A conservative candidate running for Utah’s statewide school board says she’s “sickened by the identity gender stuff that’s going on” — a stance that is causing alarm among parents and those in the LGBTQ community.
Kim DelGrosso also says she wants to amplify the viewpoint of current board member Natalie Cline, who has drawn her own criticism for similar statements. Cline was disciplined last year for a social media post that was critical of queer students and has been called out for attacking a teacher on Facebook.
“One of the reasons I’m running for state school board is because someone doesn’t have her back on that board,” DelGrosso said. “And I want you to know, Miss Natalie, you are going to be lifted up and going to be supported.”
Both DelGrosso and Cline spoke Monday night at a recorded town hall with Republican delegates that was posted online by an attendee.
During her wide-ranging speech Monday, DelGrosso mentioned several times her opposition to efforts aimed at being more inclusive toward the queer community. She said she “cannot stand” people being asked to say their preferred pronouns.
“I have never heard anything more stupid in my life,” she said. “I’m sorry; let me just be blunt about it, OK?”
The audience clapped and cheered.
The comments come after a conservative group shared an edited version of a video where Utah Gov. Spencer Cox listed his pronouns while talking to a group of high school students. The same user who posted that clip, known as @lifeisdriving, also posted the Republican town hall livestream. And the footage of Cox was later picked up by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, who mocked the governor, as well.
The livestream from the event shorts out in a few places during DelGrosso’s speech. Some have shared video clips on social media that fill in gaps. A few have posted that they’re frustrated by the remarks. The Utah Pride Center released a statement, calling the candidate’s words “harmful.”
In one of the clips that has been shared, DelGrosso also notes that she is “very, very anti-trans” when it comes to transgender girls in sports.
“I will fight forever,” she said, noting that she went up to the Utah Capitol to watch lawmakers vote to override Cox and institute a ban on transgender girls competing in high school athletics in the state.
DelGrosso, who teaches dance to children and is co-owner and artistic director of Center Stage Performing Arts Studios, said when boys have come to her to learn, “I need them to dance like boys.”
“There wasn’t this crossover,” she added. “Where is the common sense?”
Before that, she made the comment about being “sickened by the gender identity stuff.”
DelGrosso did not return requests from The Salt Lake Tribune for comment on this story
Challenging an incumbent
DelGrosso has registered as a Republican to run for District 11. With the newly approved maps for the Utah State Board of Education, which came out of the redistricting effort by state leaders, that district will cover the northern part of Utah County and the southern part of Salt Lake County.
DelGrosso is running against incumbent board member Cindy Davis, who was first elected in 2018 and was previously seated in District 9. She is also a Republican. The two will face off in a primary.
Each of the state school board races that are contested with a primary will have a debate (seven of the eight). Some of the forums have already occurred and are available to watch online. Some are scheduled for later this month and will be streamed. That includes the debate with DelGrosso and Davis, scheduled for April 21 at noon.
This page includes the links to those past and future debates, as well as a description of the what areas each district covers: https://www.utahpta.org/files/docs/SchoolBoardDebates_2022.pdf.
Davis also has collected signatures through the alternative route. No Democrats have filed for the seat. The race is still open for write-in candidates.
The state school board, which oversees public education in Utah, is made up of 15 elected members who serve for four year terms. Every two years, half of the board is up for election. The elections became partisan in 2020, when Cline won her seat.
Currently, there are 25 candidates running for the eight seats on the ballot this year.
Davis responded with a comment Wednesday. “I decline to interpret my fellow candidate’s motives and hope she will afford me the same courtesy,” she said.
But she did repeat her own stance on athletics, noting she speaks for herself and not the state board. She notes: “Top female athletes and famous transgender athlete Caitlyn Jenner have said that steps must be taken to protect fairness and competition in women’s sports that could be jeopardized by transgender participation. I agree. There also must be a place for all students in our school activities, and I understand that there will be further review in the state.”
She said she hopes that review “includes stakeholder input to find solutions considering opportunities, competitive fairness, and safety for all.”
Several groups are now speaking out against DelGrosso’s comments during the town hall, particularly those from the LGBTQ community.
The Utah Pride Center said “despite the homophobia and transphobia that exists, our fight for love and acceptance will keep moving forward because love always prevails over hate.”
