Utah auditor slams transgender bathroom law as 10,000 hoax complaints flood his office

Bonneville Elementary School parents and students gather during a block party supporting trans and non binary students and staff in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 29, 2024 | Photo by Rick Bowmer, The Associated Press, St. George News

Utah Auditor John Dougall wants everyone to know he never expected to be a “bathroom monitor” — and he didn’t ask to be.

It’s been a matter of days since Dougall’s office was officially tasked with making sure Utah schools and other agencies are complying with the state’s new transgender bathroom restriction — and already the office has been flooded with thousands of hoax complaints protesting the law.

Dougall told Utah News Dispatch on Tuesday nearly 10,000 “bogus” reports have been submitted since a new page on his office’s complaint hotline website went live last week.

“Most of them are pretty easy to screen out as bogus complaints,” Dougall said during a phone call. “There’s a few hundred that look like they might be more legitimate, but then, you know, facts don’t line up or they put somebody down as a contact, like me or something like that, and we know those are not legitimate.”

How is Utah enforcing its new transgender bathroom law?

Dougall said his office has not yet received any complaints that appear to be real.

“We haven’t seen anything that we consider legitimate,” he said.

Utah State Auditor John Dougall urges those upset with HB257 to take it up with lawmakers, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of utah.gov, St. George News

In a lengthy prepared statement issued Tuesday, Dougall also said he wished to “correct a couple of apparent misperceptions” that appear to be contributing to the wave of “frivolous complaints.”

“Perhaps unsurprisingly given (the law’s) controversial topic and the hurried nature of its passage, many members of the public misunderstood the obligations of this office,” he wrote.

Dougall urged Utahns to realize lawmakers required his office only to investigate an allegation that a government entity has failed to comply with the law — and they won’t investigate “the actions of any private individual, nor will we investigate or determine anyone’s sex or gender.”

“We are not required — and have no desire — to intrude on the most intimate aspects of a person’s life,” Dougall said in his prepared statement, while also noting it’s against the law to take pictures of people in bathrooms. “In this vein, we remind the public that under (Utah law), an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a ‘privacy space.’ If we receive lewd or voyeuristic images, we will promptly refer those to law enforcement.”

‘A role we did not request’

In his prepared statement, Dougall aired his frustrations with the Utah Legislature’s “rushed” passage of HB257, sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, without input from his office. He said his office created the online complaint form to “comply with a statutory mandate — a role we did not request.”

“Indeed, no auditor sets out to become a bathroom monitor.” Dougall said. “Unfortunately, neither Rep. Birkeland, nor any other legislator consulted with this Office regarding this newly mandated obligation placed on the Office under this bill. Like many in the public, we learned about our role under this bill shortly before the bill was rushed to final passage.”

The Republican-controlled Utah Legislature passed HB257 and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed it within the first two weeks of the 2024 legislative session.

Dougall — who is currently running as a Republican candidate for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District — went on to encourage those upset with the law to take it up with Birkeland and other lawmakers, not his office.

“I recognize that many Utahns feel trampled by an invasive and overly aggressive Legislature that too often fails to seek input from those most affected,” Dougall said. “Constituents unhappy with this Statute will not effect change by misdirecting their anger toward the Office and its dedicated employees. The Legislature crafted these public policies, and only the Legislature can revise them.”

Shortly after Dougall’s comments, Birkeland issued her own prepared statement, saying “it’s not surprising that activists are taking the time to send false reports. But that isn’t a distraction from the importance of the legislation and the protection it provides women across Utah.”

“We remain focused on protecting girls in our school bathrooms and locker rooms and women in public bathrooms and locker rooms,” Birkeland said.

Utah governor swiftly signs bill to restrict transgender bathroom access

In response to Dougall’s comments, Birkeland said lawmakers “weighed many options” while considering which office “should oversee the enforcement of this new rule.” Ultimately, she said they decided the state auditor’s office “was best suited to field reports.”

“We appreciate their cooperation and willingness to implement state code,” she said. “Backlash from this legislation was completely expected, but at the end of the day, we do what is best for Utah, despite outcries from a loud and vocal minority.”

“By the way,” she added, “auditing governmental entities and complaints against them is the responsibility of the state auditor’s office.”

The day after the auditor’s website went live, transgender activist and journalist Erin Reed wrote about it on her website and posted about it to her more than 216,000 followers on X. She has reported other states that have tried to launch what she called “snitch lines” have been inundated with memes “from activists opposing the use of community reporting to target transgender individuals.”

Birkeland and the law’s conservative supporters have argued it wasn’t meant to “target” transgender individuals but rather to “protect” Utahns, especially women, from uncomfortable encounters while creating more private spaces for everyone. (The law also requires government agencies to include single-occupant facilities in new construction, as well as consider the feasibility of retrofitting or remodeling existing buildings to include unisex bathroom facilities).

Critics of the bill, which included a handful of Republicans and all Democrats, argued it singles out transgender individuals, an already vulnerable population, by forcing many of them to use facilities where they don’t feel safe or comfortable while casting them in a criminal light.

What the law does — and doesn’t — do

HB257 restricts transgender people from accessing certain bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with in publicly owned or controlled facilities like public schools, the Utah Capitol, and city or county buildings — not private buildings.

It includes no explicit penalties to punish a transgender person for simply entering a government-owned bathroom they identify with — unless there are circumstances or behavior that cause “affront or alarm.” Then they could face enhanced criminal penalties if they are charged with lewdness, trespassing, unlawful loitering or voyeurism.

The law, however, does make it a crime for a person to simply enter a sex-designated changing room that does not correspond with their “biological sex,” and they could also face increased criminal penalties for other crimes committed in that situation.

The bill defines stand-alone bathrooms separately from changing rooms, which include fitting rooms, locker rooms, communal shower rooms, and restrooms that are attached to changing rooms, according to a page Equality Utah and the ACLU of Utah created to address frequently asked questions about the complex bill.

In K-12 public schools, the law restricts access to bathrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms. In other government-owned facilities like county recreation centers or public universities, it only explicitly restricts access to sex-designated changing rooms.

The law’s restrictions do not apply to privately owned buildings.

It also allows exceptions if a person has legally amended their birth certificate to correspond with the sex-designation of the changing room and has undergone a primary sex characteristic surgical procedure.

Equality Utah and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah pointed out on their fact sheet that HB257 does not require Utahns to show documentation or paperwork to access a bathroom or privacy space. However, they also noted the law requires government entities to contact law enforcement in response to complaints or allegations about criminal behavior, which could include simply accessing a sex-designated changing room that doesn’t correspond with someone’s “biological sex.”

“Accordingly, people that others suspect ‘do not belong’ in a particular ‘privacy space’ might be subjected to interactions with law enforcement even when those spaces are not covered by the law,” Equality Utah and the ACLU of Utah’s fact sheet says, which included a link to resources to help Utahns know their rights when interacting with law enforcement.

They also note the law does not include a measure for “individuals other than law enforcement officers to investigate or otherwise confront anyone for any purpose in relation to the bill’s prohibitions.”

“If you are confronted by someone other than law enforcement about your use of a restroom or changing room, we advise you to use your best judgment about how to react and stay safe given all of the circumstances in that situation,” Equality Utah and the ACLU of Utah said. For more answers to frequently asked questions about the law, read the entire FAQ sheet here:


Written by KATIE McKELLAR, Utah News Dispatch

Utah News Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Utah News Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor McKenzie Romero for questions: [email protected]. Follow Utah News Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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