A Utah State Board of Education member is facing pressure from the Legislature and the governor’s office to resign over a post she shared on social media that appeared to insinuate a high school girls basketball player is transgender.
In a since-deleted Facebook post, conservative board member Natalie Cline falsely suggested that a 16-year-old student-athlete in her district is transgender, provoking a tidal wave of threats from Cline’s social media followers.
The girl, who has not been named to protect her privacy, has reportedly sought police protection and her school district has provided extra security for her, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
In a joint statement late Wednesday, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson (R) said Cline had “embarrassed the state” and called on Utah’s Board of Education to “hold her accountable.”
“We were stunned to learn of the unconscionable behavior of board member Cline and others toward a high school student today,” Cox and Henderson said. “The last thing our children need is an elected official harassing them on social media.”
In a Thursday post on X, formerly Twitter, Henderson said she had donated to the campaign of Cline’s Republican opponent, local school district administrator Amanda Bollinger, as Cline, whose four-year term ends in November, faces reelection. Henderson encouraged her more than 14,000 followers to do the same.
The State Board of Education in a statement Thursday condemned Cline’s actions but said the 15-member body “has no power or authority to unseat an elected official.” Board members are determining whether disciplinary action is warranted.
The girl’s parents, meanwhile, have explicitly called for Cline’s resignation.
“To look at someone’s outer appearance and make an assumption that they’re either playing in the right arena or not, based on how someone looks, I don’t think is appropriate,” the girl’s mother, Rachel van der Beek, told KSL-TV in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. “It just broke our hearts that we needed to have this conversation with our daughter.”
Cline apologized to the girl and her family in a Facebook post Wednesday, but defended her initial suspicions about the student, which she said were “a sad consequence of the trans movement being foisted upon us.”
“We live in strange times when 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,” Cline wrote. She added that the girl “does have a larger build, like her parents.”
State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have denounced Cline’s actions. Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, a Republican, said the Legislature is “looking at all options” to reprimand Cline, including impeachment, Utah News Dispatch reported.
In a statement shared Thursday to social media, Utah House Democrats called for Cline’s “immediate resignation,” adding that in this case, “apologies are insufficient.”
“Natalie Cline’s unconscionable online accusations have repeatedly endangered the safety of students and educators, warranting consequences beyond reprimand,” House Democrats said.
Cline, a member of the Utah State Board of Education since 2020, had previously been reprimanded by the board for social media posts about LGBTQ people.
House Democrats said Thursday incidents like the one involving Cline “may well continue” if the Legislature continues to pass laws targeting the transgender community. In January, another Utah high school girls basketball player was accused of being transgender by the parent of another player, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Another high school athlete in Utah was investigated over her gender last year after winning a state-level competition.
Utah last month became the latest state to bar transgender people from using restrooms in public schools and government-owned buildings that match their gender identity, after Cox signed a bill enforcing the restrictions. The measure, which took effect immediately, also narrowly defines sex in a way that excludes trans people.
The state Legislature in 2022 overrode Cox’s veto of a bill to ban transgender athletes from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity, though its enforcement is currently blocked by a court order.
Utah is also one of 22 states with laws prohibiting health care providers from administering gender-affirming medical care to transgender minors.
“When we rush through policies to appease fearmongers like Cline, we create unintended consequences,” Troy Williams, executive director of the state LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah, said Thursday in a post on X. “We scapegoat people to temporarily satisfy irrational fears. Sadly, the transgender community has become an easy scapegoat to project people’s fears upon.”