A Republican state senator in Utah stands at odds with his fellow party members over protecting transgender children, but he says he will not apologize for caring about trans kids.
Since being sworn into the Utah State Senate in 2011, Daniel Thatcher didn't intend to become involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy. As a Republican, he believed that your sexuality and gender identity were private matters, he told the New York Times podcast "First Person."
"My attitude was more that it's none of my business. It doesn't matter if I like it or don't. It doesn't matter if I understand it or don't,” he said. “The question is what should the government do about it And the answer is nothing. We should leave you alone.”
His reason for running for office as a Republican was based on that principle.
"I believe that the government should do less things to us," he added.
He said that during his campaign, when he was asked about LGBTQ+ matters, his response was always, "It's none of my business."
Recently, the Republican Party has increasingly promoted anti-trans legislation. As a result, dozens of draconian bills have been introduced in statehouses across the nation, ranging from measures to restrict transgender athletes' participation in school sports, ban access to gender-affirming health care to criminalizing drag queens and banning books about anything that simply mentions LGBTQ+ people or authors.
Republicans in Utah, and elsewhere, view it as a primary issue in the culture war.
Despite this, Thatcher rejects the GOP's war on transgender people. He has voted against anti-trans legislation when it was introduced, arguing it violates his conservative principles and threatens the health of trans kids.
He said his eyes began to open to the injustices against the LGBTQ+ community when he started focusing on legislative priorities around hate crime prevention and mental health access.
"As I started operating in the suicide prevention space, one of the things that stood out to me was how disproportionately it impacts and affects the LGBTQ community and especially transgender youth," he said.
Thatcher explained that as he reviewed suicide data in annual reports, he saw positive movement in some areas he had focused on, but among transgender youth, there seemed to be no improvement. He explained that he and his wife visited with a friend who introduced them to a transgender teen and his father.
The Republican state senator said in the interview that a conversation with the boy's father "absolutely changed my life."
"When I hear people talking, it's not generic. It's not random; it's not faceless. There are real people that are affected by anti-trans legislation."
Thatcher said his pleas with fellow Republicans to consider a tolerant perspective toward trans people were "not well received." He explained that while his approach aligns with a Libertarian mindset in that he prefers a hands-off approach to government in people's lives, the Constitution exists to protect rights.
"I think I believed that I could articulate and frame the discussion in a way that I could bring others along," he said.
"I was not," he added.
In 2021 Republicans introduced a bill to ban trans students from participating in sports teams.
"I knew it was going to be overturned," he said.
He explained that because he believed it to be unconstitutional, he had explained to transgender constituents that the bill would pass regardless of how much he fought it but that he was confident it would be overturned.
"You can't single out a group for unequal protection under the law," he said. "This isn't fuzzy."
The bill passed and was sent to the executive mansion for signature.
Utah's Republican Gov. Spencer Cox ultimately vetoed the bill, siding with Thatcher's point of view.
"Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few," Cox wrote in a letter with his veto, prompting the Republican senate president to call for and successfully override the veto.
Why the obsession with trans kids? Thatcher says it's because Republicans believe that acknowledging trans people would cause an outbreak of trans kids nationwide.
"Here's the thing. They're being told this is a social contagion, that these kids are popping up because we've made it more popular," he said.
"Bullsh*t!" he added. "It's becoming more common because it's becoming safer. It is not safe, but it's safer. As it becomes safer for people to come out, more and more people are going to realize this is something I care about. This is a family member. This is a friend. This is a friend's kid."
He said that his best friend from college has a transgender child and that someone Thatcher was friends with in high school reached out to him recently to share his story.
"One of my dear friends from high school reached out to me completely out of the blue last year and said, 'Hey, we haven't spoken since high school, but I have five kids, and two of them are trans. Thanks for stickin' up for my kids,'" he told the podcast.
Thatcher argued that while it's not fair that for some people to see transgender people as valid, they first need to meet them and get to know them, it's the sad truth.
He says that the GOP's position against transgender people is not sustainable.
"It's gonna be pretty hard to come back from this position, but as more and more voters have more and more people in their lives that they care about, this is something that is going to lead to single voter change," he said. “I think what’s going to happen is the first party that says ‘you know what, we’re going to come back to the Constitution, we’re going to be about individual rights, we’re going to come back to civil liberty, I think that’s the party that wins for the next ten years.”
If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone you know may be, resources are available to help. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 is for people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations. The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678.