Utah auditor reviewing 5 trans bathroom ban complaints after receiving over 12,000 hoax reports

The announcement comes after a weekslong feud over the new law between Auditor John Dougall and Republican lawmakers, who he called ‘invasive and overly agressive.’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Activists in support of transgender rights hold a sit-in in front of a bathroom at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

After three weeks of sifting through more than 12,000 bogus complaints to a trans bathroom ban violation report form, the Utah auditor’s office will review five, it said in a news release Wednesday.

A spokesperson for Utah Auditor John Dougall told The Salt Lake Tribune that his office is not able to share information about the nature of the complaints and what government entities are involved until it finishes an initial review and possible investigation. They noted that because “this is our first time reviewing these types of complaints,” the office does not have a timeline for when that might be completed.

“While none of those five complaints detail a clear allegation of a violation of Statute, each complaint might reflect a good-faith effort to attempt to make plausible allegation of a government entity’s violation of Statute,” Dougall wrote in a statement. “We will review these five complaints to determine whether the allegations require further investigation, as required by the legislature’s mandate codified in Statute.”

Morgan Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland’s “Sex-based Designations for Privacy, Anti-bullying and Women’s Opportunities,” or HB257, passed in January during the first two weeks of this year’s legislative session.

It changes the legal definitions of “female” and “male” to categorize Utahns by the reproductive organs of their birth, and restricts which bathrooms and locker rooms trans people can use in government-owned buildings. It also mandates that Dougall’s office “establish a process to receive and investigate alleged violations of this chapter by a government entity.”

In his statement, Dougall emphasized that his office only assesses government agencies’ compliance with the law and not whether members of the public are following its restrictions.

“We will not investigate allegations about an individual’s bathroom use, and we will not investigate or determine an individual’s sex or gender,” Dougall’s statement said.

(Screenshot) John Dougall, Utah's state auditor and candidate for U.S. Congress, criticizes the Legislature for making him a "bathroom monitor" in video posted to X.

The requirement that the auditor’s office help enforce the law has become a flashpoint between Dougall and the Legislature in the weeks since it took effect at the beginning of this month amid intense public backlash.

Wednesday’s release said the number of complaints his office has received has risen to over 12,000, and “the overwhelming majority are frivolous at best and transparent hoaxes at worst.” Dougall has previously lamented the hours his staff has spent working to comply with the statute, saying it takes them away from regular responsibilities.

Some of the reports, published by the auditor’s office last week, include song lyrics and jokes that people were “flaunting their transness all over the bathroom.”

[Read also: ‘Is this ever going to change?’: Trans teens ask Utah Legislature not to pass more restrictions.]

In one letter, a person who said they’re a retired military veteran who transitioned from male to female in 2017 told Dougall they planned on vacationing in Utah this summer asking what they needed to do to comply with state law.

“I have not had my birth marker on my birth certificate changed from ‘M’ to ‘F.’ I have had my driver’s license, social security card and passport all changed from male to female. I have no plans, at this time, to change my birth certificate gender marker: So, when I use the appropriate female restroom in government facilities, I will be in violation of HB 257,” they wrote. “My question is should I turn myself in at the end of our vacation or at the time of violation?”

Dougall, who is not running for reelection to the post and is instead competing to replace U.S. Rep. John Curtis in the 3rd Congressional District, has filmed multiple videos in public bathrooms decrying lawmakers’ efforts that he has posted to his campaign account on X, formerly known as Twitter.

He has dubbed himself the Legislature’s appointed “bathroom monitor,” and in an earlier statement posted to the auditor’s website has called lawmakers “invasive and overly aggressive.”

In the most recent video, posted Monday, Dougall noted that over the years, bathroom designs have changed to become more inclusive as racial segregation of those spaces has been eliminated and access for people with disabilities has improved. “Every Utahn deserves privacy and safety in bathrooms,” Dougall said.

Criticizing how quickly HB257 was rushed through, the auditor continued, “Our governing is about more than just passing a bill — it’s also about engaging in public dialogue, to discover key information and to build critical support.”

Birkeland, the bill’s sponsor, has returned Dougall’s jabs.

In a screenshot she posted to X a week ago, she highlighted a portion of the auditor’s mission statement that says the office provides “Utah taxpayers and government officials with an independent assessment of ... statutory compliance.” In a separate post, Birkeland wrote, “I look forward to working with our next state auditor, because I know that he will take the role of protecting women seriously.”