Utah transgender teens, parents ask for understanding after bathroom law, Natalie Cline post
Feb 10, 2024, 6:43 PM | Updated: Feb 13, 2024, 7:45 am
The last few weeks have been an extremely tough time for those who feel most targeted by the recent events — for them, it rips apart their very existence.
Especially for families who are doing their best for their kids to be seen just as anyone else.
Sitting at the kitchen table, Kaylee Neilson draws, erases, and redraws lines on her iPad. The 16-year-old high school sophomore can spend hours perfecting her creations.
Being an artist is part of who she is.
“Yeah, I’ve always been an artistic person,” the talkative teen explains, intently looking down at her iPad. “I really started getting into the drawing thing like, five years ago, with the wings. So far, that’s where I springboard and that’s where I started with being an artist.”
Her wing drawings blossomed into dragon characters with background stories and personality traits, becoming part of entire worlds that just come to Kaylee.
She can’t explain it. She just knows.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t know where this ability came from,” she said. “I don’t know why. Like, I can come up with a concept of a world in like, five minutes.”
And once an idea takes hold, she will write it down and begin to draw. Kaylee’s posted her art on Reddit to the praise of others.
Some of her art is an expression of other things Kaylee knows about herself.
Pieces that make her who she is as a person.
“One of the many things I try to focus my projects on is issues around the world like, especially with, like, since I’m a trans girl,” she said. “I didn’t choose to become trans. I don’t, no one ever chooses to become trans.”
‘Human rights taken away’
Kaylee and her mother, Becky Nielson, have been troubled by what’s unfolded in Utah over the last month.
“A few days ago, the anti-trans bathroom bill got released, which basically means in any like public space, I can’t like use the restroom that I prefer that I feel most safe in,” Kaylee said.
According to HB257, individuals who enter a changing room or locker room that doesn’t match their birth sex, and who haven’t undergone gender-related surgery and haven’t changed the sex on their birth certificate, can be charged with criminal trespass.
People who walk into restrooms that don’t correspond with their sex designation can end up with charges of voyeurism, lewdness, or loitering.
“This bill is like, one: Really scary… what am I supposed to do about this? I basically just got one of my human rights taken away,” Kaylee expressed. “And two: What are people who are going to be enforcing these rules, going to dictate as being a cis girl? Like, are they going to exclude intersex people? Are they going to exclude trans guys from using it? Like what are the limits on this bill?”
Bill advocates have said the law will increase privacy for women. Gov. Spencer Cox, upon signing the bill into law, said, “We want public facilities that are safe and accommodating for everyone and this bill increases privacy protections for all.”
Children would not face criminal charges in schools.
Kaylee would still have to worry about using the restroom in public.
Being female-presenting, often wearing makeup and skirts, Kaylee felt it was more likely that she would be harassed or harmed.
“My concern about the bill, is that she’s not allowed to use the girls’ bathroom in public buildings,” Becky said. “If she goes into the boys’ bathroom, there will be trouble. And that leaves single stall gender-neutral bathrooms, which are often unavailable.”
As the mom and daughter digested what this law would mean moving forward, then came the Facebook post by State Board of Education member Natalie Cline appearing to target a high school student on a basketball team for potentially being transgender.
People began to leave hateful comments about the student, whose face was shown, and the team displayed publicly in the post. That student does not identify as transgender.
Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson called Cline’s behavior ‘unconscionable,’ and her post — which she later took down — led to action by the Utah House of Representatives, individual members of the Utah State Board of Education, and the Granite School District.
Many are calling on Cline to resign.
“It’s disheartening for me to see people who are so uneducated have such a large platform,” Becky said. “I feel like people like Natalie Cline don’t really understand the issue and mislabel the issue as a social issue when really…”
“It’s a human issue,” Kaylee said, finishing her mom’s thought. “It’s a human issue,” Becky echoed.
‘I hope they don’t hate me’
Sitting at his computer desk, 15-year-old Raymond Ziemski worked on a school assignment. He loves to write stories and essays.
Like the Nielsons, Raymond and his mother Valerie Ziemski kept track of what lawmakers wrote up this session.
“I think that people should be allowed to be who they are and not have to be afraid of like having somebody call the cops on them just for being in the bathroom,” he said.
The high school sophomore said he’s gotten “fairly lucky” when it comes to what he’s experienced as a transgender teen versus what others have gone through.
Ray said he “always knew in some capacity” that he was transgender. He started fully identifying that way around sixth or seventh grade.
He said he lost a lot of friends when he came out as trans, but has gained other friends since then.
Valerie said her son started hormones a couple of months before a bill was passed by the legislature last year that placed a moratorium on puberty blockers for minors, so he’s grandfathered in.
Still, Ray no longer attends school in person and said he doesn’t leave home too often.
“In general, it makes it fairly unsafe,” he said, of the recent bathroom bill.
“I mean, it’s been hard, you know, wishing I could do more, but not being able to because of all the restrictions,” Valerie said. “But we’re just doing our best and hoping that some things will change.”
Ray hopes people will see him for who he is.
“I hope they don’t hate me, but I can’t really change people’s minds,” he said.
“I just hope that people will be accepting,” Valerie said. “You know, we’re all humans. Honestly, it shouldn’t matter.”
Valerie expressed that she supports her son in living authentically.
“Just makes me happy because being able to express yourself is hard,” she said. “Seeing Ray grow into, you know, who he is and being able to be comfortable with himself and work towards that has just been really great, and has just been very positive,” she said.
‘I’m a normal kid’
Slicing a lemon on a cutting board, Kaylee added a healthy dose of citrus to pieces of seasoned chicken sizzling in a large pan.
“This is her specialty, we call it ‘Kaylee chicken,’” Becky said, standing behind her daughter as Kaylee worked her magic at the stove.
Cooking is one of the things Kaylee loves to do for her family.
One of the things that make her who she is.
“I’m just here to like, you know, draw dragons. I’m here to play an absurd amount of video games. I’m here to cook dinner for my family,” Kaylee said.
Kaylee has a great group of friends and said she’s relieved to see all the support and advocacy from allies.
She’s felt it makes a huge difference.
Becky talked about how the recent events have impacted Kaylee on a personal level, but that it’s also been inspiring to watch her daughter fight for her own rights and have her own voice.
“As a straight, cisgender woman, I just never thought that the trans rights flag would be the one that I would pick up,” Becky said. “But I’m here and it’s my fight now, because I will fight for my kid, and I will take care of my kid.”
She’s hoping others will embrace her daughter just like she does.
“I’m just a girl. I’m a normal teenage girl,” Kaylee said. “I’m a normal kid.”