Sundance Film Festival: Transphobic Laws In Utah Will Prevent My Attendance

The Utah state government’s transphobia was loud and clear when last year’s Sundance Film Festival ended–this year is no different.

On the penultimate day of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, I learned that Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed a bill banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth. It was already bad enough that there was still a hint of transphobia in laws targeting transgender athletes, especially girls. What I found out upon coming back online after Shabbos is even worse and it will definitely impact my safety as a transgender woman attending the Sundance Film Festival. That is, assuming the governor signs the Utah House’s Transgender Bathroom Ban bill into law. Even if the governor vetoes the bill, which I expect will pass in the Utah Senate, they still have the votes to override a potential veto.

This bill makes it a crime for me to use the women’s restroom at the Salt Lake City Airport, Park City Library, and the Eccles Theatre. A crime with up to six months in jail. Please read that again. And again, just to make sure that you’re getting the point.

If Spencer Cox has a heart, he will veto this bill. If any Republican legislators realize that trans people are not a problem, they will veto this bill. Any company or organization that pays to sponsor the Sundance Film Festival needs to speak up now. The film festival pumps in a lot of money into the Park City, Salt Lake City, and Utah economy. Residents make thousands of dollars by placing their homes or condos on Airbnb. Uber and Lyft drivers also make a good amount of money during the peak festival hours. Anyone that says they’re a trans ally needs to speak up now. Maybe, just maybe, the festival will move out of a very anti-trans state that is going to make it a crime for trans people to use the bathroom.

I remember being attacked a few years ago for making the decision to not attend SXSW for the same reason. Those attacks came from cisgender colleagues in a place of privilege. It would not surprise me to see similar attacks from colleagues in my decision to not step foot in Park City going forward. I have to think about my own personal safety in attending any film festival. Sundance uses both a school and library as part of their venues. Since they receive government funding, one can interpret them as government buildings in reading HB 257. Sundance does have conduct rules. However, there’s nothing that would stop a transphobic filmgoer from preventing my walking into the women’s restroom. Sure, I don’t feel that these laws are really enforceable but I still have to think about my own safety.

Republican legislators might argue that the bills are about privacy. They are not. None of these bills were ever about privacy but the continued dehumanization of transgender individuals. The Utah bill is amongst the most extreme bathroom bill in the country. I don’t know how anyone can call themselves an ally and keep attending a film festival in one of the most anti-trans states in the country. Sundance should seriously consider leaving Utah for a state that is actually inclusive to trans individuals. Given that Sundance uses the public venues for many screenings, I do not see a way forward in which I continue to attend the Sundance Film Festival in person if this transphobic bill is signed into law–not to mention the Salt Lake City airport itself.

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival will take place January 18–28, 2024 in person and virtually January 25–28, 2024.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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