GOP lawmaker sends ‘important resource’ to Utah principals — unofficial guidance on responding to ‘transgender phenomenon’

State Rep. Kera Birkeland used her official Utah House letterhead to give unofficial materials to Utah schools.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Rep. Kera Birkeland speaks with delegates at the Utah Republican Party nominating convention, Saturday, April 23, 2022 in Sandy.

This week Utah Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, sent a letter on her official letterhead to Utah school principals offering resources to respond to transgender issues in the classroom. Those resources come from an out-of-state conservative legal group with a history of suing schools over transgender issues. One of those lawsuits spawned Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law.

A copy of the letter was posted to social media by Ashley Anderson, who is running for a spot on the Salt Lake City District school board.

“As you undoubtedly know, a recent phenomenon is emerging in our K-12 schools that is requiring more of your attention. That is the transgender phenomenon, where an increasing number of children are seeking to be identified as something other than their biological sex,” the official-looking letter reads.

Birkeland’s letter includes what the lawmaker wrote was “an important resource” — a copy of “Navigating the Transgender Landscape School Resource Guide,” a publication from the Georgia-based Child and Parental Rights Campaign.

The organization’s website describes the group as a “nonprofit public-interest law firm founded to defend parents’ rights to shield their children from the impacts of gender identity ideology.”

The Child and Parental Rights Campaign was founded by Vernadette Broyles, a lawyer affiliated with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing anti-LGBTQ organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has dubbed a hate group. During a 2020 speech, she claimed schools are “conscripting our kids into a social experiment without our consent” and stoked fears that predatory adults will “strip away the protective layer of parents from children in order to access the gold, which is the child.”

Birkeland’s letter is also signed by Joel Thorton, the organization’s CEO.

In 2021, the group sued a Florida school district, alleging school officials helped students transition to a different gender without informing their parents. That lawsuit prompted Florida lawmakers to pass the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibited teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with kindergarten through third-grade students, Politico reported.

In March, Child and Parents Rights Campaign sued school officials in Massachusetts on behalf of parents who claimed teachers encouraged their children to adopt new names and pronouns without parental consent, according to The Hill.

Utah does not have an official policy on how schools should approach transgender issues. The Utah State Board of Education abandoned the effort to adopt a statewide set of standards, leaving the matter up to individual schools.

The letter from Birkeland includes a link to an official-looking gender guidance policy that schools are encouraged to adopt. The document encourages schools to avoid procedures not clearly described under federal or state law. The proposal discourages using “flags, symbols and ‘inclusive practices’ that seek to politicize the classroom” and says schools should not “compromise the quality of their literature to satisfy certain activists within communities.”

Birkeland authored HB11, Utah’s ban on transgender athletes competing in school sports that match their gender identities. The families of two transgender girls have filed a civil rights lawsuit challenging the law.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, issued a statement condemning Birkeland’s letter and the information she was promoting.

“By using official letterhead of the Utah House of Representatives, Rep. Birkeland created the illusion that she was providing official guidance to our schools. She was not,” Williams said. “As an individual member of the House of Representatives, Rep. Birkeland does not have unilateral authority to provide official guidance to Utah schools.”

Birkeland is facing a June primary challenge for the Republican nomination from Raelene Blocker.

Neither the Child and Parental Rights Campaign nor Birkeland responded to requests for comment.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson’s office declined to comment on Birkeland’s letter. The Utah House of Representatives does not have guidelines governing the use of official letterhead by lawmakers.