Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rep. Birkeland’s letter on trans students confused district officials and irked advocates

Utah Legislature 2022 Session, Rep. Kera Birkeland, Jan 25, 2022
Ivana Martinez
/
KUER
Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland is the representative for District 53 in the Utah House.

Principals and counselors in the Salt Lake City School District last week were surprised to find what appeared to be new state guidance on how to support transgender students.

The notice was on official Utah House of Representatives letterhead and signed by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan. Yet it had several typos, including a misspelling of Birkeland's name and one of the areas she represented.

The reaction was complete confusion, according to district spokesperson Yandary Chatwin.

“As principals started talking to each other, they realized some of them got it, some of them didn't,” she said. “And there doesn't appear to be a pattern or anything we can tell into who got it and who didn't.”

Rep. Kera Birkeland's letter to SLC School District on transgender issues, June 6, 2022
Courtesy Salt Lake City School District
The notice included a letter, guidance and sample policy. Birkeland’s last name and Morgan County are misspelled.

The letter explained Birkeland was providing information on how to approach “the transgender phenomenon, where an increasing number of children are seeking to be identified as something other than their biological sex.”

It also came with the book, “Navigating The Transgender Landscape School Resource Guide,” produced by the Child & Parental Rights Campaign, based in Georgia. The group’s mission, according to its website, is to “defend parents’ to shield their children from the impacts of gender identity ideology.” CEO Joel Thornton, a lawyer, co-signed the letter with Birkeland.

A spokesperson with the House of Representatives said leadership was not aware of the letter and that it is not an official state document or policy. There are no rules, however, around how state lawmakers can use official letterhead, the spokesperson noted.

In 2021, members of the Utah State Board of Education spent months creating guidance of their own for schools around gender identity, following requests for help from teachers and staff. They ultimately gave up, opting instead to “empower our school leaders to make decisions.”

This has not been an issue in SLCSD, said Chatwin, which has a policy and procedures around gender inclusion.

Birkeland did not respond to KUER’s requests for comment. She sponsored the recent bill banning trans girls from competing in school sports, which survived a veto from Gov. Spencer Cox. Some lawmakers criticized the way the controversial measure had been introduced in the final hours of the Legislative session and the message it sent to vulnerable students.

In a statement, the LGBTQ civil rights and advocacy group Equality Utah accused Birkeland of fueling the culture war against trans youth.

Sue Robbins, a member of the group’s Transgender Advisory Council, said she was “livid” when she heard about the letter and materials sent to schools. She noted it did not align with best practices established or endorsed by groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics. The effort also suggests there will be little room for dialogue on the issue going forward.

“What I'm seeing is no opportunity for progress,” Robbins said. “[Birkeland] went from the sports bill where we didn't negotiate and escalated greatly with this letter. That's not telling me that we have room for discussion. That's telling me she's done talking and she's just going to keep going.”

Some school leaders in the Canyons and Davis districts also received the letter, but spokespeople with the Granite, Murray and Jordan districts said they didn’t know of anyone there receiving it.

“We know any direction our district or schools receive on the matter will come from the state office of education,” said Davis spokesperson Chris Williams.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.