The Minnesota Family Council is rallying its supporters to Monday night’s meeting (March 20) of the Anoka Hennepin School Board in an effort to convince the district not to improve equity for transgender and gender nonconforming students.

For a year, several residents of the Anoka-Hennepin School District have been asking the school board to increase transgender equity in the district. The pressure comes after the parent of a transgender child noted that her child had encountered feeling unsafe after interactions with staff.

On March 7, 2016, Anoka-Hennepin parent Jennifer Halpaus testified in front of the school board (testimony begins at two minutes and thirty seconds):

“I have a 9th grader at Coon Rapids Senior High new to the district we’re also newly “out,” meaning my child is transgender,” Halpaus told the board. “I encourage the school district to follow Saint Paul Public Schools by implementing a gender inclusion policy as soon as possible as handling these items on a case by case basis kind of puts you at risk for discrimination.”

She said that she and her child have been called into several meeting to talk about locker room usage.

“My child has been hospitalized after the first incident and the impending doom my child must have felt about this pending March 3 locker room meeting with adults about disrobing in the locker room for the gender he identifies with. In his mind this was creepy at best. No other child had such a meeting called or requested by staff.”

“My transgender child no longer feels safe attending school, not because of his friends or students but because upper level staff may come pull him out of classroom or ask for a meeting,” Halpaus concluded. “I guess I’m here because I want future students who want to be an athlete or participate in gym, they’ll be free to go through their school day in ah school like any other student can without having discussing their gender on a personal and intimate level with staff.”

A year later, Halpaus and several other members of the Anoka-Hennepin community testified that nothing had been done.

At the Feb. 27 meeting, Jennifer Halpaus and four other members of the community spoke:

“I was here about a year ago, and I do want to applaud some changes that were made there were some additional bathrooms put into coon rapids senior high school where my child attends,” Halpaus told the board. “And having said that, I have been waiting for about a year to get an answer on my child being able to use a locker room with the gender he identifies with.”

Halpaus’ child attended Northdale Middle School — an Anoka Hennepin school — and encountered no problems with her son using the locker room when he was on the swim team.

We had support from the team, coach, and school staff, so I’m kind of here to say that I’m kind of tired of waiting for my child to be considered equal, included, and I don’t think this case-by-case is necessary. It’s a waste of your time….

The teammates, the coach were all very supportive until the last three swim meets the school board got wind of it somehow, there was talk and then it was tabled and then going forward we were supposed to know for gym class and for other sports for continuing the swim season where can he use? Does he get to use this locker room without any repercussions? Just like any other guy?

“I’m requesting, again, a completed policy on gender inclusion as soon as possible. On March 7, 2016, I presented the board with my first request. Since then there’s been no progress though I’ve heard of closed door meetings. It’s not okay to grant access on a case-by-case basis. That’s singling out one person. That’s discriminatory in nature and it’s really needlessly cruel to single out these kids like that.”

Other parents in the district spoke.

“I urge you to make a gender-inclusive policy, rather than take each case and decide and have to wait a year or so for that decision is a waste of your time,” Pam Riddle, a parent of students in the district, said. “I don’t want to have to be back here in 6 years to do the same thing that Jennifer is doing. I urge to to make a policy to form a committee that includes some parents and i would volunteer my time to help develop a gender inclusive policy.”

Katie from Coon Rapids testified that she has a student in the district and wants the district to protect transgender students. “Because of the president’s action [repealing guidance to schools about transgender safety], I expect that some people in this community will put pressure on the district to make transgender students to use the facilities that match their biological sex. I frequently see anti-LGBT editorials in the Coon Rapids newspaper and I see what’s happening in other states, so I’m here to show that there is strong support for transgender student rights in this community.”

The Minnesota Family Council says it has “reasons to believe” that the school board will bow to pressure from conservative Christians. In an email to supporters on Saturday, the Council wrote:

A change like this would be tragic, HOWEVER, we have reasons to believe that Anoka-Hennepin school board members will retain their current practice, designating private spaces based on biological sex. We are SO grateful that school board members recognize their responsibility to compassionately accommodate students who struggle with biological realities without compromising the privacy, safety and dignity of all other students.

The Council urged its supporters to attend the meeting:

On Monday evening, March 20th, Anoka-Hennepin school board members will hold another board meeting, during which several parents from the district will urge the board to continue standing strong for student privacy. Parents take their students privacy very seriously (Take Virginia, MN parents for example!) and want to make sure school board members continue to take it as seriously as they do.

