Opinion: Calling life-saving medical care ‘genital mutilation’ puts trans Utahns, like myself, in danger

My faith in the governor — whom I met at an event supporting LGBTQ+ youth in Utah — has been extremely misplaced.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, joined by his wife Abby joins a press event showing his support for the Utah nonprofit called Encircle, on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, which offers resources and peer counseling for LGBTQ youths and their families.

Editor’s note • This article discusses suicide. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24-hour support.

Gov. Spencer Cox used me.

When I came out as transgender in early 2019, I feared our state and the people who ran it. But I didn’t want to live by those fears, so I joined the Gay-Staight Alliance at Park City High School and became an LGBTQ+ rights activist.

I was invited to meet Gov. Cox at the opening of a new café at Encircle, a non-profit that provides support for LGBTQ+ youth, in October of 2021, I was cautiously optimistic. As a senior in high school, I had never met a lawmaker in person before, let alone one willing to publicly support the LGBTQ+ community. I had seen Gov. Cox’s campaign ads calling for Utahns to “stand united” and had hoped that despite party lines, a politician would finally be in my people’s corner.

It was basically just a photo op, but to me, it meant a lot more. I shook the Governor’s hand and we took a photo together. We joked around over his having sparkling water instead of coffee even though it was a coffee shop opening. It might sound cheesy, but my hopes and expectations for Utah and his administration raised dramatically when he said, “I will do everything in my power to share that same sense of love and commitment with LGBTQ+ youth everywhere.”

It was wonderful witnessing such a revolutionary statement of support and I could feel my fears dissipating. No more being afraid of using the bathroom in public. No more being afraid that my healthcare would be stolen.

The following year he vetoed HB11, which would have banned trans girls from playing sports. That veto solidified in the eyes of many that the governor gave us his word and intentionally took action to keep it. The Legislature ultimately overrode him, but at least our governor wanted to protect us, right?

I just found out that this faith in him was exceptionally misplaced.

This month, at an event hosted at George Washington University dedicated to civil discussion and “disagreeing better,” Gov. Cox claimed that life-saving gender-affirming care is “genital mutilation.”

These are not the words that should be coming out of the same mouth that promised us support and protection. Ultimately, these words pose an immediate threat to myself and other trans Utahns. The constant stigmatization of transness makes it easier for society to dismiss, discriminate and inflict violence against trans people.

In the same sentence, Cox said “I want these kids to thrive.” In what world will they thrive without the medical care advised by every major medical organization in the country?

Gov. Cox can’t have his cake and eat it too.

Also this month, the suicide of Nex Benedict, a gender non-conforming teenager in Oklahoma who died after their school district was targeted by the hate speech group Libs of TikTok, highlighted the consequences of misinformation about LGBTQ+ people and identities.

Gov. Cox invited transgender youth and their families to his mansion to discuss gender-affirming healthcare in 2022. Now he rejects that same healthcare as mutilation. Was he merely pretending to care about the needs of the trans community? Or is he pretending now, seeing as he’s up for reelection and transphobia is a hot talking point?

Since the veto override in 2022, Gov. Cox has not vetoed any subsequent bills that have had disastrous effects on Utah’s trans community, such as SB16, banning transgender minors from accessing gender-affirming healthcare — care that I and many others deem necessary to prevent loss of life.

From what I can tell, he also never collaborated with Encircle again. He pointedly refused to answer several questions about his support for the LGBTQ+ community while visiting Park City High School on his Connecting Utah Tour last year.

To my people, I want you to know we’re worthy of so much more than bigotry and erasure. Apparently, we need to demand our rights and respect, so let’s do it. I urge you: organize, organize, organize. Call, email and text your representatives, host discussions in your communities, get involved in trans rights direct actions in your city, uplift trans voices, lobby and donate to organizations such as Encircle, Equality Utah and Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. Stand up and fight back against the people who want to strip you of your rights.

To Gov. Cox, please know that trans youth aren’t here to bolster your image and be the faces of how you “disagree better.” Your empty promises and ignorant, factually incorrect statements about our mental health and medical care do not serve your queer constituents and all those who love us and fear for our safety and well-being.

We reject your words because they are violently oppressive and communicate that trans youth don’t have the knowledge, authority or power to make informed consent decisions to determine their own identities and bodies. Gov. Cox, you are not an ally if your allyship consists of bending under the pressure of culture wars that only serve to divide us.

Jace Deininger

Jace Deininger (he/they) is a 2022 Park City High School graduate and current sophomore in the University of Oregon’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies department. He has worked with local, national and international organizations supporting LGBTQ+ rights.

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Correction, March 13 • A correction was made to indicate that Nex Benedict died by suicide.