After a contentious debate, a toolkit that provides information to schools on how to create a safer and more equitable school environment for transgender and gender nonconforming students was adopted by Minnesota Department of Education advisory committee on Wednesday.
The toolkit, which is non-binding on school districts, will be sent to school districts across the state following the vote of the School Safety Technical Assistance Council. A copy of the toolkit can be viewed here.
OutFront Minnesota, the state’s largest LGBTQ public policy organization, praised the adoption of the toolkit.
“National reports indicate that substantial numbers of transgender and gender non-conforming students consider or attempt suicide because of rejection, hostility, and violence that they encounter at school,” OutFront Minnesota School Equity Director Esmé Rodríguez said in a statement. “Toolkits such as MDE’s can help improve the toxic climate some students experience and set them on a path for greater academic and personal success. We applaud today’s vote and encourage districts across Minnesota to adopt these practices.”
National groups were also watching the debate over the toolkit.
“Welcoming Schools applauds the Minnesota Department of Education’s action to support transgender and gender non-binary students,” HRC’s Welcoming Schools Program Director Johanna Eager said in a statement. “This action models to school districts across the nation that they, too, can develop policies and practices to support transgender students despite the lack of support from Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration.”
The hearing on Wednesday drew hundreds of supporters of transgender equity as well as anti-LGBTQ activists. Three members of the Minnesota House testified against it — all conservative Christian Republicans.
Reps. Tim Miller of Prinsburg, Abigail Whelan of Ramsey, and Peggy Scott of Andover each took turns at the microphone.
“I can say with confidence that virtually no one in my district is in support of the transgender toolkit,” said Miller. “I do not see this as a toolkit that addresses children who are not transgender and how these policies might affect them.”
He added, “I do not see sensitivities to a 13-year-old Christian girl in this policies who has been taught by her parents modesty in front of boys or a kindergarten boy who cannot possibly have a sexual orientation and is being asked questions of this nature.”
Whelan said that using preferred pronouns violated her “sincerely held religious beliefs”:
We also need to stand and allow people to hold sincerely held religious beliefs. It is important to me that we really distinguish here between names and pronouns. What is encouraged in the toolkit on the use of pronouns concerns me because in the English language we refer to male or female as a matter of fact. And many people of faith, not just Christians, believe that God designed both male and female, that people cannot change from one to another. And I would say the same thing of someone that requested that I refer to them as having another racial identity than the one that they were born with. Now, people can change names all the time for a variety of reasons, and I would agree to call them by any name they choose but if someone says to me that they want me to refer to them by a different race, I can’t do that and I can’t call someone a boy that is born a girl. It would violate my conscience. I would say I love you, I love you so much and I want you to know you were created perfectly. Every single person in this room was created perfectly and is perfectly loved and I love them. Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about it.
Scott said that the council should focus academics “rather than advancing a progressive social agenda.”
She said, “Many parents object their children being taught gender identity fluidity in the classroom at such young ages they are concerned about how the message.”
But, many parents of transgender and gender nonconforming students — and even students themselves — testified in favor of the toolkit.
Recent high school graduate Zeam Porter recalled how important it was for teachers and students use Porter’s name and pronouns.
“This toolkit is to help people understand the humanity of folks like me. It is not to give me special privileges, it’s not to give folks who are in school special privileges. The times I cry about the most are the times where the teachers didn’t understand why my name was important, why my pronouns were important, why it was important for me to feel safe in class.”
Rox Anderson responded to conservative Christian testifiers that claimed transgender people don’t exist.
“I am a transgender person and as you can see, I’m pretty real,” they said. “I work for the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition. I’ve been working with transgender and gender non-conforming since 1998. They exist and the common theme that they all talk about is the discrimination that they receive.”
Dave Edwards, parent of a transgender child, handed the council handwritten letters of support from more than 1,000 parents.
“I want to thank the council for a public and transparent process even though at 15 months it’s taken too long.”
The Council passed the toolkit with only one vote against.