‘A trash headline’: Gov. Cox discusses TIME Magazine piece, transgender sports investigation and clergy reporting

Gov. Cox said Thursday he would sign a bill into law that would remove clergy member’s ability to not report instances of suspected abuse.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference at the University of Utah on Thursday.

Following the bombshell report from The Associated Press on Latter-day Saint’s handling of suspected child abuse cases, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said he would be willing to sign a bill into law that would eliminate clergy members’ ability to not report instances of suspected child abuse.

During a monthly news conference with PBS Utah, Cox gave his thoughts on the bill being floated by Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, who said he would sponsor the legislation after the AP published an investigation earlier this month on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ “helpline” for bishops and clergy, which the AP said ended up keeping some abuse allegations under wraps.

The church has strongly denounced the report, saying Wednesday the story has “significant flaws in its facts and timeline, which lead to erroneous conclusions.” The AP said it stands by the story, as does the article’s author, Michael Rezendes.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, unsuccessfully proposed a similar bill in 2020 and has opened a bill file on the topic during next year’s legislative session. Lyman said he would let Romero take the lead on the bill if she decided to propose the change, according to previous Tribune reporting.

Cox said Thursday he hast seen the proposed legislation, but the change in mandatory reporting of suspected abuse would be something he would be willing to sign into law.

“We’re deeply concerned about abuse wherever it occurs, and I think we all have a duty to speak out and to protect our children, our most vulnerable,” Cox said. “If this is something that would help that, we should all be supportive of it.”

Cox was also asked about his thoughts on a recent story in TIME Magazine that looked at the Cox administration’s position in the Republican Party. The piece, which published Monday morning, included the headline, “The Red-State Governor Who’s Not Afraid to Be ‘Woke’.”

While Cox said he agreed with parts of the article, he disagreed with the headline.

The article cites his veto of a bill earlier this year that banned transgender athletes from competing in sports and sparring with Fox News personality Tucker Carlson as points of contention with GOP counterparts.

Cox said parts of the article were fair, including the parts about his efforts to bring people together in a positive way rather than being more combative. He said in the article that he is not trying to “own the libs,” but rather he is “trying to convince the libs there’s a better way.”

“Being kind and trying to bring people together is very different than being woke,” Cox said. “I completely disagree with it; I think it’s a trash headline.”

Cox also said a friend died by suicide unexpectedly on Wednesday, and he encouraged anyone struggling to reach out and seek help.

After mentioning how Utah’s suicide rates are among the nation’s highest, he encouraged those struggling to use the new suicide and crisis hotline by calling 988.

“I’ve shared this before, but as a youth growing up, I struggled with suicide ideation, and it’s not uncommon,” Cox said. “You are certainly not alone if you are feeling those things, and you are not broken; there’s nothing unfixable about you. We need you here.”

The governor was later asked about an investigation where a Utah school questioned whether or not a high school athlete was transgender after parents complained to the school and believed the girl was transgender. News of the investigations comes just months after the legislature overrode Cox’s veto on a bill that bans transgender girls from competing in high school sports.

A spokesman for the Utah High School Activities Association said the UHSAA instructed the school to “double check” whether the athlete was transgender after the girl defeated two other girls, prompting parents to complain. The investigation included the school opening up the girl’s files dating back to kindergarten. USHAA did not disclose the girl’s grade, school or sport in order to protect her identity.

Cox said he learned of that investigation earlier this week, and he said someone making up allegations like this was disturbing to him.

“I have a real problem with that story,” Cox said. “I don’t know all the details other than what was shared there, but I just wish we could be a little more thoughtful in life and a little less critical of other people.”