Education

Gov. Cox’s visit to Park City High School leaves some students feeling unsatisfied

PARK CITY, Utah — Gov. Spencer Cox visited Park City High School on Wednesday, April 19, and spoke to students about issues such as water conservation, housing costs, and tax cuts.

The visit was part of Cox’s Connecting Utah Tour, which will take him to all of Utah’s 29 counties to meet with students, residents, and business owners.

Cox began his speech by assuring students that Utah is still a great place to live, despite what they may perceive to be the state’s shortcomings.

“There has never been a better time to be alive in the history of the world than right now,” Cox said. “There’s never been a better place to live than right here in Utah, there’s so many amazing opportunities available to you.”

Representatives from 5 student groups selected by school administration asked Cox questions that centered on hot button issues such as Utah’s minimum wage, abstinence-based sex education in schools, the state’s bid for a future Winter Olympic Games, as well as recent legislation.

Student Jackalyn Vazquez questioned Cox on the ramifications of House Bill 374, a bill passed during the 2022 legislative session intended to address sensitive materials in schools. The law has drawn heavy criticism in the past year, as many of the books challenged in Utah schools contained themes surrounding people of color or LGBTQ+ individuals.

“These books are especially important for LGBTQ students and students of color so they see themselves represented in what they read and study,” Vazquez said. “Can you discuss how we can ensure book challenges don’t target and erase the experience of LGBTQ students and students of color?”

According to Cox, much of the negativity surrounding HB 374 is indicative of a much larger culture war currently taking place in Utah.

“In any culture war issue, in any controversial issue, always look for the third way, there’s always a third way out there,” Cox said. “What I believe is that there is a better way, there’s always a third way, and that third way happens when people who disagree are able to sit down and look for that common ground.”

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to students at Park City High School, April 19, 2023.
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to students at Park City High School, April 19, 2023. Photo: Ashtyn Asay // TownLift

Student Chloe Taurel asked Cox what input he sought from transgender youth in Utah before signing Senate Bill 16 earlier this year, effectively barring minors from receiving gender-affirming healthcare in Utah. Taurel’s question drew an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience.

Cox responded that he had hosted a transgender youth, their parents, and advocates from Equality Utah at the Governor’s Mansion the week before the 2023 General Session began in anticipation of SB 16.

“It was incredibly respectful,” Cox said. “We gave the LGBTQ youth the opportunity to engage directly with those leaders… some things changed because of that conversation.”

During Cox’s time on stage one student held a sign that read “40% of all transgender youth have contemplated suicide. 7% have attempted. With access to hormones these rates drop by 60%!” Other students held up LGBTQ+ pride flags, and students on stage as well as throughout the crowd wore rainbow arm bands.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to students at Park City High School, April 19, 2023. Photo: Ashtyn Asay // TownLift

According to Blue Byrne, president of the PCHS Gay Straight Alliance, members of the GSA felt compelled to make a statement when they found out that their organization was not one of the 5 selected to speak with Cox during the presentation.

“We just wanted to make ourselves heard in a way that was peaceful, and wouldn’t get us in trouble with the school,” Byrne said. “It was very demoralizing to hear that we would not have the opportunity to speak with the governor, because as a queer kid myself, I know I and a lot of other queer kids here, we want to know why. We want to know what is so wrong with our wellbeing that there needs to be legislation pushed to prohibit it.”

Cox commended the demonstration of support for the LGBTQ+ community, and thanked the students for being respectful.

“This is good,” Cox said. “We do it with respect but we make our voice heard, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.”

Although Cox answered several student questions during his time at PCHS, some students walked away from his visit feeling as though they didn’t get any clear answers.

“The entire time it felt like he was side-stepping and saying pretty words that were completely empty,” said PCHS student Natalie Best. “Chloe’s question, but also the one on banning books, it never actually felt like he said anything of substance.”

“I think when he saw the GSA flags and when the amount of kids that were wearing arm bands… I think to some extent from that point forward he was on the defensive, and you could tell in the way he was talking,” said PCHS student Jay Smith.

Cox’s next stops on his Connecting Utah Tour will be Green Canyon, Box Elder, and Weber high schools.

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