Utah lawmakers criticized for transgender comments on Twitter, later apologize

Published: Monday, Feb. 3 2014 1:05 p.m. MST

Utah Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, is sponsoring a bill that would define gender and make sure students use school restrooms assigned to their gender.

Jordan Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Twitter exchange Monday between Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, and Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, drew criticism from around the country as being insensitive to the LGBT community.

Niederhauser said his tweet was actually written by an intern, and the "embarrassing situation" will prompt greater supervision of legislative interns.

There will also be a meeting Monday for legislative interns with Equality Utah, a group that advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, to help them better understand LGBT issues.

The tweet from Niederhauser's account was sent in response to a tweet from Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, who tweeted about considering a "gender-identifying change" in order use the available women's bathroom in the House office building.

According to Niederhauser, it was his intern who responded with a tweet about not being able to keep up with Anderegg supporting Sen. Stephen Urquhart's antidiscrimination bill and switching his gender identity, too.

"Unfortunately, today my intern took some liberties to tweet on my account," Niederhauser said. "The tweet does not reflect anything that I believe in, and I have deep respect for the people in the LGBT community and continue to do so."

Anderegg later apologized on Twitter, saying his tweet was "totally inappropriate" and that he intends to "learn from it." He didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said the tweets demonstrated an ignorance of the "lived experiences" of transgender people. Balken said the request for Equality Utah to provide information about transgender people was appropriate.

"I anticipate that there will be a discussion about what it means to be transgender, knowing that there as been an immense amount of misinformation put out about transgender people," she said.

Balken said she hopes the interns and elected officials who attend the meeting will leave with the understanding that there are transgender people living in Utah, and that they, too, are constituents of elected officials.

In response to a question about addressing legislation this session concerning LGBT and marriage issues, Niederhauser said he doesn't want lawmakers to get anxious, but to focus on the appeal and wait for the courts before they discuss the issues.

Sen. Urquhart, R-St. George, is sponsoring SB100, which calls for antidiscrimination amendments to the Utah Antidiscrimination Act and the Utah Fair Housing Act.

"I’m pretty confident that we’ll be able to … have the stand-down and not have one side heard and not the other side heard," Niederhauser said, "because if we go down that road, we’re going to open the floodgates of all the religious liberties type of issues."

Blue notes calling for the Legislature to hear SB100 covered the Senate doors Monday morning. Niederhauser said the notes show the energy behind the antidiscrimination issue, which he said is a "sister and companion" to the same-sex marriage issue.

"I think it highlights the need for us to do as we’re working on, to say this is an emotional time. Let’s stop and pull our faculties here together and address other issues this session and wait for the process in the appeal to take place, and we’ll come back at another time and address religious liberties and antidiscrimination," he said.

Still to be determined is whether HB87 would be lumped into that category. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, would define gender and ensure students use school restrooms assigned to their gender.

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