Parents and community members rallied and protested against and for a proposed gender pronoun and bathroom usage policy before Gardner Edgerton School District’s board meeting Monday, August 15. Jeff Miller, board member, presented the policy at the July board meeting. Staff photos by Lynne Hermansen
Parents and community members packed the Gardner Edgerton School District board room Monday night to protest for and against a proposed policy that would require students and staff to use pronouns and bathrooms that match their individual birth certificates.
Jeff Miller, board member, presented the proposed policy as a last minute board agenda item at the July 25 board meeting. The policy would define sex as the “physical condition of being male or female based on genetics and physiology as identified in the individual’s birth certificate.” It also would set rules on assigned bathrooms and create disciplinary action for noncompliance of students and staff.
Miller said the district was in need of consistent policies for every building.
A group of parents, students, trans allies and community members rallied at the Wheatridge Middle School parking lot and marched to the district office and into the board room chanting and shouting against the policy.
Parents and community members who agreed with the proposed policy gathered outside the front doors and staked signs in the lawn showing support for school board member Jeff Miller.
25 people spoke during the public comments to address the policy.
Tom Reddin, board president, said the crowd needed to refrain from cheering, booing, applauding, etc.
“Throughout the night you will hear opinions you agree with wholeheartedly and opinions you will not agree with,”he said.
A few times during the meeting Reddin asked both sides to maintain order or “you will be asked to leave”, he said.
A few parents and board member Nick Robinson said board member Katie Williams board seat needed to be recalled or she didn’t represent the Gardner Edgerton school community.
Brenda Thompson said a motion needed to be made by the board to recall her seat and a petition had been signed by residents for her removal.
“I don’t believe she represents the community,”she said.
Thompson said Williams online persona was heavily influenced by a board member that quit.
“We lost many teachers and staff,”she said. “negatives news is consistently at the forefront, and it misleads and ignites fear. There is constant fear mongering. Williams cited the constitution is not law. It is law. She falsified an online situation last year. She doesn’t represent the school district in a positive manner.”
Robinson said during board comments he wanted to apologize to Trisha Waters, a parent and grandparent in the district, who had voiced her concerns and “confided in us.”
“You found yourself the target of malicious agitators and one sitting school board member,” he said. “Sorry this happened to you. Working against the district is not the way forward Mrs. Williams.”
Students and parents shared concerns that the district was isolating the trans community and should be more inclusive of all students.
Elizabeth Feeler, a current Gardner Edgerton high school student, said the district thinks they are protecting the student with the proposed policy.
“I use the bathrooms as a CIS person,”she said. “I never once felt threatened, but I do do feel threatened by the actions of this school board. You are sentencing students you pretend to care about to a needless death. If the basic principles of identity are not protected how can we learn from the same person.”
Christina Hodges, parent of a trans student in the district, said she had poured over all the statistics from suicide statistics to researching the history of birth certificates used for hate agendas and more.
“But I stopped because you don’t care to hear me,”she said. “Gender disphoria is a medical condition that would be medical discrimination.”
Hodges shared the story of her child slowly coming out as a trans person.
“They started going by a different name years ago and dressing more androgynous,”she said.
Hodges held up a folded up note her child had left in the driver’s seat of her car one morning stating they had known since second grade.
“I cried all the way to work because I knew how society would treat them,”she said. “They fight to be treated as a person.”
Hodges said school is supposed to be a safe place for children and she had told her child “you be you.”
Her child turns 18 next September, and there is a whole generation getting ready to vote. “these are people. Treat them like people… Don’t put them ina box of your choosings” Hodges also thanked Reddin for being the only board member who responded to her email.
Emma Jones, resident, also said it was a medical issue that required medical accommodations protected under the disability act and Title 9.
“I’d be disgusted to be acquainted with those bullying others,”she said. “Such things are not acceptable. It begins with us. Hold the basic level of respect. Let’s begin with respect and lead by example.”