Troy Williams, executive director for Equality Utah, said he’s concerned that a candidate for state school board is polarizing, especially when it comes to accepting young LGBTQ kids. He said it’s harmful for those kids to hear this rhetoric. And they are not “sickening” for being who they are; they are authentic and true, he noted.
“I think we need to be cautious any time a mob mentality gets stoked by people like Kim DelGrosso who instigate others to bring out their pitchforks and torches against a minority population,” he said. “I find it craven. It’s callous.”
Williams said he believes conservative candidates across the country are using the exclusion of transgender people “as political capital” to win seats and cause further division. That’s the case with the ban on transgender girls from competing in sports, he said. He called on DelGrosso to work toward inclusion — particularly for students.
Kara Edwards, a mother who leads the group Utah Parents Involved in Education, attended the town hall Monday to hear DelGrosso’s platform. She said she walked away disappointed.
“We need strong advocates for all children in our board representatives, and I found that lacking in what I heard that night,” Edwards said. “We need advocates for all parents and all students, not just one viewpoint.”
CRT and social-emotional learning
Beyond her comments on the LGBTQ community, DelGrosso also touched on other hot-button education issues for those on the right.
As a mother of eight kids and grandmother to 26, she said she felt prompted to run when one of her older sons died.
She’s been staying up until 4 a.m., she said, reading about critical race theory in the classroom. There is no evidence it’s being taught anywhere in Utah, but lawmakers here banned it from being included in K-12 lessons in public schools.
The college-level theory pinpoints racism as a founding principle of America, and says it continues to drive systems set up against people of color.
The theory “is Marxist, and it is communist,” the candidate declared to applause from the room.
DelGrosso also said she’s opposed to schools teaching social-emotional learning, which is supposed to help students understand empathy and respect.
Republicans have fought against it, though, calling it a gateway to teaching about sex. In Utah, a conservative parent group, Utah Parents United, got the program in Canyons School District disbanded after they found a lesson plan that linked to a site about consent in dating and sexual relationships.
DelGrosso suggested during her address Monday that teachers being forced to teach these programs are leaving because of it — not because of other reasons many teachers have publicly cited, including stress from the pandemic.
“I speak to teachers, and they are so burned out they don’t even know what to do,” she said. “They have so much on their plates. I feel for them. We are losing our best teachers in droves. They will not teach what they’re being asked to teach. That’s not what they signed up for.”
Additionally, she touched on banning books that include content about LGBTQ relationships, which Utah Parents United has also fought against. She called the material “graphic” and said it needs to stop.
“I have looked at the kindergarten books that are explaining things that they shouldn’t be,” she said.
DelGrosso said when she lived in Colorado she used to lobby schools to take out inappropriate books and they would listen to her requests. Now, she said, it’s become a fight. (When in Colorado, she worked for Birthright, a group that counsels women against abortions.)
She ticked through other issues, too, saying she is for school choice, with her kids and grandkids going through the public, private and charter systems.
Her dance company is renowned for where the students end up, with her own daughter on “Dancing with the Stars” for four seasons.
She said parents need to push for what they want in schools. She said she pushed for her daughter’s contract on the show to make sure she didn’t work Sundays and got the say over her costumes.
Over the years, she noted, she’s worked with “very liberal” people in her business. And she said she’s “converting them” to the right. Now, she wants to run for the state school board on those same principles.
“I am terrified by the things that are happening with our youth, and I’m really worried about the school board because I don’t feel that they’re on the same page,” she said. “Nobody is going to bully me on that school board.”
Cline clapped for DelGrosso, but during her address she noted that she’s not endorsing anyone in the school board races.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Cline said with a laugh. “It might actually hurt them.”
She has drawn attention during her two years on the board for being outspoken against Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ community — with queer kids, she said, being “gender confused” and “indoctrination” in education.
On Monday at the town hall, she continued that thread.
“There’s a lot of people who have an agenda for our kids, which translates to an agenda for our nation,” she said. “… Our children need rescuing from the cunning, crafty, soul-destroying lies that they are immersed in in our public education system.”
She claimed there is an “ideological coup” happening in schools now with critical race theory and social-emotional learning where children are being pitted against their parents. The purpose, she said, is to “make them more loyal to the state.”
Cline encouraged the crowd to vote for candidates who would call out the perpetrators of that.