On Monday, March 20, the Minnesota Family Council and several other local and national anti-LGBTQ groups urged the Anoka-Hennepin School Board to reject transgender equity or gender inclusion in the state’s largest school district. Meanwhile, parents of transgender students and allies pushed back against anti-LGBTQ rhetoric at the board meeting.

The Minnesota Family Council had sent out a mailing and several emails urging its supporters to attend the meeting and speak against gender inclusive policies in the district. That call to action was put in place because several parents had petitioned the board to make changes in the district to protect their transgender children. The board has indicated that it will not adopt a gender inclusive policy and will instead evaluate transgender student access on a case-by-case basis, a policy that parents say singles out transgender students and puts them at risk.

Last Monday night, several groups identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-LGBTQ “hate groups” testified before the board.

Barb Anderson, an anti-LGBTQ activist who has been associated with many groups including the Minnesota Child Protection League (MNCPL) and the Minnesota Family Council (MFC), spoke on behalf of the Parents Action League (PAL) according to documents from the MNCPL.

Last spring the Obama administration, in an executive order without precedent, expanded the definition of sex in Title IX. The term sex was suddenly changed to mean gender identity, whatever sex you think you are. Two Harvard Law School professors have called this “bureaucratic sex creep.” This letter turned Title IX on its head and instead of helping women, it put their privacy and safety at risk. This is the guidance letter that was sent out by the Obama administration this change, however, was never passed by Congress and it never had the force of the law. Last month, President Trump, as you know, rescinded the Obama guidance letter and as a result there is no compelling reason to open the bathrooms and locker rooms to mixed sexes. To pass a gender inclusivity policy now would introduce more problems than it would solve and would only violate the safety and privacy of all the other students. Please continue to protect the dignity, the modesty, and the privacy of all students by keeping all intimate space separated by biological sex.

Anderson’s PAL remained dormant after years of activity. It formed in 2011 and engaged in efforts to encourage the Anoka Hennepin School Board to adopt policies that advocates say will harm students, including efforts to place conversion therapy or “ex-gay” therapy in the district.

Anderson is also associated with the Minnesota Child Protection League, a group that formed to block safe schools legislation that protected LGBTQ students. The group has since targeted policies aimed at protecting transgender students, and in the process has taken out a series of ads that paint transgender people as sexual predators.

Michele Lentz, spokesperson for MNCPL, addressed the school board by threatening legal action against the district if it adopts policies that are inclusive of transgender students.

“The Child Protection League is an organization that works with parents. We organize parents. We use print media, radio, social media to educate, inform, and organize parents, and we stand ready to support any legal challenge against Anoka-Hennepin were they to include a gender inclusion policy.”

Emily Zinos of Hands Across the Aisle, a partnership between conservative Christians and Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists (TERFs), spoke at the meeting. She’s also with Ask Me First MN, a project of the Minnesota Family Council in partnership with the Family Policy Alliance, the latter of which is under the purview of the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ group that the SPLC has labeled a “hate group.” She talked about her efforts at a charter school to roll back gender inclusive policies. Those efforts resulted in the family of a transgender student leaving the charter school after Zinos helped bring in MFC to rally conservative Christian parents in the district.

Last year as a mother to public school students I watched as the gender inclusion policy at our school quickly eroded privacy protections, free speech rights, and science itself. The gender inclusion policy at our school allowed students to use the showers, locker rooms, bathrooms, and overnight accommodations of the opposite sex. It proclaimed that sex was arbitrarily assigned at birth and that it can be changed at will. It shut down free speech forcing students to use preferred pronouns or be punished, privacy is important to the parents who entrust their children to Minnesota public schools everyday, at our school over 100 parents joined forces to demand that privacy, safety and dignity of their children was respected. When the school didn’t listen and a gender inclusion policy was passed over 90 students were pulled out of the school and applications for enrollment dropped for the first time in the school’s history. As a member of the Hands Across the Aisle coalition, I work with lesbians, feminists, and progressive women to advocate for intimate spaces like showers, locker rooms, and bathrooms to be designated by biological sex. I’d like to commend the school board for respecting student privacy and I encourage you to continue doing so. This is not partisan issue. This is common sense. Thank you.

Doug Wardlow also spoke at the meeting. He a former Republican lawmaker turned religious right legal crusader. He works for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that the SPLC has labeled a “hate group” for its work in opposition to LGBTQ equity. He gave his legal opinion about gender inclusive policies.

“I’m here today to testify on behalf of concerns parents and students who oppose any change to district policy that would establish as a basis of allowing students to communal space such as locker rooms or restrooms, as you know the legal landscape has shifted sign in the last several months.”

He said he would “counsel against adopting any policy that would grant access to restrooms or locker rooms based on gender identity.” He said other districts that have adopted gender inclusive policies have been sued.

