UTAH LEGISLATURE

Cox signs bills to replace diversity offices and regulate transgender bathroom use

Jan 30, 2024, 7:15 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2024, 8:27 am

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaking to KSL TV about the upcoming 2024 session...

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaking to KSL TV about the upcoming 2024 session. (KSL TV)

(KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox signed six bills Tuesday, including the transgender bathroom bill and the bill to replace diversity, equity and inclusion offices in Utah‘s public universities and colleges and state agencies.

He issued brief statements about both of the most controversial bills but did not offer any commentary on the others signed Tuesday. In total seven pieces of legislation have been signed into law during the 2024 session.

HB257

Regarding the bathroom bill, HB257, Cox said:

We want public facilities that are safe and accommodating for everyone and this bill increases privacy protections for all.

The bill includes a criminal trespass charge for individuals who go into a changing room or locker room that does not match their birth sex unless they first undergo gender-related surgery and change the sex on their birth certificate. In restrooms, an individual can be charged with enhanced penalties for voyeurism, lewdness or loitering if in a space that doesn’t correspond with their sex designation.

Equality Utah, the state’s largest LGBTQ organization, issued a statement last Friday afternoon thanking lawmakers for ensuring that children in schools would not face criminal charges, but the organization said it did not support the bill as a whole.

“These are issues we raised and asked legislators to amend. We are grateful for their responsiveness,” the organization stated. “We still hold the position that transgender Americans have the freedom and liberty to access facilities within public spaces. We are sorry for the fear and distress that many within the community are experiencing as they read these bills. We will continue meeting with lawmakers throughout the session to advocate on their behalf.”

Proponents of the bill have said it is important to increase privacy for women in restrooms, but critics have said a policy should focus on behavior, not on the gender identity of a person.

HB261

Often called the DEI bill, HB261, prohibits any programs, office or training promoting differential treatment based on race, color, sexual orientation or any other identity characteristic.

It applies to higher education, public schools, the state board of education and government employers, such as cities or county health departments.

Cox said in a statement:

We’ve been concerned about some DEI programs and policies, particularly with hiring practices, and this bill offers a balanced solution. I’m grateful to the Legislature for not following the lead of other states that simply eliminated DEI funding with no alternative path for students who may be struggling. Instead, this funding will be repurposed to help all Utah students succeed regardless of their background.

We firmly believe that Utah is stronger because of our diversity and we remain committed to keeping our state a place where everyone can thrive. Over the past three years, our administration has worked very intentionally with many community stakeholders to expand opportunities for all Utahns and we will continue to do so.

The bill passed 58-14 along party lines last week.

Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said she became a lawmaker because she was in the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs in college.

“I’m afraid that we’re erasing people, we’re erasing identities, we’re erasing experiences,” she said. “And I know people’s intent. And isn’t that I’m not saying anyone in this room is doing that on purpose. But I want to remind all my colleagues there’s unintentional consequences when we just try to sweep things and say we’re all the same because we’re not.”

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, took issue with health programs that could be impacted.

“Black and African American women face higher rates of infant mortality than the general population by a rate of 250%. Getting rid of programming like this eliminates what we’re actively doing to try to do to lessen those disparities,” she said.

Democrats respond

Utah Senate Democrats responded with the following statement:

To our constituents, to our communities, and to all Utahns:

Today, we write to you with heavy hearts and profound disappointment as Governor Cox signs into law H.B. 261 and H.B. 257. These bills represent significant setbacks for our state, and we are deeply troubled by the implications they hold for our communities.

  • H.B. 261 “Equal Opportunity Initiatives,” which prohibits mandatory programs discussing personal identity characteristics like race, ethnicity, and gender identity, effectively eliminates vital diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in public institutions. These programs are essential for fostering knowledge, understanding, empathy, and respect among our diverse population. By restricting their implementation, we are erasing the progress we have made in building a more inclusive society.
  • H.B. 257 “Sex-based Designations for Privacy, Anti-bullying, and Women’s Opportunities,” unfairlytargets transgender individuals by restricting their access to restrooms and changing rooms that align with their gender identity. This discriminatory legislation not only violates the rights and dignity of transgender people but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes and stigmatization. It is a step backward in our ongoing fight for equality and acceptance of all. As this bill is implemented, we have significant concerns about the constitutionality and the legal challenges that we will face as a state, which will result in irresponsible utilization of state funding.

As your senators, we are gravely concerned about the unintended consequences of these laws, consequences that we may not even foresee yet. We worry about the impact they will have on our economy, including struggles in recruiting a diverse and talented workforce in all areas. We worry about the message these laws send to our youth, particularly those who are marginalized and vulnerable. And most importantly, we worry about the harm and injustice they will inflict upon members of our communities.

In the face of such adversity, we stand in solidarity with those who will be hurt by these laws. In our capacity as law makers, we pledge to continue fighting for equality, justice, and dignity for all Utahns, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, national origin, or any other personal characteristic. We urge you to join us in this fight and to speak out against discrimination and injustice wherever you encounter it.

Together, we can work towards a future where every individual is valued, respected, and empowered to live authentically and freely.

The statement is signed by Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, Sen. Kathleen Riebe, Sen. Jen Plumb, Sen. Stephanie Pitcher, Sen. Karen Kwan, Sen. Nate Blouin, and House Minority Leader Rep. Angela Romero.

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Cox signs bills to replace diversity offices and regulate transgender bathroom use