Cami McKeever, parent, said she was a CIS lesbian and substitute teacher in the district who grew up with a homophobic and racist mother and had known she was gay since second grade.
“Our relationship ended 22 years ago,”she said.
McKeever said even with her upbringing and being a member of the LGBTQ community she had been anti-trans.
“I should be better,”she said. “I didn’t understand sex and gender most of my life until I did PhD research. Gender is a construct and it doesn’t equal genitals. Grown men and grown women are aimed at bullying and discriminating children. You know how many times I’ve been called sir or assaulted using the wrong bathroom.”
McKeever said many companies follow gender neutral policies including for bathrooms.
“Is it ignorance,”she said. “What drives this. Does it really hurt you.”
McKeever said if it is fear of assault the majority population of bathroom assaults are by CIS boys.
JJ Briscoe, Gardner Edgerton high school graduate, said trans people have always been in the community and thousands of indigenous people for centuries had identified different genders before colonization by European Christians.
“It was the Euro-Christian ideal tool of the colonization process,”he said.
Briscoe said it was Christian nationalism and another group that uses their specific religion to control others was the ISIS terrorist group.
“Just let people live,”he said. “You are grown adults picking on the most vulnerable of the vulnerable—children. You should be embarrassed of yourselves on your lack of sex and gender studies. Let’s talk about real issues. We respect people for who they are.”
Kristen Schultz, former board member, said the trans community had her unwavering support.
“I see you, support you and accept you,”she said. “Instead of red herring issues we should address staffing shortfalls.”
Schultz said 150 resignations had been given in the district last year and the school district would be better served if the board focused on the increased class sizes, substitute teacher shortages, shortage of school supplies, the 50 percent cuts in certain departments, the lack of AP class teachers for college bound students, lack of para professionals and special education staff and more issues.
“You’re encouraging and emboldening a small group of parents engaging in political theater,”she said. “Focus on the real issues at hand.”
Board member Nick Robinson said many of the problems occurred while Schultz was a board member.
“All these deficiencies happened under your watch,”he said.
Other parents said they feared for their children’s safety in school and the issue was a distraction from the education they should be receiving.
Debbie Ditmer said she wanted to thank board member Jeff Miller and was tired of extreme ideologies taking over.
She said the reality is that there are only two different sexes and the trans community is being granted unrestricted privileges they shouldn’t have.
“It protects one side but tips against the other side,”she said. “Schools need to remain teaching math, reading and science. Social gatherings are the places for feelings and emotions.”
Bud Campbell, parent of four students in the district, said OSHA determines the laws separating bathrooms and each school already has a gender neutral bathroom.
“The counter argument is that gender is fluid,”he said. “You can’t demand someone call you by your pronoun of your choosing. It creates chaos and confusion. Children crave stability and structure in their lives. My family deserves the same respect.”
Erica Sheets, a member of Moms for Liberty, said the policy is based on well established science.
“You don’t have the right to be referred or defined by the pronoun different than your biological and legal one,”she said.
Sheets said the district has no right to treat a student for psychological or medical issues without parental knowledge and consent and it created a legal risk and liability for the district.
“It short changes children from the care they actually need,”she said. “The law in Kansas is clear. Parents are the ultimate directors and leaders of children’s welfare.”
Angela Price, parent of three teenage girls and a teenage son, said she was not excited about the opposite sex using bathrooms as sexual assaults had frequently happened.
“I get it,”she said. “People can live however they want on their own time.”
David Reeves, father of three girls, said he couldn’t believe they were having a conversation about what bathroom to use.
“We have abandoned morals,”he said. “This is a parenting issue that has become a cultural issue and now a school issue. Schools serve one purpose—to educate. It’s not right.”
Reeves said theories were opinions students weren’t at school to learn and they would still be who they were at birth.
“I’m not okay with any male entering a woman’s bathroom,”he said. “As a parent I had to pull out one child from Trailridge for being verbally and physically assaulted and the school did nothing. They are now starting college two years early. Culture has overtaken schools. Stop giving in to the demand. We are putting children’s safety in your hands.”
