wouldn’t do the same.

Natalie Cline has said that teachers groom children, and people believe her. Natalie Cline makes statements regularly that are falsehoods about the LGBTQ+ communities, and you let her, demonstrating to the kids who see this (and many of them do) that you do not care about them. She’ll say she cares because she’s protecting these kids from evil. It is not our job as educators to teach kids that gender diversity is evil based on the opinion of one or even a group of loud voices. Our job is to teach them how to respect each other, despite differences of opinion. Our job is to teach them how to understand people who think and believe differently than they do. Our job is to help them become good citizens in the world. I don’t need to discuss religion, sex, gender identity, or sexual attraction to help a student feel loved. If a student is destructive in my classroom, I should address that. But none of the situations described here are destructive or violent. They are exploratory. None are grooming. Continuing to allow her to serve on the School Board tells parents of students in the LGBTQ+ communities that their students are not safe in Utah Schools. And you may think we are getting a massive response from the conservative community that knows little to nothing about the LGBTQ+ communities, so we would do the right thing to retain Natalie. However, the adult population of people who are part of the LGBTQ+ communities in Utah is 3.7 percent, according to Gallup/Williams. The likelihood of kids in the schools belonging to those communities is similar. They aren’t going to be your majority. They aren’t going to have the language to defend themselves. And because the majority, like Natalie, are happy to call them deviant and evil, they will be mistreated. Often with either verbal or physical violence. How do I know? I am no longer looking to be a teacher in the K-12 system in this state because I am disgusted at the fact that you don’t protect them. They’ve voluntarily told me their stories. And as a Black person in this state, I remember my childhood when your body failed to protect me as a young Black kid. So, when their stories match the same kind I have, I have evidence that as a body, you don’t care.

Your job is to safely educate students. The safety part cannot be severed from the education. To retain Natalie Cline is to reject your responsibility to protect students. Sincerely, Jayrod P. Garrett

Jayrod P. Garrett (they/him) is a poet, storyteller, educator with RISE Academy, and a poetry volunteer with Teen Author Bootcamp. Hailing from Northern Utah, Jayrod has performed with Next Ensemble, Salt Lake Acting Company, and is the current President of Northern Wasatch Oasis. They are currently writing a book of pictures and poetry. They hope to complete funding for its Kickstarter in late Summer 2023. They are also in the process of starting a publishing company.

They were the Managing Editor for Epiphany Nontraditional Student Literary Journal during their undergraduate career in Spring 2011 and 2013. They won first place in poetry with the journal in 2014. They were also published in Metaphor Undergraduate Literary Journal in 2014 and later by the League of Utah Writers in anthologies in both 2020 & 2021. They are a graduate student seeking their MFA at the University of Nevada - Reno and will graduate in Spring 2024.

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