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Utah Board of Education member accused of 'homophobic, racist' comments

Posted at 10:48 PM, Feb 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 01:56:06-05

SALT LAKE CITY-- — Outrage is brewing over a Utah State Board of Education member's comments on social media, some calling the statements homophobic, transphobic and racist.

At the same time, many are voicing support for board member Natalie J. Cline, as calls and emails pour into the Utah State Board of Education office.

There are also questions arising over how Cline obtained videos of speaker sessions from a recent Utah Pride Center conference that she put on blast on social media.

It appears, according to records provided by the Utah Pride Center, that Cline used a false name and signed up for the conference as a student to gain access to the event.

The controversy started over the weekend when Cline posted a link to a private video from the conference on her State Board of Education page.

"Murray educators presented last Saturday at the Utah Pride Center Conference for educators. Learn more about what they are doing to indoctrinate your children here" she wrote, in her post with the video link.

The conference, called "Pride, Not Prejudice: An LGBTQIA+ Conference for Utah Educators, Students and Caregivers," focused on how schools can create a more inclusive environment.

"Our conference was open to all," said Utah Pride Center executive director Dr. Rob Moolman (he/his). "Where we invited as many people as we could to come and be part of the discussion, to listen to a variety of different experts on a variety of different topics."

He said more than 500 people attended the virtual event, including teachers, principals, school administrators, students and parents across Utah.

Dr. Moolman described why the Pride Center and others found the elected state education leader's comments so concerning.

"It's going to be reinforced that [LGBTQIA+ students and teachers] are somehow 'other.' They are just different, that, 'We don't really feel that you belong, or your identities belong in the school system -- in our school system,'" he said.

The post made last weekend, paired with other past posts from Cline that target race and gender, led to an outcry from others including the Black Lives Matter Utah chapter.

Several of Cline's posts express opposition to diversity and inclusion training within schools, and the idea of implicit bias.

The Utah State Board of Education told Fox 13 Monday their office received an "unusually large number" of calls and emails about Cline, both in opposition and support of her statements.

A petition began to circulate online to remove Cline from office, gathering over 3,000 signatures. The Utah State Board of Education clarified in a statement that it has no legal authority to remove any board member from office.

A spokesperson told Fox 13 that the only way a board member can legally be removed is through impeachment, or if the board member resigns.

"We respect and encourage the involvement of our constituents statewide, including all of our valued stakeholders," a statement from the Utah State Board of Education read. "We will continue to work hard to represent all of our respective communities, and we remain committed to our duties of providing strategic vision and direction for Utah’s education system, while enabling local flexibility and accountability.”

One thing that stood out to the Utah Pride Center about this latest post was how Cline got hold of conference materials.

READ: Utah Pride conference teaches schools how to be LGBTQIA friendly

While the conference was open to anyone, the Pride Center said only people who signed up could gain access to the presentations and videos. They left the sign-up open after the conference, should anyone want to look at it after-the-fact.

There was no "Natalie Cline" in their system, they explained.

"The only way she was able to gain access was by signing up under a false name," said Amanda Darrow (she/her), director of Youth, Family and Education at the Utah Pride Center.

In looking through their records, Darrow found that someone signed up the day before the conference under an email account that included the name "nataliecline," but that person quickly changed their email and name to "Jean Robison."

According to records obtained by Fox 13, Natalie's middle name is "Jean" and her former last name is "Robison."

This person also signed up for the conference as a 15-year old student, Darrow said, and gave a Murray address that Fox 13 found used to be tied to Cline, and is tied to the Robison name.

"So, they came into our website and pretended to be someone," Darrow said.

Darrow also said since Cline's post on Facebook, a number of people have tried to sign up to get access to conference materials, using the name "STOP INDOCTRINATING OUR CHILDREN." Cline's post accused Murray educators at the Pride Center conference of indoctrinating children.

Dr. Moolman expressed that ultimately he hopes they can talk with Cline one-on-one. He hopes that she will retract or remove her posts for the time being.

"I believe that that really is an important part of this next set of steps," he said. "I think we need to create a space where some understanding is shared."

The Utah Pride Center reported that some are now making donations to their organization in Cline's honor, and Dr. Moolman has signed up to give public comment at the State Board of Education meeting on Thursday.

The Murray School District responded to the post in which its educators were targeted by Cline, saying, "We recognize and appreciate that there is diversity in discussion of all kinds of issues, and don't have anything else to add to this particular situation."

Cline did not respond to Fox 13's request via phone or email for an interview or statement. However, Cline did post on her personal account on social media about the petition, saying, "I am the latest target of the mob."

"If you disagree with this attack on me, please write the state school board members to tell them you stand with me and with a parent's right to know and choose what is okay and not okay for their child to be taught in classrooms," she wrote. She later continued, "Those that created this petition to try to have me removed from the State Board are planning to flood board member emails tonight and tomorrow. Please... ask them to back me up rather than catering to the mob."