If you live in the Anoka-Hennepin school district and don’t want mixed-sex changing rooms, showers and restrooms, please attend Monday’s school board meeting at 6:30pm at Sandburg Education Center, 1902 2nd Avenue, Anoka. Call (612) 789-8811 ext. 226 for more information.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District is no stranger to controversy over its handling of issues affecting LGBTQ students. Dating back to the early 1990s, the district — the state’s largest — has bowed to pressure from social conservatives. It implemented a policy that stated that LGBTQ issues could not be addressed by district staff. That “No Promo Homo” policy was replaced by a “neutrality policy” in the 2000s. In the early 2010s, the district found itself the target of a federal investigation and a lawsuit after several LGBTQ students sued over unsafe conditions. That resulted in a consent decree that put the district under Department of Justice oversight, yet conservative Christians still managed to steer the board away from LGBTQ equity by derailing proposed anti-bullying protections for LGBTQ students.

A year after Halpaus began requesting equity for her son, the district made some changes. According to Fox 9, the district will allow Halpaus’ son to use the boys locker rooms with “enhanced privacy,” something that her son, Nick Himley, says is not adequate.

Nick says the space stigmatizes transgender students and promotes exclusion.

Transgender teen allowed to use boy’s locker room with ‘enhanced privacy’
“I really don’t like it,” Himley said.

Himley says he was hoping to have access to the non-extended boy’s locker room like he did his freshman year with support from school staff when he swam on the Cardinals boy’s swim team.

“We don’t spend that much time in there, so I really don’t know why it’s a big deal,” Himley said.

It has been a big deal to the Minnesota Family Council, an organization that got its start advocating for the criminalization of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Minnesotans, and has spent the last 35 years telling the general public that LGBTQ people are immoral, unhealthy, and — at times — dangerous.

In a statement in late February, the Council’s communications director Stephani Liesmaki wrote:

A Coon Rapids public school mom is pressuring school administrators to allow her teenager, born female but now identifying as a male, access into boys restrooms and changing facilities.

“As a result of the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the Obama Administration’s coercive ‘guidance’ letter last week, school administrators in Coon Rapids should confidently continue to implement policies that ensure the privacy, safety and dignity of ALL their students by designating restrooms, changing rooms and showers according to biological realities,” says Stephani Liesmaki, Communications Director for Minnesota Family Council. “Bathrooms, changing rooms and showers are built to meet intimate biological needs and therefore should be designated based on biological realities. These policies apply to everyone in the same way.”

“Students expect and deserve privacy when they entire restrooms, changing rooms and showers and it’s the responsibility of school administrators to implement policies that assure all students that their privacy matters,” concludes Liesmaki.

The issue is not on the agenda for the Mar. 20 school board meeting but a large amount of testimony is likely considering the Family Council’s push.

As to the district’s side in this new chapter in the culture war, Anoka-Hennepin has only made one public statement about the issue:

Anoka-Hennepin is committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment and to providing an education that respects all students and families including transgender and gender nonconforming students.

The use of restrooms and locker rooms are determined on a case-by-case basis. The goal is to ensure that all students feel safe and comfortable. Providing privacy for all students is an important consideration. Plans for accommodation for restroom and locker room use are made in consultation with school building administrators, the Title IX Coordinator, and Superintendent.

Anoka-Hennepin intends to maintain this policy and procedure in compliance with state and federal law.

Information regarding individual students is considered private student data and the district is not allowed to comment on information classified as private student data.

Here’s the email from the Minnesota Family Council:

Download (PDF, 30.6MB)

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Not sure why the conservative group is protesting as there is no change that the school board has issued!! They have not changed ANYTHING! Let people pee in peace!

  2. Please ask equality minded candidates for this school board to contact me. Stonewall DFL would like to help in these races as we have had enough of this bullshit.

  3. Hey anonymous that’s what I said to the school board tonight! Well, I didn’t use the word ironic.

  4. I am tired of seeing the MN Family Council being given so much space. They are a hate group. They support conversion therapy for the glbtq community. To have them given so much space in these articles simply validates their hateful view point. They spread a lot of misinformation, shade the truth and tell outright lies. I have been to one of their meetings and it was pretty appalling.

  5. Oaky so I’m trans and I don’t even feel safe as is let alone having people poke and prod in my life. Being a teen is hard enough way to make it a lot harder 👍🏼

  6. Theresa you are right on!
    The lady that took responsibility for the MN family council mass email said the board was discussing privacy issues and she was wrong as it wasn’t on the agenda so they basically spent over an hour testifying about separating students for no reason.

  7. So strange to see all these self-styled “Christians” devoting their time and effort to persecuting children – for something Jesus himself never even mentioned. Guess there are no homeless left to be sheltered, hungry left to feed, afflicted to be comforted, eh? Or is it just easier to throw stones at others than to do the things Jesus actually DID talk about?

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