“Creating policies that would intermingle sexes in facilities designed to provide privacy for each sex has led to litigation in other districts where formerly sex segregated facilities were open to members of the opposite sex, for example, right here in Minnesota… In Virginia, Minn.”

Wardlow’s organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, filed that lawsuit.

“So I urge the district to act in accordance with the simple reality that there are boys and there are girls and that boys and girls are fundamentally different in ways that do matter. This difference demands respect from a personal modesty … and commitment to protect the right to bodily privacy for all student. Adopting any policy that would threaten to expose children to members of the opposite sex in restrooms and locker rooms would violate the privacy rights and dignity of all students.”

Also speaking was Dr. Ross Olson, a retired Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, who has a long history of anti-LGBTQ activism as the board chair of Outpost Ministries, an “ex-gay” group that has operated in Minnesota since the 1970s. He represented himself as a member of the American College of Pediatricians, a small organization of conservative Christians that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labelled a “hate group.” It is not to be confused with the much larger and well-respected American Academy of Pediatrics. In his testimony in front of the board, he compared transgender children with “stupid” children.

I am a father of four, grandfather of ten, and I’m a retired pediatrician and I’m a member of the American College of Pediatricians. I resigned from the American Academy of Pediatrics because they followed political correctness instead of scientific accuracy… Should something, an identity, be affirmed when the science is not comforting. You know, one of the first principles in medicine is first: do no harm. If a child says, “I’m stupid,” what do you do? You do not come to them and say, “I affirm you in your stupidity.” Of course not. You counter that you don’t want it to become a fixed false belief. You even look into the reasons, “Why do you feel that way?” And you try to do something about it. I think the gender confused child needs the same level or concern.

Another fixture at public meetings over gender inclusive policies is Renee Carlson. She’s with the North Star Law and Policy Center, a legal outfit that spun off from MFC several years ago. The group of conservative Christian attorneys and legal professionals work to undo policies that protect LGBTQ people.

While I encourage any parent who wants to share their feelings to come and testify tonight, many of them have chosen not to. Many students have chosen not to. Why? Fear of retaliation. Fear of consequences by administrators and even board members who may not agree with them. Fear of misunderstanding, and mostly fear of losing relationships with individuals with whom they have known for years, gone to this school with for years who simply don’t agree with them when the ask is simple, there should be no fear in requesting that you the board continue to preserve one of our countries most basic constitutional rights which is ensuring the privacy for all students.

Despite the outpouring of anti-LGBTQ sentiment by “hate groups,” many parents, community members, and transgender people testified in support of transgender and gender nonconforming youth.

Jennifer Halpaus, the parent of a transgender child attending the district, thanked the district for making some accommodations for her son. But also noted that the district’s efforts still single her son out for being transgender.

“Basically, in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, I know the focus for our school board and our school district is about community, and we just pledged allegiance to America. America is our community and the last line was “liberty and justice for all.” There’s no exclusion in that, and we’ll leave it at that. I thank you for letting me speak.”

Melissa Thompson, a parent in the district, confronted the rhetoric of MFC and PAL directly.

I really had no intention of coming tonight, but after receiving a mass mailing from the Minnesota Family Council urging parents to come and speak out against your efforts to treat transgender students with respect and to keep them safe by providing safe spaces, I felt compelled to come… The Minnesota family council and the parent action league which is the shadow group that paid for this mass mailing are a group of adults who have made their living verbally attacking students and families in our district predicated on complete falsehoods. Their claim that LGBT people and now transgender people specifically are dangerous is simply not true. And not supported by a single shred of evidence. Their rhetoric is dangerous and all one must do is check the crime statistics in 2016, 27 trans were murdered. This year already 7 trans people have been murdered for no other reason than they are trans. Two trans women were attacked and viciously beaten just days ago. In large part because of this kind of rhetoric.

Pam Riddle, the parent of a transgender student, noted that the current district policy singles out her child.

I just want to remind you that the Anoka-Hennepin motto on the website — and probably all over the district — says that ah is a future without limits. That says a lot. So I urge you to think of that motto when you order a student to use a separate changing area, a student who isn’t damaging property or causing a scene and that student’s future is being limited. They’re being segregated. My elementary child does not like the other students in her class to see her use a separate bathroom, so she always goes at a different time. And one day, she was yelled at by the substitute teacher. And obviously felt really bad about that. So, I have to give the teacher another thing to put in her sub folder. The school board has told me that they are all about keeping all kids safe including transgender students. Transgender people are also worried about privacy. Ordering students to use separate facilities is putting them in danger. Kids will know when a person is using a separate facility and can easily make them a target for bullying harassment or even worse… As the parent of a middle schooler, I believe there is safety in numbers. Please protect all students, not just students fit a certain criteria. As an affirming parent, my child is as worthy as anyone else’s child. Thank you.

