Update: The Salt Lake County Council voted to table discussion on the proposed ordinance on Tuesday evening.
A newly proposed Salt Lake County ordinance, if put into effect, would mean that all Salt Lake County parks and recreational facilities would designate multiple-occupancy locker rooms and restrooms by sex.
Salt Lake County council member Dea Theodore introduced the proposed ordinance on Nov. 29. It is seconded by council members Sheldon Stewart and David Alvord. The first public hearing of the proposed ordinance took place Tuesday in the Salt Lake County Council Conference Room.
The proposed ordinance stipulates that recreational facilities would also provide sex-neutral facilities that are single occupancy “as a reasonable accommodation.”
Here’s a closer look at the ordinance and the different views on it:
What is the proposed ordinance?
The proposed ordinance defined sex as “a person’s biological sex at birth as being male or female” based on a person’s reproductive organs, chromosomes and hormone composition.
If put into effect, this would mean that parks and recreational multiple occupancy facilities including locker rooms, bathrooms, showering facilities and dressing facilities would be based on sex. Children under 5 years old would be able to accompany a parent into a facility based on the parent’s sex.
The proposed ordinance also described Salt Lake County’s policy preference moving forward.
“Salt Lake County establishes a policy preference for single occupancy changing facilities at Salt Lake County recreational facilities, and intends that future recreational facilities be designed and constructed to primarily utilize single occupancy changing facilities,” the text of the proposed ordinance indicated.
In an interview with the Deseret News, Theodore said as new recreational facilities are built or remodeled in the county, they intend to have more single-occupancy changing facilities.
Comparing it to fitting rooms in stores, Theodore said it would ensure “privacy for all.” She used the Draper Recreation Center as an example, saying that they have changing rooms where a single person can go in or a family could go in together.
In addition to designating multiple-occupancy facilities as single sex, the ordinance specifies that the director of the division of parks and recreation will establish procedures to enforce the proposed ordinance. These procedures may include verifying a person’s sex via birth certificate or Utah driver’s license.
The ordinance prohibited discrimination on the basis of both sex and gender identity. The proposed ordinance stated that the section prohibiting discrimination “shall not be interpreted to prohibit Salt Lake County government from adopting reasonable rules and policies that designate sex-specific facilities” as long as there are “reasonable accommodations to all patrons.”
Chris Jones, communications director for Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, said in a statement to the Deseret News, “The mayor’s office is currently reviewing this policy proposal. Salt Lake County is committed to being a place where all residents feel welcome and safe.”
Different views on the proposed ordinance
Theodore said she supports the proposed ordinance because she has concerns about privacy and safety. In a statement to the Deseret News, LGBTQ+ rights advocacy organization Equality Utah explained that the organization believes the proposed ordinance is “unnecessary.”
“Equality Utah recognizes and supports the importance of providing for modesty and safety in restrooms and changing rooms. This proposed ordinance, however, is unnecessary. There are already existing laws that target threatening or inappropriate behavior in these types of public spaces,” the statement said.
“This proposed ordinance, will surely lead to additional legal liability on the part of the county, will exacerbate, rather than ameliorate any safety concerns and will result in other unforeseen consequences including vigilante enforcement,” the statement continued.
Theodore said the goal of the ordinance was “to provide safe spaces for children, women and everybody.” She said that one of her reasons for introducing the ordinance was because a woman, Candace Duncan, reported an instance of seeing “a male that was entering the female changing room at the Northwest rec center.”
Duncan, who identified herself as the Utah Log Cabin Republicans’ committee chair for Men in Women’s Safe Spaces (the Utah Log Cabin Republicans has been disbanded), talked about her claim in a video posted on X, saying, “I came out of the shower nude, just wrapped in a towel, and there was a very large man in the locker room.”
At the time, Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation released a statement to KUTV, which said, “We are aware of the concerns raised by one of our patrons and responded to them in December of 2022. We will continue to work collaboratively with the public, and stakeholders to maintain the safety, legal protections, and integrity of all who use our recreational facilities.”
During the public hearing for the ordinance on Tuesday in the Salt Lake County Government Center, members of the community expressed their opinions of the ordinance in front of the Salt Lake County council.
Salt Lake County resident Anabelle Weissinger expressed concern over the impact of this proposed ordinance. “I had to leave my home state of Oklahoma because of transphobic legislation that started with simple things like bathroom restrictions,” Weissinger said.
Goud Maragani, who said he was the chairman of the Utah Gay Straight Coalition, said he supported the ordinance because he thought it was “good policy and will require to use the locker room that corresponds to their birth sex.”