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As lawmakers talk impeachment, Natalie Cline faces ‘prompt’ Utah school board action

Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline during the board’s Aug. 3, 2023 board meeting in Salt Lake City. Cline was elected in 2020 and is in her first term.
Martha Harris
Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline during the board’s Aug. 3, 2023 board meeting in Salt Lake City. Cline was elected in 2020 and is in her first term.

Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline’s recent Facebook post questioning the gender of a high school student-athlete drew the condemnation of the state board and “stunned” both Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson. It also prompted the Granite School District to increase security at one of its schools.

Now, the Utah Legislature is weighing her impeachment.

Cline’s social media post

The Feb. 6 post, which she has since removed, was a picture of a flyer for a high school girls’ basketball team in Salt Lake County. She captioned it “Girls’ basketball…” implying that one of the players is not female.

Cline did not crop or blur the photo, so it showed the student’s face, the name of the school, the team she played for, her jersey number and information about her team’s next game.

Cline took the post down after less than 24 hours, but this was after people in the comment section attacked the girl’s appearance, accused her of being a “boy on the girls’ team,” identified the minor’s full name and used vulgar language to talk about the student. Several commenters said other schools should refuse to play this team and encouraged people to call the school’s principal.

One commenter asked when the team’s next game was, saying their neighbor might be there and “My neighbors don’t tolerate this crap and I know they’d bring it up at the game.”

In an interview with KUER, the parents of the girl said they want Cline to resign from the state board.

A statement from the Granite School District said they “have significant concerns with the apparent intent of Board Member Cline’s post and are working to ensure the safety and wellbeing of this student.” The district added that additional safety and security precautions were in the works due to the “potential for a significant disruption to the educational and extracurricular activities associated with this campus.”

After taking down the original post, Cline said she removed it in order to protect the player.

“My deepest apologies for the negative attention my post drew to innocent students and their families,” she wrote.

Cline went on to say that several people had reached out to her to say that the player in question is a cisgender female.

“We live in strange times when it is normal to pause and wonder if people are what they say they are because of the push to normalize transgenderism in our society,” Cline said.

She said everyone is trying to “preserve women’s sports” and needs to recognize there is a “great variety within females.”

She went on to comment about the student’s body.

“Sadly, our good faith efforts to be accepting of differences has, at times, been taken advantage of causing a loss of trust, which leads to suspicion about girls who are more buff than most.”

Response from lawmakers and advocates

The joint statement from Gov. Cox and Lt. Gov. Henderson said this is not the first time Cline has “embarrassed the state of Utah and the State Board of Education.” They said they were “stunned to learn of the unconscionable behavior” of Cline and others harassing a high school student on social media. They called on the state board to “hold her accountable.”

Presenting a united front during media availability, Senate President Stuart Adams and Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla appeared together to condemn Cline’s comments.

“I think we'd want to make sure that the elected officials have the opportunity to make good decisions and give them some time to try to walk through this. But we're looking at all options like we do with everything,” said Adams.

When reporters asked about impeachment, Adams said “I think we're looking at those issues.”

Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland is calling on Cline to resign. Birkeland was the sponsor of the 2022 law that banned transgender girls from competing in public school sports. That law is on hold as it works its way through the courts. Currently, transgender girls who want to compete have to go before a state commission, and all students have to upload their birth certificate showing their age and sex in order to play.

In a statement, Birkeland called the post “awful and unjustifiable. A child should never be targeted by adults, let alone an elected official.” If a student is on the field, she noted, that means they have been cleared to play and their eligibility should not be questioned by others.

Equality Utah, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, said in a statement while Cline has made controversial posts in the past, “this is a new level of depravity and bullying. Cline’s post perpetuates a modern day witch-hunt, where hysterical adults police the bodies of children to determine if they are masculine or feminine enough.”

The organization is concerned that with Utah’s recent spate of legislation focusing on transgender individuals, incidents like this will escalate. If Cline does not resign, the organization called on voters to not reelect her later this year.

Utah State Board of Education response

The leadership of the Utah State Board of Education condemned Cline’s actions in a statement. Going further, the statement said, “We are deeply saddened by the events that have taken place and will be taking prompt action regarding this matter as determined by the full Board.”

However, the board noted it has no power or authority to unseat an elected official, only discipline as outlined in the board bylaws. The actions available are a public reprimand, censure or removal from committee assignments. A spokesperson told KUER that the “only way to unseat a board member is through impeachment, which would be done by the state Legislature, or through the elections later this year.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
Caroline is the Assistant News Director
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