May 9, 2024 - News

Utah launched a tip line to enforce trans bathroom law. Here's where it went wrong

Illustration of the Utah State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Utah's new tip line for enforcing the state's transgender bathroom law is receiving a deluge of hoax reports, mirroring challenges seen in other states with similar reporting platforms.

Why it matters: Problems with the online form is the latest example of Utah Republicans' hasty implementation of HB 257, which bars trans people from using public facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, that align with their gender identity.

Catch up quick: The Office of the State Auditor, tasked with receiving and investigating reports of any violations, launched the form on May 1.

  • It was quickly inundated with thousands of false complaints by people in support of transgender rights.

The big picture: Other states that have passed measures have also faced challenges with complaint forms open to the public.

  • Last year, Missouri's attorney general pulled its online form for receiving complaints of "questionable gender transition interventions" a month into its launch after receiving false complaints, KCUR reported. It garnered more than 400 reports in its first 48 hours.
  • A tip line launched under Indiana's attorney general for reporting classroom instruction on gender, race and political ideology this year received a slew of memes and fake reports, journalist and transgender activist Erin Reed wrote.

Driving the news: In a scathing statement released on Tuesday, state Auditor John Dougall said the law's sponsors did not consult with his team "regarding this new mandated obligation placed on the office."

  • "No auditor sets out to become a bathroom monitor," wrote Dougall, a Republican who is running to replace Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) in Congress.
  • "I recognize that many Utahns feel trampled by an invasive and overly aggressive legislature that too often fails to seek input from those most affected," he said.

One of the bill's authors, state Rep. Kera Birkeland (R-Morgan) defended the online form on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying the state auditor's office was the most appropriate entity to screen complaints.

  • "It's not surprising that activists are taking the time to send false reports," she wrote. "But that isn't a distraction from the importance of the legislation and the protection it provides women across Utah."

The other side: Troy Williams, head of Equality Utah, said it's alarming for the state to create a form that allows Americans to monitor one another.

  • "I believe Utahns want to do the right thing, but in their haste, lawmakers have unintentionally created a mechanism that allows bad actors to police and scrutinize the bodies of transgender and non-transgender [people] alike," Williams told Axios.

Context: Williams also expressed concerns over the law spurring vigilantism.


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