ST. GEORGE — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox addressed concerns Thursday from those at a Jan. 30 rally at Utah Tech about a bill that, along with other provisions on gender, placed restrictions on transgender individuals’ use of public restrooms.

In a video screenshot, Gov. Spencer Cox is seen during a taping of the PBS Utah “Governor’s Monthly News Conference” program, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 15 2024 | Photo via video courtesy of PBS Utah, St. George News

Cox said opponents should read the bill itself and they might find things they support. 

Along with that, he responded to another question from St. George News during  the Thursday taping of the PBS Utah “Governor’s Monthly News Conference” program in Salt Lake City saying that while he still doesn’t support former President Donald Trump as the Republican party nominee for his old position, he is certain that Trump “will win.”

He also addressed the current drive to reject Utah’s new flag.

‘Read the bill’

On Jan. 30 during a rally at Utah Tech, those in attendance at what was called the “I’ll Go With You” rally urged the governor not to sign the Sex-based Designations for Privacy, Anti-bullying, and Women’s Opportunities bill, designated as HB 257. Speakers and attendees representing members and supporters of the local LGBTQ community said it would make them feel less safe and set up even those who had the proper surgeries and gender-identification papers for harassment. 

Attendees said they viewed the governor as an ally after comments he made in February 2021 that were viewed as sympathetic to transgender people and hoped he would value their concerns.  

Four hours after the rally, the governor signed the bill into law, saying it would make public facilities more “safe and accommodating for everyone.”

Asked what he would say to those at the rally who viewed him as an ally and say they would now feel less safe, Cox said they were not keeping in mind other aspects of the bill.

Attendees hold up signs during a rally at Utah Tech’s Gardner Plaza in support of transgender individuals and against a passed Utah bill that would regulate how they can use public bathrooms, St. George, Utah, Jan. 30, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“What I would say is I always encourage people to go and read the bills,” Cox said. “Look, this is a very hard issue. There’s no question. There are women who do not feel safe when they’re in a locker room with a biological male, a transgender female. And so we have competing interests. We have to balance those two things.”

Cox also noted the bill – created by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, and supported by all of Southern Utah’s representatives – passed both entities of the Legislature with a veto-proof majority.

“What I also encourage people to do is actually read the bill instead of just the headlines, because they’re often very surprised at what is included in the bill,” he said. “There are several pieces in the bill that work on women’s rights issues, making sure that we have better facilities for women. I often ask people, are you aware of the unisex bathroom provision in the bill?

“Sometimes in politics, there are winners and losers. One side’s feeling attacked. Another side’s feeling attacked. And sometimes we have to choose between those. But in Utah, they’re always looking for a third way, and the unisex bathroom way is the third way and something that we will be working on in our administration.”

Opponents of the bill have said they support most of the measures, including those mandating more women’s sports facilities at schools and unisex bathrooms in public buildings. Not so, however, for the provisions that define when a transgender man or woman can use their gender’s bathroom only if they have undergone gender-affirming surgery and have that gender on their birth certificate.

“I’ve read the bill from cover to cover. It’s going to instigate bullying, and it’s going to be the opposite remedy that (the bill sponsor) she says it is,” Jamee Mitchell, a transgender woman who is a board member of Southern Utah Pride, said. “I bet it creates more transphobia than it does single-stall bathrooms.”

A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the Outlets of Barstow used for illustrative purposes only, Barstow, California, Jan. 21, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Opponents of the new law say it and other laws signed by Cox last year including restricting transgender women in high school sports have encouraged discrimination not only against LGBTQ people but also those whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

Natalie Cline, a member of the Utah State School Board, was disciplined by the board Wednesday after she had accused a 16-year-old student-athlete born as female as being a transgender female online. That Northern Utah school has now put the girl under extra security because she received threats.

Cox on Thursday rejected any assertion that the new laws involving transgender people contributed to Cline’s actions while continuing to say Cline should resign.

“We are all personally responsible for our actions … Natalie Cline is an adult. It’s important for everyone to understand this is not about vigilantism and judging other people,” Cox said. “Even if this person was transgender, it would be inappropriate.”

‘Trump is going to win’

Cox did not address directly a St. George News question about whether he has been moving more to the right politically but did address whether he has changed his previous opinion that he could not support former President Donald Trump as the Republican nominee in this November’s presidential election.

In a file photo, a “Trump train” takes place at Snow Canyon High School, St. George, Utah, Nov. 1, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

Cox said Thursday he has not voted for a presidential candidate since Mitt Romney in 2012, writing in candidates at other times. But he said he thinks the election of Trump back into the office is inevitable and he can work with him again. 

“I do believe that President Trump is going to win. He’ll win Utah. And I will work very closely with him. I look forward to working closely with him,” Cox said. “If President Biden wins again, I’ll work closely with him as well. I’ll do everything I can to help Utah’s vision for the country. And I’ll push back on either President if and when that opportunity occurs.”

Cox said his support is with the only major candidate left in the Republican primary, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, but he said it’s “pretty clear” her nomination is not going to happen.

He said his problem is ultimately with both candidates based on their age. Biden is 81 and Trump is 77. 

“I think we’re making a huge mistake as Americans. I think that we should be nominating different people. I think both parties are making a huge mistake,” Cox said. “I think the party that figures this out first and nominates someone else, although that may be four years from now, is going to clean up in a big way.”

Cox then noted a message he received from a friend’s father in his 80s.

“He said, ‘I just I have an important message that I need to get to Governor Cox … And the message was this: We should not have a president who is in their 80s. I’m in my 80s and I’m just telling you, we should not be running the country right now.”

Flag lawsuit ‘will fail’

Cox also addressed those still opposing the new Utah state flag approved by the state legislature last year and signed into law by the governor. 

Utah’s new state flag, which was approved by the Utah House and Senate on March 2, 2023 | File photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement, St. George News

A group opposing the flag has been trying to gather signatures for a ballot initiative on the new flag, including sign-up sites throughout Southern Utah in the last few weeks. 

According to the Lieutenant Governor’s office, the petition to put up a ballot initiative to reject the new Utah state flag has fallen about 80,000 signatures short of the 134,000 needed by Thursday’s deadline to get the initiative on the ballot.

In response, those behind the effort have now said they are going to court and are suing to get an extension to the deadline, citing among other things that it should take into account colder weather in the winter as hampering signature gathering. 

Cox said Thursday that he expects the lawsuit to fail.

“I think it’s a tremendous waste of resources and very disappointing,” Cox said. “I feel very confident that that lawsuit, like everything they’ve they’ve tried so far, will fail.”

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