Transgender Activists Flood Utah Tip Line with Hoax Reports to Block Bathroom Law Enforcement

Hannah Schoenbaum READ TIME: 3 MIN.

Transgender activists have flooded a Utah tip line created to alert state officials to possible violations of a new bathroom law with thousands of hoax reports in an effort to shield trans residents and their allies from any legitimate complaints that could lead to an investigation.

The onslaught has led the state official tasked by law with managing the tip line, Utah Auditor John Dougall, to bemoan getting stuck with the cumbersome task of filtering through fake complaints while also facing backlash for enforcing a law he had no role in passing.

"No auditor goes into auditing so they can be the bathroom monitors," Dougall said Tuesday. "I think there were much better ways for the Legislature to go about addressing their concerns, rather than this ham-handed approach."

In the week since it launched, the online tip line already has received more than 10,000 submissions, none of which seem legitimate, he said. The form asks people to report public school employees who knowingly allow someone to use a facility designated for the opposite sex.

Utah residents and visitors are required by law to use bathrooms and changing rooms in government-owned buildings that correspond with their birth sex. As of last Wednesday, schools and agencies found not enforcing the new restrictions can be fined up to $10,000 per day for each violation.

Although their advocacy efforts failed to stop Republican lawmakers in many states from passing restrictions for trans people, the community has found success in interfering with the often ill-conceived enforcement plans attached to those laws.

Within hours of its publication Wednesday night, trans activists and community members from across the U.S. already had spread the Utah tip line widely on social media. Many shared the spam they had submitted and encouraged others to follow suit.

Their efforts mark the latest attempt by advocates to shut down or render unusable a government tip line that they argue sows division by encouraging residents to snitch on each other. Similar portals in at least five other states also have been inundated with hoax reports, leading state officials to shut some down.

In Virginia, Indiana, Arizona and Louisiana, activists flooded tip lines created to field complaints about teachers, librarians and school administrators who may have spoken to students about race, LGBTQ+ identities or other topics lawmakers argued were inappropriate for children. The Virginia tip line was taken down within a year, as was a tip line introduced in Missouri to report gender-affirming health care clinics.

Erin Reed, a prominent trans activist and legislative researcher, said there is a collective understanding in the trans community that submitting these hoax reports is an effective way of protesting the laws and protecting trans people who might be targeted.

"There will be people who are trans that go into bathrooms that are potentially reported by these sorts of forms, and so the community is taking on a protective role," Reed said. "If there are 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 form responses that are entered in, it's going to be much harder for the auditor's office to sift through every one of them and find the one legitimate trans person who was caught using a bathroom."

The auditor's office has encountered many reports that Dougall described as "total nonsense," and others that he said appear credible at first glance and take much longer to filter out. His staff has spent the last week sorting through thousands of well-crafted complaints citing fake names or locations.

Despite efforts to clog the enforcement tool they had outlined in the bill, the sponsors, Rep. Kera Birkeland and Sen. Dan McCay, said they remain confident in the tip line and the auditor's ability to filter out fake complaints.

"It's not surprising that activists are taking the time to send false reports," Birkeland said. "But that isn't a distraction from the importance of the legislation and the protection it provides women across Utah."

The Morgan Republican had pitched the policy as a safety measure to protect the privacy of women and girls without citing evidence of threats or assaults by trans people against them.

McCay said he hadn't realized activists were responsible for flooding the tip line. The Riverton Republican said he does not plan to change how the law is being enforced.

LGBTQ+ rights advocates also have warned the law and the accompanying tip line give people license to question anyone's gender in community spaces, which they argue could even affect people who are not trans.

Their warnings were amplified earlier this year when a Utah school board member came under fire – and later lost her reelection bid – for publicly questioning the gender of a high school basketball player she wrongly assumed was transgender.

by Hannah Schoenbaum

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