Utah’s governor, lieutenant governor say school board member Natalie Cline has ‘embarrassed the state’

Spencer Cox and Deidre Henderson also said the Utah State Board of Education’s leadership needs “to hold her accountable.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Cox and Henderson criticized Utah State School Board member Natalie Cline on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, after she posted about a high school athlete, publicly questioning the girl's gender.

Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson issued a rare joint rebuke late Wednesday saying Utah school board member Natalie Cline has “embarrassed the state” by publicly raising questions about the gender of a high school athlete — and now they’re calling for board leadership to take action against her.

The damning statement from the state’s executive leaders came in the fallout of a Facebook post from Cline that has drawn widespread attention and criticism since it was posted Tuesday night.

“We were stunned to learn of the unconscionable behavior of board member Cline and others toward a high school student today,” Cox and Henderson wrote in their response. “The last thing our children need is an elected official harassing them on social media.”

[Read more: Natalie Cline questions high school athlete’s gender, causing social media uproar]

Cline, an outspoken and conservative member of the Utah State Board of Education, originally shared a flyer for a high school girls’ basketball team in Salt Lake County. On her public Facebook page, she wrote “Girls’ basketball” — implying that one of the players was not female and suggesting she shouldn’t be able to play.

That incited anger among her followers, many of whom responded in the comments, threatening the girl, calling her vulgar names and identifying her and her school. Granite School District said it’s had to provide security for the student because of the responses. The Salt Lake Tribune is not identifying her school to protect her identity.

Cox and Henderson commended the district for “taking swift action to protect this student’s safety and well-being.” Utah House and Senate Democrats called for Cline’s immediate resignation, with the House Democrats saying her “repeated misconduct highlights her unsuitability” to be a school board member.

The girl is not transgender, according to Equality Utah. Cline later acknowledged that after deleting the post and sharing an apology. But the school board member continued to comment on the girl’s body in that post, saying she “does have a larger build.”

Cox and Henderson called for the board’s leadership “to hold her accountable.”

The board responded with a statement Thursday, condemning Cline’s actions and promising to take “prompt action regarding this matter.” The board’s leadership reiterated, though, that it has “no power or authority to unseat an elected official.”

Instead, members of the board can be censured, or the board can vote to formally disapprove of her comments.

[Read more: Utah school board promises ‘prompt action’ against Natalie Cline — the Legislature eyes impeachment]

The board has once done so, choosing to issue a letter of reprimand to Cline, in fall 2021, distancing itself from her words and marking the first time a state school board member has ever been disciplined. That came after Cline posted another message critical of LGBTQ students that led some of her followers to threaten violence.

Both Cox and Henderson commented on X, formerly known as Twitter, that they have now financially contributed to the campaign for Cline’s Republican opponent, Amanda B. Bollinger, who is a longtime administrator in Jordan School District.

Bollinger also posted a message on her Instagram page Wednesday. She doesn’t mention Cline by name, but she notes that student safety and privacy are a priority for her. “I’m always questioning how I can be part of the solution,” she said.

Cline has come under fire repeatedly for her social media comments during her tenure on the board, which started when she was elected in November 2020. Cox and Henderson alluded to those previous comments from Cline in their statement.

“Sadly, this is not the first time that board member Cline has embarrassed the state of Utah and State Board of Education,” they wrote.

Henderson later added in a follow-up tweet from her account that Cline’s behavior — as well as those who commented on her post — was “inexcusable, utterly revolting.”

When Utah’s measure to ban transgender girls from competing in high school sports was first passed by the Utah Legislature in 2022, Cox vetoed it. He issued a statement at the time, saying “rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few.” Republican lawmakers later voted to override that.

Last year, Cox signed off on a bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors. And earlier this month, he approved a bill banning transgender Utahns from using restrooms and locker rooms in government buildings.

Some commenters on social media have suggested that Cox and other Utah leaders, including Rep. Kera Birkeland, who sponsored the anti-transgender athlete bill and the restroom bill, are responsible for spurring people, like Cline — and others in the state who have recently singled out athletes — because they have pushed for laws that target the transgender community.

“This is one consequence of inserting culture wars into our politics and into law,” said activist Darlene McDonald.

[Read more: Will Utah lawmaker face charges for sharing protected information on transgender athlete cases?]

Utah’s House Democrats also noted that in their statement. They said: “We acknowledge that legislation discriminating against transgender individuals only worsens this harmful behavior. If the Utah Legislature continues to pass laws singling out our trans community members, these incidents may well continue.”

Cline’s term is up this November, and she has filed to run again. She faces Bollinger, as well as Will Shiflett, who oversees a business program at Salt Lake Community College and has filed as the sole Democrat.

Shiflett issued a statement, too, on Thursday. He said: “It is unacceptable for us to allow Ms. Cline to remain in a position where she may continue to harm our children, waste limited education resources and cause unnecessary divisions within our community.”

The race is for District 9, which includes the southern part of Salt Lake County and the northern part of Utah County, which is generally considered a conservative area.