Daniel Austin said the reality is a person is born one way or another and the basic fact is men are men and women are women.
“You’re either delusional, a liar or both,”he said.
Austin said it was barbaric child abuse to allow children to be anything but their born sex.
Carrie Schmidt said she was an assault and secrets phobic and concerned Mom.
She said she didn’t approve of the “About Me” surveys teachers gave students or the district survey asking about preferred pronouns.
Christy Provence said the surveys asking about pronouns need to stop.
“The questions are not appropriate,”she said. “Focus on creating and fostering an atmosphere that doesn’t discriminate but also doesn’t interrupt the learning environment.”
Courtney Dunning, mother of four children, said she respected the decision for people to love who they love, but if people could have rainbows and LGBTQ symbols in schools than she had the same rights to put Christian Bibles and God back into schools.
“You say it is not the same thing because one is not a religion,”she said. “For me my religion is my way of life.”
Jared Dunning said he was a Christian father and the Bible made it clear that a man is a man and a woman a woman.
“No child is born in the wrong body,”he said.
Dunning stated it wasn’t different than Naziis in World War II Germany using the pseudoscience of phrenology to determine who was human and subhuman.
“The results will be catastrophic,”he said.
Chad Garry said when he was eight years old he experienced gender disphoria and felt more like a girl than a boy.
He said his mother continued to treat him like a boy and pushed him to interact with his male peers while continuing to encourage his uniqueness.
Garry said he stopped feeling like he was a girl and his case wasn’t an isolated one.
“I outgrew my gender confusion,”he said. “I recognized the real problem was loneliness and lack of connection. We should affirm and celebrate the uniqueness of the individual.”
Lindsey Autry, parent, said they were all here because they cared but identity is not a teacher’s responsibility.
“The only thing they should be confused about how there are many definitions for one word and decimals—not bathrooms,”she said. “It doesn’t matter what you believe the enemy he comes in many forms of deception, confusion, perversion, isolation and chaos. Students are so influenced they fall into traps. It’s time to take back the traps and close doors.”
Autry said children need to know life isn’t all happy endings and rainbows.
“We are all created equal but the world is not all equal,”she said. “Life is not fair. Equality comes from us and loving each other. Life is hard but it doesn’t have to be isolated.”
Raymond St. Augne said he was an ally to the LGBTQ community and the school district should work with students not against them.
“I want to emphasize I know the board is under a lot of pressure from students and parents,”he said. “But exiling is short of demanding them not to use the bathroom at all. As leaders you should know better expecting exile will do anything but erode at humanity of individuals.”
St. Augne said the district should work to enhance bathrooms, encourage separate bathrooms or redesign them and to ask someone to go by their birth assigned gender was absurdity.
“You ask students to pick their classes, extracurricular students, colleges, majors and careers but suddenly when they want to go by a different name and gender they don’t understand how it will impact their future.”
St. Augne said the irony was that board member Russell Ellis goes by Russ instead of Russell.
“Why don’t you respect your birth name,”he said. “But hey, you’re not a fan of Russell for whatever reason that is and that’s entirely acceptable Mr. Ellis. Who am I to tell you what name you must go by and who are you to tell them what gender they must conform to. Who are you to tell these students that you know better. That they can’t be referred to in their preferred way in a world where
you can freely choose to be called whatever way you please. In a world of Tom instead of Thomas, Russ instead of Russell, Greg instead of Gregory.”
St. Augne said they should address the issue by being raised through the people who are raising these issues.
“Instead of resorting to exiling those who just want to be who they believe they are,”he said. “There’s a better way to address this issue and to quote my father this ain’t it.”
Dr. Brian Huff, superintendent, said it was always good to see parent and community involvement in schools and it was imperative they work together to educate students.
He said they were still working on a transgender policy and process for the district and a draft had been sent to the district’s lawyers.
Dr. Huff said they anticipate it to be a board item in September and encourage the public’s input throughout the process.