Do men enter the women’s changing rooms in leisure centers? Council member wants answers.

A Salt Lake County Council member is pushing for a new policy banning men from using women’s locker rooms at county recreational facilities.

Dea Theodore, a conservative Republican from Sandy, announced her outreach Tuesday amid media appearances and public testimony from county resident and GOP activist Candace Duncan, who claimed she was recently confronted twice with “biological men” in women’s locker rooms at Salt Lake City’s Northwest Recreation Center.

“This shouldn’t be happening,” Theodore said in a press release, calling for a legal review of the matter by county officials — and “possibly” the state — of Duncan’s “shocking encounters.” She also asked for contributions from the county residents.

“We will keep you informed,” said Theodore, who was elected in 2020, “as we deal with this sensitive issue.”

The councilman, whose district includes southeastern parts of the county including Draper, Sandy, Midvale and Cottonwood Heights, said she is calling for a new policy that bans all men, including transgender residents who might identify as women, from using women’s locker rooms at county recreational facilities.

“The fact that males, anatomically male individuals, have used the powder room worries many women and men,” Theodore wrote in an email. “We owe it to every parent, child and taxpayer in the county to ensure our policies are up to date and publicly available.

“Adult men,” she added, “should not be in women’s locker rooms for a number of reasons, including safety concerns.”

The issue is surfacing in county politics as elements of the Republican Party in several US states pursue anti-transgender initiatives aimed at restricting gender-based health care, access to restrooms and drag performances.

Theodore, who claims to be a biologist in her circle biography, also recently championed the widely controversial idea with Utah lawmakers that cutting down more trees in the Great Salt Lake watershed would increase the amount of water reaching the drought-depleted lake.

Duncan, who self-identified as a member of Utah’s Log Cabin Republicans, posted her toilet claims on social media, offered them up for county council testimony and spoke about them on-air with Theodore and KNRS-FM talk show host Rod Arquette.

Attempts to solicit Duncan for further comment were not immediately successful.

A spokesman for the Utah branch of the Log Cabin Republicans, described as a conservative group for LGBTQ community members and their allies, said Duncan “did not and does not claim that the men she encountered in the women’s locker room were transgender.”

What happened at the leisure center?

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) A large mural adorns a wall at Northwest Recreation Center in 2015. Salt Lake County Council member Dea Theodore wants an explicit policy banning men from using women’s locker rooms at county recreational facilities.

Duncan told the councilman that a few months ago, wrapped only in a towel, she stepped out of the shower at the leisure center and saw “a very tall man”, which startled and angered her, leading her to yell at him to leave.

She didn’t make a formal complaint, she said, but reported the incident to someone at the front desk and the person was later questioned.

A few months later, Duncan said she encountered “a man in a skirt and a pink gas mask that hid his features” in the same dressing room.

“I wasn’t yelling at him for being dressed,” she added in the video, which was posted to Twitter by the Utah Log Cabin Republicans the same day and then reposted by Theodore. Duncan said that just minutes earlier, a young girl was changing alone in the same area.

She also said a county operations manager later told her, “He lets men into the women’s restroom with no questions asked.”

County Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Liz Sollis said via email that Duncan’s concerns were addressed “promptly at the time.”

And while more than a million people visited the county’s recreation centers in 2022, Sollis said, “To the best of our knowledge, we have not received any further concerns from guests regarding gender and use of restroom facilities.”

“Our top priority,” she said, “is to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all of our residents.”

Theodore said in the press release that her office attempted to learn the formal county guidelines on access and use of women’s locker rooms, but that “after repeated requests, county officials have not provided me with county guidelines permitting such access.”

Sollis said the county board wants “all of our guests to feel comfortable participating in activities. As such, individuals are able to sign up for gender-specific activities and use locker rooms and restrooms that match their gender identity.”

In addition, the spokesman said, most county facilities offer private dressing rooms “that are available for those who want more privacy.”

And in a commitment to safety and privacy, Sollis said, the county’s standards of conduct for visitors include “clear expectations of behavior that prioritize the well-being of all park and recreation visitors.”

The agency operates and maintains a broad network of regional and neighborhood parks, hiking trails, open spaces, golf courses, recreation centers, swimming pools, historic sites and other amenities in Utah’s most populous county.

Duncan told the councilman she was “very upset that I had to unexpectedly deal with the threatening situation of a man in a dressing room without my knowledge or consent.”

“Usually we just think that’s happening in California or on the east coast,” she added in the video, referring to “national news” about such incidents. “Something like this is happening right here in Utah.”

“Good reasons not to feel safe”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kids cool off at the Northwest Recreation Center in Salt Lake City in 2022. Salt Lake County Council member Dea Theodore wants an explicit policy banning men from using women’s locker rooms at county recreational facilities.

Goud Maragani, president of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans, confirmed Duncan was a member and said she chairs the Men in Women’s Safe Spaces Committee — one of several bodies he says deals with “social welfare issues” affecting the LGBT community and Utahns in general.

“Although some try to frame this as a ‘trans’ issue,” Maragani said, “Mrs. Duncan did not claim the men were trans.”

“What we do know is that she encountered biological males twice in the women’s locker room,” Maragani continued. “There must be clear, transparent laws regarding the use of locker rooms that are disclosed to guests using county facilities.”

Theodore said, “This issue and my forthcoming policy recommendations are in no way directed at LGBTQ residents of the county.”

“I’m not going to politicize this,” she said. “Our main question is: should natural males, youth and adults use the female and female locker rooms?”

In a note posted to a website created by physician and vaccine skeptic Robert Malone in mid-April, Duncan also referenced the two encounters, writing that she “is working with the Utah Log Cabin Republicans to draft legislation to ban men from the restrooms of county gyms.”

She claimed in the same post that the county’s library system makes child pornography “available for every child to borrow” and that “pedophilic abuse of children is being normalized.”

In the online comment, Duncan also referenced attempts to implicate the far-right group Moms for Liberty and Utah Parents United, a nonprofit that has joined the widely condemned online comments by Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline that schools are involved in the care of children.

Both Duncan and Theodore in their recent comments on Tuesday implied that children were at risk because of the county’s actions.

“I have valid reasons for not feeling safe with any man in the women’s locker room and vice versa,” said Duncan, referring to a case of sexual harassment of a young girl at another county facility.

“A sex offender,” Duncan said in her video posted to Twitter, “could easily put on a skirt and a blouse and go into the women’s dressing room to see a peep show with all the little girls and women, and possibly go further.”

Theodore, in her own press release, referenced the county’s recent $9 million expansion of recreational facilities in southern Jordan, noting that “Thousands of county children are on the school swim teams, taking swimming lessons, and using these facilities every day.”

She said she was “unaware that county staff have informed and warned parents that adult males have access to the county-owned locker rooms and safe rooms for women.”

“Parents,” Theodore said, “deserve information and full disclosure so they can make the best decisions for their children.”

Justin Scaccy

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