Utah official falsely suggests teen student is transgender, now faces calls to resign

The false suggestion led to harassment and bullying against the teen.

February 9, 2024, 12:18 PM

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and other local leaders are calling for the resignation of Utah state school board member Natalie Cline after she falsely suggested a girl playing on a high school basketball team was transgender in a now-deleted Facebook post.

The girl quickly became the target of threats and harassment online, with the girl's family speaking out about the incident in an interview with Salt Lake City ABC affiliate KTVX.

“They’re putting pictures of other people’s children on the internet and then allowing people to just bully a child. It’s an adult bullying a child,” said Al van der Beek, the girl's father. “It doesn’t matter what their agenda is or what they think they thought they thought — there’s really no excuse that can merit putting another person’s child on social media and then allowing them to be attacked.”

The family is also calling for Cline, a Republican, to resign or be removed from her seat.

PHOTO: Utah State School Board Member Natalie Cline
Utah State School Board Member Natalie Cline
Utah State Board of Education

Cline apologized for the mistake on Facebook, saying that the girl has a larger physical build, causing her to speculate about her gender. Cline had posted a now-deleted photo of the high school basketball player with the caption: "Girls’ basketball" according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

“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,” Cline said on Facebook.

She later continued, “We most certainly recognize that there is great variety within females when it comes to physical characteristics, and of course, we are accepting of these differences and want all girls to feel welcome in school sports. Sadly, our good faith efforts to be accepting of differences has, at times, been taken advantage of causing a loss of trust, which leads to suspicion about girls who are more buff than most.”

LGBTQ activists have long argued that transphobia and the policing of people’s gender identity would impact people of all gender identities, including cisgender women and men.

"Both transgender and cisgender women have been experiencing ridicule, rejection, assault and even being killed for not meeting this made-up ideal" of what defines a woman, said Leroy B. Thomas, the communications director at the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a past interview with ABC News.

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson called Cline’s post "inexcusable."

Both Cox and Henderson called for the Utah State Board of Education to "hold [Cline] accountable" in a separate statement, citing past controversial statements from Cline.

PHOTO: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City, Oct. 19, 2023.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City, Oct. 19, 2023.
Laura Seitz/The Deseret News via AP, Pool, FILE

The state Board of Education also released a statement condemning Cline’s actions.

“Board Leadership is very concerned about this post and the harm it has caused to students and families in Utah,” the statement read. “We are deeply saddened by the events that have taken place and will be taking prompt action regarding this matter as determined by the full Board.”

The board, however, said it has no power or authority to unseat an elected official but can consider disciplinary action.

LGBTQ groups have called for Cline's resignation.

“No child, be they straight, gay, or transgender, should be mocked and humiliated by elected officials,” according to advocacy group Equality Utah. “America has a tragic history of moral panics leading to the humiliation and expulsion of minorities from public life. Hysteria often leads to violence.”

ABC News has reached out to Cline and the girl's family for comment.

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