Jen Schwartz: Are Utah legislators opening up our children to bullying?

By Jen Schwartz | The Public Forum  | March 3, 2024, 6:00 a.m.

In my opinion, bullying of LGBTQIA+ youth has already begun. The 2024 legislative session has brought about bills that directly target LGBTQIA+ youth and adults, and the negative consequences have started before the session has even concluded.

In my work as a mental health counselor working with teens, adults, and families, I am now having daily conversations with clients who are concerned for the safety of themselves or their children. Questions like, “Can I safely use a bathroom in restaurants anymore?,” permeate our discussions. I work with several transgender teenagers who are (rightfully) worried that their access to safe bathrooms at school will now be restricted, leaving them with the options delineated in a cartoon I saw recently — “Get yelled at or Get beat up.”

It goes without saying that the recent actions of USBE member Natalie Cline illuminated bullying that is already happening — the implication that a high school athlete might be transgender ended in her family receiving police protection, and has since resulted in censures from the Legislature and several city governments. We’ve also recently seen a worst-case scenario of what happens when trans youth are singled out and treated as “others”: the death of 16 year old nonbinary high school student Nex Benedict in Oklahoma.

I moved to Utah in 1994, and I stayed to raise my family here. I am the parent of two nonbinary young adults. The amount of time that I worry for their safety — and the safety of my clients — has increased every legislative session for the last few years. We say we are a state that loves children and families, while simultaneously legislating against this tiny minority who want nothing more than to live their lives in peace. We need to do better, and we need people on the hill who will protect our children, not put them in harm’s way.

Jen Schwartz, South Salt Lake City