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Orem lawmaker’s bill to study effects of hormone therapy on transgender minors passes House committee

A bill sponsored by an Orem lawmaker that would fund a study on the effects of hormone therapy and other medical treatment available for transgender minors passed unanimously through the Utah House Health and Human Services Committee last Thursday.

House Bill 449, sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, would instruct the Utah Department of Health to hire three experts in medicine or pharmacology to conduct a review of existing scientific research regarding “the diagnosis, treatment, and care of minors who are transgender,” according to the bill’s text.

Daw was originally considering a bill that would ban hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery in Utah for anyone under 18 years old. On Thursday, he said he thought existing research should be reviewed before the state considers a ban.

“After talking with a number of people and raising concerns, it appeared to me that we just don’t know (about the effects of hormone therapy),” Daw said. “There’s a lot of information we don’t have. And so before we rush in and ban something completely, and maybe disrupt minors who are going through the treatment, which probably would be very problematic, let’s gather information.”

Daw said he had “grave concerns” with hormone therapy drugs like Lupron, the negative side effects of which can include sterility and blindness. In January, Daw told the Daily Herald that kids and teenagers should not be able to make potentially life-altering decisions that they may regret later in life.

Utah resident Erin Brewer, who introduced herself to the committee as “a former trans kid,” spoke in favor of the bill and told the story of being diagnosed with gender dysphoria after being sexually assaulted as a young child, adding that the perpetrator spared her brother.

“In my child’s mind, I thought that being a boy would prevent me from ever being hurt that way again,” said Brewer.

Brewer said a psychologist helped her understand that she was using her gender identity to cope with the assault.

“If I had been medically transitioned, I never would have understood that the hatred that I had for my female body was the result of being violently violated,” said Brewer. “I never would have realized that my transgender identity was in fact a coping mechanism.”

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, said hormone therapy and puberty blockers are damaging to children.

“Puberty is what makes little girls grow into women and little boys grow up to be men,” Ruzicka said. “And it should be a process that we go through, all of us.”

Hayley McLoughlin, the parent of a 16-year-old transgender boy, said her son was suicidal and starving himself while he was going through puberty because he didn’t like how his body was changing.

“And I think a puberty blocker saved his life for real,” McLoughlin said, adding that it gave her son time to talk to a therapist and “process what he was going through so that he could better make choices for himself about the direction he wanted to go.”

Transgender Education Advocates of Utah Director Candice Metzler said the bill appeared to be more about politics than an understanding of youth health care.

“This is a population (transgender youth) that needs us to not politicize their issues,” said Metzler. “These are youth that are, in my opinion, being targeted by this legislation.”

Metzler said the state could help transgender youth by funding and encouraging anti-bullying initiatives and working to make schools more inclusive.

“I’m not necessarily for or against it (the bill), but I’m for putting resources towards things that are going to actually help this population instead of politicizing it,” said Metzler.

Provo art teacher honored with lifetime achievement award

Two Provo City School District art teachers have been awarded recognition from the Utah Art Education Association, including a longtime Provo High School teacher.

Elicia Gray, an art teacher at Lakeview Elementary School received the elementary art teacher of the year award and James Rees, who has taught at Provo High School, was awarded the lifetime achievement award.

“It’s always nice to have colleagues acknowledge your work and your contributions,” Rees said.

Rees, who works to get his students’ work displayed at ARTcetera, an art gallery in the Provo Towne Centre shopping mall, cafes and the Springville Museum of Art, said that students shouldn’t only learn how to create art but also how to curate and display it.

“If you do art and it is under your bed and never sees the light of day, you’re missing a key component,” Rees said.

Knowing their art will be displayed, he said, leads to better work and students who are more open to critique and suggestions.

He urges his students to be open to making mistakes. He’s shared his own with them, which have included a video about how a project didn’t work out.

“You have to be willing to take risk and make some ugly surprises along the way and not be afraid of failure,” Rees said.

In one project, he asks students to use digital storytelling to explore what it takes to be an American today. Rees said it’s his job to make sure students have a safe space in his classroom for those discussions and exploration of creativity.

Gray, who has spent 20 years teaching at the elementary, junior high, high school and college level, views art as just another skill, like reading and math.

“A lot of people think the arts are just a superfluous secondary thing that is meant to support all of the rest, and that’s not the case,” she said.

Elementary students, she said, absorb information easier than at other grade levels.

“They are not as afraid to make mistakes as older students,” Gray said.

She links art into other subjects they are learning, like when she’s had students design their own plastic plates that are then manipulated under a blowtorch to mimic shaping glass and explain different states of matter.

In her project-speckled classroom, she’s more interested in teaching students how to be good observers than focusing solely on creating skills. If they are passionate about their idea, she said, they’ll be more motivated to pursue the skill.

“For me, the skill is not as important as the brainstorming or coming up with a good idea,” Gray said.

