Feb 8, 2024 - News

Utah teen athlete faces threats after state official posted photos questioning her gender

A portrait of a woman in a white shirt with brown hair in front of a white background.

Portrait of Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline. Image via USBE

Utah state school board member Natalie Cline is under fire after posting photos of a high school basketball player, questioning her gender and prompting threats against the girl.

Why it matters: Anti-transgender fervor is escalating in Utah, where lawmakers have passed laws restricting sports participation, health care and, most recently, bathroom access.

Driving the news: Cline, an elected member of the Utah State School Board, posted the photos Tuesday on Facebook, inciting a dogpile of comments identifying the girl, criticizing her appearance.

  • The girl is now under police protection, the Salt Lake Tribune reports, as Granite School District ramps up security at her school.
  • Cline removed the post Wednesday after she learned the girl was not transgender and posted a statement arguing "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."

The other side: The student's parents told KSL-TV they want Cline to resign.

What they're saying: "To look at someone's outer appearance and make an assumption … based on the way someone looks I don't think is appropriate," the 16-year-old's mother said.

  • Cline did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

Context: The wave of anti-trans sentiment in Utah has raised alarm that the state's new bathroom ban will lead to similar judgments and attacks based on whether someone appears to be gender-conforming.

The latest: Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson issued a joint rebuke late Wednesday, urging the Utah State Board of Education to "hold her accountable."

Yes, but: The board has no authority to remove a member.

  • "Board Leadership is very concerned about this post and the harm it has caused to students and families in Utah," the USBE wrote in a statement Thursday morning, promising "prompt action."
  • "If the full Board determines discipline is warranted, Board Bylaws provide guidelines for additional action," the statement concluded.

Catch up fast: It is not the first time Cline's social media posts have prompted threats against schools.

  • In 2021, Davis School District upped security after she posted a photo of a pride flag at a church facility adjacent to Layton High School. A former North Ogden City Council candidate shared a screengrab, telling his followers: "Time to get our muskets."
  • The board issued a formal reprimand then, accusing her of "inciting hate speech."

Flashback: The board cleared Cline of wrongdoing last year after investigating complaints that she:

  • accused schools of supporting child sex trafficking and
  • allegedly questioned the gender identity of a USBE staffer during a public presentation.

Read more: Can Natalie Cline be stopped?

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from the school board.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Salt Lake City.

More Salt Lake City stories