A Salt Lake County Council member is pressing for a new policy barring men from using women’s locker rooms at county recreation facilities.
Dea Theodore, a conservative Republican from Sandy, announced her effort in between media appearances and public testimony Tuesday by county resident and GOP activist Candace Duncan, who asserted she had been confronted by “biological males” twice in women’s locker rooms recently at the Northwest Recreation Center in Salt Lake City.
“This should not happen,” Theodore said in a news release as she called for a legal review of the matter by county officials — and “possibly” by the state — of Duncan’s “shocking encounters.” She also asked for input from county residents.
“We will keep you informed,” said Theodore, who was elected in 2020, “as we address this sensitive issue.”
The council member, whose district covers southeastern portions of the county including Draper, Sandy, Midvale and Cottonwood Heights, said she was calling for a new policy barring all men, including transgender residents who may identify as women, from using women’s locker rooms at county recreation facilities.
“The fact that men, anatomically male individuals, have been using the women’s room is concerning to many women and men,” Theodore wrote in an email. “We owe it to every parent, child, and county taxpayer to ensure that our policies are up to date and publicly available.
“Adult men,” she added, “should not be in women’s locker rooms for several reasons, including safety.”
The issue surfaces in county politics as elements of the Republican Party in several U.S. states pursue anti-transgender initiatives seeking to curtail gender-affirming health care, restroom access and drag performances.
Theodore, who says she is a biologist in her county bio, also recently advocated to Utah lawmakers the widely disputed idea that cutting down more trees in the Great Salt Lake watershed would boost the amount of water reaching the drought-depleted lake.
Duncan, who described herself as a member of Utah’s Log Cabin Republicans, posted her restroom assertions on social media, offered them in testimony to the County Council and spoke about them on-air with Theodore and KNRS-FM talk show host Rod Arquette.
Attempts to reach Duncan for added comment were not immediately successful.
A spokesperson for the Utah chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, described as a conservative group for LGBTQ community members and their allies, said Duncan “has not and does not allege that the men she encountered in the women’s locker room are trans.”
What happened at the rec center?
Duncan told the council that several months ago she stepped out of a shower at the rec center wrapped only in a towel and saw “a very big man,” which startled and angered her, she said, leading her to yell at him to leave.
She did not file a formal complaint, she said, but reported the incident to someone at the front desk and the person was later interviewed.
A few months later, in the same locker room, Duncan said she encountered “a man in a skirt and a pink gas mask obscuring his facial features.”
“I didn’t yell at him because I was dressed,” she added in the video posted the same day on Twitter by Utah Log Cabin Republicans, then reposted by Theodore. Duncan said that just a few minutes prior, a young girl had been changing alone in the same area.
She also said a county facility manager later told her “he lets men into the women’s room, no questions asked.”
Liz Sollis, spokesperson for county Parks and Recreation, said via email that Duncan’s concerns were addressed “promptly at the time.”
And while more than a million people visited county recreation centers in 2022, Sollis said, “to the best of our knowledge, we have not received any other concerns from patrons regarding gender and the use of bathroom facilities.”
“Our top priority,” she said, “is to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all our residents.”
Theodore said in the release that her office has sought to learn the county’s formal policy on access and use of women’s locker rooms, but that “after repeated requests, county staff has not provided me with any county policy allowing such access.”
Sollis said the county agency wanted “all our patrons to feel comfortable participating in activities. Therefore, individuals may register for gender-specific activities and use locker rooms and restrooms that align with their gender identity.”
In addition, the spokesperson said, most county facilities offer private changing rooms “available for those seeking more privacy.”
And in a commitment to safety and privacy, Sollis said, the county’s standards of conduct for patrons “include clear behavior expectations that prioritize the well-being of all Parks and Recreation patrons.”
The agency operates and maintains a wide network of regional and neighborhood parks, trails, open spaces, golf courses, recreation centers, swimming pools, historic sites and other facilities across Utah’s most populous county.
Duncan told the council she “was very angry that without my knowledge or consent, I was going to have to unexpectedly deal with a threatening situation of a man in a dressing room.
“We usually just think that happens in California or on the East Coast,” she added in the video, referring to “news stories nationwide” of such incidents. “That kind of thing is happening right here in Utah.”
‘Valid reasons for not feeling safe’
Goud Maragani, president of Utah Log Cabin Republicans, confirmed Duncan was a member and said she chairs its Men in Women’s Safe Spaces Committee — one of several panels, he said, dealing with what he called “social welfare issues that impact the LGBT community and Utahns in general.”
“Although some are trying to spin this as a ‘trans’ issue,” Maragani said, “Mrs. Duncan has not alleged the men are trans.”
“What we know is that twice she encountered biological men in the women’s locker room,” Maragani continued. “There needs to be clear, transparent laws about locker room use disclosed to patrons who use the county facilities.”
Theodore said “this issue and my upcoming policy recommendations are in no way targeted toward LGBTQ residents of the county.
“I will not politicize this,” she said. “Our primary question is: Should biological males, teens and adults, use the women’s and girl’s locker rooms?”
In remarks posted in mid-April on a site created by physician and vaccine skeptic Robert Malone, Duncan also referred to the two encounters and wrote that she was “working with the Utah Log Cabin Republicans to draft legislation to get males out of the county gym bathrooms.”
She contended in the same post that the county’s library system was making child pornography “available for check out to any kid” and that “pedophilia abuse of children is being normalized.”
Duncan also refers in the online comment to attempts to involve the far-right group Moms for Liberty and Utah Parents United, a nonprofit that has weighed in to echo widely condemned online remarks made by Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline, suggesting that schools were involved in grooming children.
Both Duncan and Theodore implied in their latest remarks issued Tuesday that children were in danger due to the county’s approach.
“I have valid reasons for not feeling safe with any man in the women’s dressing room and vice versa,” said Duncan, who referred to what she called a case of sexual molestation of a young girl at another county facility.
“A sexual predator,” Duncan said in her video released on Twitter, “could easily put on a skirt and blouse and go into the women’s locker room for a peep show of all the little girls and women, possibly going further.”
Theodore, in her own release, referred to the county’s recent $9 million expansion of recreation facilities in South Jordan, noting that “thousands of children in the county are on the school swim teams, take swim lessons, and use these facilities every day.”
She said she was “not aware that county staff has notified and warned parents that adult men are allowed in county-owned women’s locker rooms and safe spaces.”
“Parents,” Theodore said, “deserve information and full disclosure so they can make the best decisions for their children.”