Dave Edwards, an educational psychologist who is the parent of a transgender child and a board member for Transforming Families, talked about the scientific consensus that spans all major disciplines.

Today a transgender student in one of your schools was told that they had to use a separate but equal facility or drop their gym glass. In light of the consensus that I just talked about here, I’d like to spend the remainder of the time asking you to reflect on why the Anoka Hennepin School District is asking parents of transgender and gender diverse students to let district schools take actions that conflict with the advice of their children’s doctors, therapists, social workers, school counselors and teachers. Think about what you would do if you child had an exceptional need that required consultation with medical and psychological experts. How would you feel if your child’s team of experts — the ones you’re insurance plan referred you to and that paid for — recommended a specific form of support in school but lay people with no expertise prohibited following their advice… You are putting ideology before student outcomes. It’s not too late to change course.

Carolyn Anderson spoke about her transgender son who was a student in the district.

First and foremost I want all children to be safe in our district so they can be engaged in learning rather than worry about their safety. However, Eric was not safe in our schools. Eric was harassed, physically pushed into lockers, and experienced teachers that actually used slurs that were anti-LGBTQ. And he was in fact hospitalized for suicidal ideation and deep anxiety because of these experiences in Andover High School. So I’ve passed along Eric’s picture so you could put yourself in his shoes for just a moment… Eric wouldn’t use the restroom, would not eat or drink at school all day long and also developed school avoidance problems which considering all these issues he still graduated with high honors we consider that to be a minor miracle… In fact, Eric’s greatest fear — and he did actually take an exception to get out of his gym classes because he was so anxious about it. He didn’t want to be looked at. He didn’t want to look at anybody else. He just wanted to quickly use the restroom and wash his hands, well hopefully wash his hands. I just want to say who is really at risk there.

Ellen Krug, a transgender writer, lawyer, and diversity expert, offered her services to the school board

We’ve been down this road before. Twenty years ago it was about gay or lesbian students in the same classroom even certainly the same bathroom. Fifty years ago it was about black people and white being in the same space. And I can go on how history has allowed us to ‘other’ people time and again. We’ve heard tonight the word privacy repeatedly. This is not about privacy. This is about human rights and, actually, in the end it’s about saving lives. It is about the fact that the suicide rate for transgender youth is forty times the average for a cisgender or non transgender youth. That’s astounding and it’s not because transgender people hate themselves. It’s because of how society treats them. You are a board here dealing with education and you’ve heard now a couple of times an offer made for me to train you… I don’t know if you’ve gotten that training but if you have not I ask you to consider letting me train you, and the reason for that is I think it’s very hard for your to make a decision about transgender students if you don’t really know what it means to be transgender. You don’t have to buy an ideology because, trust me, at age 60 this is not about ideology. This is about authenticity, so I’m throwing that offer out to you. It is free.

After all the testimony, the board’s minds weren’t changed. In a statement, the board chair stated that no changes to policies affecting transgender students would be changed:

At this time the Board plans to follow the advice of the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) on creating another policy at this time. MSBA has recommended that creating a separate model policy dealing with bathrooms and locker room protections for transgender students, without clear legal decisions from the courts, State Legislature or US Congress is premature.

Our long standing practice has been to work with the individual student and/or parent request on a case by case basis to ensure privacy for all students.

We will remain committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment and to providing an education that respects all students and families.

Tom Heidemann
Chair, Anoka-Hennepin School Board

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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.

6 COMMENTS

  1. The Anoka – Hennepin school District reverting back to their “Suicide School District’ same habits as before the Suicides. The school had to pay for retraining of staff, and Teachers. Please do look up this series of suicides that they fostered here, and are now attempting to reinstate. Using Christianity as a shield and obfuscating that which Christ really espoused. The Bathroom issue is a fabricated fear and has not and will not happen.
    To understand this, see how Transgender people are treated, in other states, and nothing is taking place as they describe with their fabricated, false fears.

  2. Thank you for reporting on this issue. As a former plaintiff against the Ankoa Hennipen School District in 2011, I appreciate that subjects of LGBTQA policy, LGBTQA student discrimination continue to be followed subjects. As we know, ( unfortunately at a federal level now ) if there isn’t monitoring of policy change, and or policy discussion, things can be reverted back quite easily…which is a frightening concept.

    The purpose of that lawsuit was to create an accepting and inclusive environment for ALL students. Although at the time that discussion primarily revolved around Homosexuality, Bisexuality, and Lesbianism…Transgender students should be a portion that is enforced in any policy that they form, or it is a step towards the wrong direction…the direction that took the lives of nine beautiful students, and almost ten…( me )… I have been watching the district discussions closely, and I hope that you continue to as well
    – Kyle Rooker.

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