Well, gang, I told you this campaign experience would probably give me lots more to write to you about and I was right.
Last week, a local school board announced an addition to its anti-discrimination policy that would allow students to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. The school board decision was an effort to comply with state law and to provide an inclusive environment for transgender students attending their school. The board sent a letter out to parents explaining the policy in the middle of May, indicating the change would take affect next school year.
It didn’t take long for things to get ugly. A call went out over social media for those against the school board’s decision to descend upon the next meeting to express outrage. They decided to wear green to identify opposition to the policy.
This particular district has the dubious distinction of the highest teen suicide rate in the area. I had been following a social media page that was originally supposed to be a safe space for bullied kids, their parents and supporters. However, the page soon became a place for the bullies, mostly parents, I noted. I scrolled through comments one evening and felt physically ill after reading the truly vile and mean comments.
I realized there is only one child who is actually openly Transgender at the school, and therefore he bore the brunt of the abuse. This kid has moxie, though.
Here’s one exchange:
Angry individual: Why don’t you check your birth certificate and whatever gender it says you were born, that’s reality. So you just use that bathroom. Problem solved.
Hero kid: Well, my birth certificate says I’m 8 lbs, 6 oz, but that’s not true anymore either. So…
After hearing that our Hero Kid was going to the meeting, Sandy and I decided this kid was not going alone. We put out a call to our progressive groups and asked for people to join. We decided to wear pink or baby blue and made buttons about Love and Tolerance. To my pleasant surprise, about a dozen volunteers showed up to stand with us. They asked if I wanted to speak. I didn’t want to make it about my campaign and I decided that this time I would listen.
We arrived at the school to a sea of green shirts. They eyed us up and down as we took our place waiting for the doors to open. Soon they joined hands and began to pray for God’s blessing, for their community, for love. Then a loud, jacked up truck filled with young men growled across the parking lot and one of the occupants yelled “faggots” out the window. A man in his late 50’s to my left laughed a loud, sinister laugh, intended for our ears. A woman in our group, whose son has been bullied, told me sadly, “That’s my son’s best friend’s dad.”
At that point, we decided to move to the front of the group toward the doors because we didn’t want to be relegated to the rear. Our group moved through the green shirt circle with our Hero Kid at the center. The doors were actually open, so we went right in to claim two tables at the front. Sandy and I, ever law enforcement vigilant, picked seats to allow visibility in a 360 degree radius and kept our heads on swivels.
The superintendent called the meeting to order and began reading school business. A man behind us yelled, “We don’t care! You know why we’re here.” They had already given instruction that comments would be heard after the meeting. The board continued business as usual, despite the interruption.
Finally, the public comment time arrived. One by one, a stream of green shirt wearing, self-professed God-fearing christians, stepped to the podium to rage against the evils of this policy. I won’t subject you to the simply ignorant, belligerent, or shocking statements—you’ve likely heard them all. What struck me as exceedingly sad was that our Hero Kid was born here. He’s a member of this community. Most have known him since he was very young and their kids have gone to school with him all their lives. As they ranted, he sat quietly just to the left of the podium. None of them called him by name. Not one even looked at him.
Eventually, a man who identified himself as the pastor of the local church, got up to speak. (Kenny Loggins’ Footloose began looping in my head) If, like I was, you’re hoping that he might offer some modicum of compassion, leadership, or decency, I’m sorry to disappoint. At the end of his hateful speech, he punctuated his demand to rescind the policy by threatening to resign as the girl’s basketball coach if they didn’t bend to his will. This was met with a standing ovation by the crowd. Yes, apparently the pastor’s way of standing up for his community is to quit when he’s mad.
Then our Hero Kid got up to speak. Here’s what he said: “People just have to understand that, if somebody is transgender and goes into their preferred bathroom, we just want to pee and get out. I don’t know how much more frank I can be,” he said. “I’m not interested in invading anyone’s privacy or looking at anyone’s genitals or any of that. I don’t want to do anything; I just want to go to the bathroom in peace.” And while, on the surface, using one particular restroom may not seem like a life-altering experience — which he said might cause some to feel that the inclusive policy is unnecessary — he told those in attendance that it goes much deeper than that.
“Allowing transgender students to use their bathroom of choice better protects those students, it adds a sense of comfort, and it could improve the mental health of transgender students, which is a community that has a suicide rate of 40 percent. That means that four out of every 10 trans students will commit suicide,” he said. “You may think that us going into a certain bathroom to pee doesn’t carry any weight, but it does. Affirming the identities and rights of transgender students throughout adolescence and into adulthood significantly reduces the rate of depression and suicide.”
While the applause was thunderous for every other speaker, they all sat silent for our Hero Kid. Our group of a dozen stood and clapped as loudly as possible in the face of dark glares. Sadly, the media coverage that night was lopsided. The TV coverage made great hay out of the “200 concerned parents and members of the community” all but ignoring our little group of supporters. The two local papers were split. One very similar to the TV, but thankfully, the other was fairly balanced, even quoting our Hero Kid and using pictures of our buttons. Although not an interview, the reporter heard me say the evening brought to mind the iconic photo from Brown v. Board of Education—the one with the angry white women shouting at the child walking into the school—and quoted that in her article. For me, the parallels are many.
The official vote on the policy will come July 17th. We’ll see if the school board sticks to its guns. My plan is to be there once again to stand with our Hero Kid. This time he won’t be speaking alone. Let’s DANCE!!!!