Transfer fund for LGBTQ BYU students surpasses $35,000 after honor code "bait-and-switch"

A fundraising campaign to provide funds from LGBTQ students transferring from Brigham Young University has topped $35,000, as of Monday afternoon.

“We have been blown away by the amount of response and reception that we have gotten,” said John Valdez, the executive director of the OUT Foundation, a group of LGBTQ BYU alumni.

The OUT Foundation launched a GoFundMe campaign Wednesday evening to help LGBTQ BYU students with costs associated with transferring from the university after the Church Educational System announced earlier that day that the removal of the “homosexual behavior” section from its honor code did not mean that a ban on same-sex relationships and signs of affection was eliminated.

The honor code, which students at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-owned university agree to abide by in order to attend, bans behavior such as the consumption of alcohol, premarital sex and beards for male students.

The code was updated last month and the section on “homosexual behavior” removed, which was widely interpreted to mean that LGBTQ students could date, hold hands and show other signs of physical affection.

That interpretation is incorrect, according to a letter released Wednesday by Paul Johnson, the commissioner of the Church Educational System, which oversees BYU.

“Same-sex behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code,” the letter reads.

Kevin Utt, the director of the BYU Honor Code Office, references the letter on a question and answer page about the change on BYU’s website. Utt wrote in the post that the honor code was changed and the “homosexual behavior” section removed in order to create a standard for all Church Educational System schools and to be consistent with the church’s updated handbook, which was released last month on the same day as the honor code changes.

“We realize that emotions over the last two weeks cover the spectrum and that some have and will continue to feel isolation and pain,” Utt wrote. “We encourage all members of our campus community to reach out to those who are personally affected with sensitivity, love and respect.”

According to the post, same-sex romantic behavior, including dating, holding hands or kissing, remains an honor code violation.

Wednesday’s announcement sparked protests in Provo, Salt Lake City and New York City as LGBTQ students said they felt betrayed by what they believed was a reversal in policy.

Valdez said the OUT Foundation held back on issuing a statement on the appearance of the policy’s removal last month because they were cautious about the change. He said word spread among LGBTQ BYU students that the changes meant that they could date, and many came out as LGBTQ to their friends and family as a result.

“It was unfortunate, what we felt was a bait-and-switch,” Valdez said.

The fundraising campaign started with a goal of raising $10,000. That goal has increased by an additional $10,000 each time the previous goal was met.

The appearance of a policy reversal, Valdez said, has been painful.

“When you give hope to someone who is hopeless and then take it away, that is really cruel to do,” Valdez said.

He said as a result, students went public with same-sex relationships and sexual orientations. Now, he said, students are afraid they could be punished for going public.

The fund was created to help students pay for application fees, help with a potential loss of housing or if students lose their on-campus jobs.

“There are a lot of financial ramifications that transferring can hold,” Valdez said.

The OUT Foundation plans to release an application in order to access the funds later this week.

LGBTQ individuals and allies have taken to social media after Wednesday’s announcement, offering support for LGBTQ students and offering to help with the transferring process. Valdez said the foundation will support all LGBTQ BYU students whether or not they decided to transfer.

“We are saddened by the events that have happened, and simultaneously we are very happy to be able to use this traumatic event in order to mobilize action and get some good out of it,” Valdez said.

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Individual with coronavirus attended BYU basketball game at Marriott Center

An individual who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 attended a Brigham Young University basketball game last month, the university announced on Monday.

The Utah County Health Department notified the university that the individual attended a basketball game on Feb. 22, according to the university. The individual had mild symptoms at the time and the risk of transmission to others who attended the game is considered low. As a precaution, anyone who was sitting within six feet of the individual is being contacted and alerted that they were potentially exposed to coronavirus.

The person lives in Davis County and is the only person in Utah who has been confirmed to have COVID-19, according to the Utah Coronavirus Task Force on Monday afternoon. Utah County has not had a diagnosed case of COVID-19, according to Aislynn Tolman-Hill, a spokesperson for the Utah County Health Department.

“State and county health officials indicate there is no ongoing risk within the Marriott Center,” according to BYU’s announcement. “All high-touch surfaces are regularly disinfected. No closure of the facility is necessary at present.”

The announcement came the same day that Intermountain Healthcare updated its visitor policy in response to COVID-19. The policy, which puts restrictions on hospitals, clinics and InstaCare facilities in Utah and Idaho, advises sick individuals to not visit or accompany patients, to not enter facilities unless it is to seek care for themselves and bans visitors to patients who have been diagnosed or possibly have COVID-19. The guidelines also limit visitors to two at a time and discourages visitors under the age of 18.

Intermountain Healthcare also suggests visitors to wash their hands or use alcohol sanitizer after leaving a patient room, an exam room or a facility.

Anyone who thinks they may have coronavirus is asked to call ahead to a facility before they enter for testing. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.