S.L. County Council hits brakes on policy that would restrict trans patrons’ use of locker rooms

Sponsor of the ordinance, council member Dea Theodore, said she will keep working to refine the policy proposal.

The Salt Lake County Council shelved a proposal Tuesday that would have required transgender patrons at the county’s pools and recreation centers to use either the locker rooms of the gender assigned to them at birth or private family changing rooms.

Republican council member Dea Theodore pushed for the policy after county resident Candace Duncan said she was confronted by “biological males” twice while she was in the women’s locker room at the Northwest Recreation Center in Salt Lake City.

County Parks and Recreation Director Martin Jensen confirmed that Duncan’s complaint was the only one the county had received in at least a decade, but Theodore suggested others may have had similar experiences and remained silent.

“How many people have actually said something?” Theodore asked. “How many people have spoken up? It took a lot of courage for Candy to say something.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County Council members Laurie Stringham, left, Dea Theodore, center, and Dave Alford, right, talk after a council meeting in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023.

Theodore argued the policy would protect people’s safety and privacy. She said trans patrons have other options, like using the private unisex family changing rooms. All county facilities but one have such rooms.

Council member Laurie Stringham, who is also a Republican, said transgender locker room and restroom policies are already in the courts and adopting the proposed ordinance could end up costing taxpayers. She recommended a “watchful wait” while those lawsuits run their course.

Stringham, who has two trans kids, acknowledged it is an emotional issue for her, one that has also generated hateful messages and phone calls.

“I find it very sad that some people are so afraid and use fear tactics to rile people up that I would get messages from people telling me my family members are evil, that they’re mentally deranged or unstable,” she said. “I can tell you right now that’s not the case. I love my family. I stand by my family, and I will not put them at risk, nor will I put anyone else’s children at risk.”

The council voted 7-1 to table the proposal, with Theodore joining the majority. She plans to do more work on the proposal and may bring it back later.

Republican council member Dave Alvord opposed the motion, saying he thought it was a good policy and suggesting that, without it, individuals of any gender can go into whatever locker room they want and “will intentionally be lewd” in front of children.

With the proposal failing, Alvord asked the Parks and Recreation to work on potentially putting signs in facilities indicating that patrons may encounter undressed individuals of the opposite sex in the locker rooms.

“Even though [the signs] say ‘Men’ and ‘Women,’” Alvord said, “right now those words are meaningless, at least according to county policy.”

Jeri Brummett, who attended the meeting and opposed Theodore’s proposal, said the locker room ordinance, coming just a week after Salt Lake City became the preferred host of the 2034 Winter Olympics, had been getting attention among the trans community nationally.

Brummett said that trans people would not stop using county facilities, and they would not use “separate but equal, Jim Crow changing rooms.”

Several parents, however, embraced the proposal.

Murray resident April Despain — a mother of six (five of them daughters) — said she takes her kids swimming at county facilities, adding, “I’m not OK with my children being exposed, my daughters being exposed, to grown men in the locker room.”

“Everyone has rights, and our children should have rights to be safe when they go to the locker rooms and bathrooms in Salt Lake County facilities,” she said. “I know it’s not popular to stand up for what’s right, but it shows integrity when you know what is right and you stand for it.”

Annabelle Weissinger, who left Oklahoma after “transphobic” legislation was passed in that state, said the county’s proposed policy would put trans people at risk.

A survey by KFF and The Washington Post in March found that 1 in 4 transgender adults said they had been physically attacked because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Some 64% said they had been verbally attacked and 41% said they felt unsafe in a restroom or locker room.