Opponents and advocates of a St. Paul public charter school’s plan to adopt a policy to support gender-nonconforming students turned out in roughly equal numbers to a presentation Tuesday night — but their deep divisions were expressed only silently.
The Minnesota Family Council, a Minneapolis-based Christian organization, rented space at Nova Classical Academy to discuss the school’s struggle to respond to the concerns of the parents of a 5-year-old student who is gender-nonconforming. The council supports parents who oppose gender discussions with students.
The meeting consisted almost entirely of a presentation by Autumn Leva, the council’s director of policy and communications.
Title IX, the Minnesota antibullying law and the Minnesota Human Rights Act are being used to advocate for transgender issues, Leva said. She emphasized that parts of each law do allow for bathrooms separated by gender — a topic of great concern to some in the audience.
Leva said the Family Council had lobbied against the antibullying law because of how it defined bullying and because it didn’t brook disagreements.
“Is it bullying when a child says my parents taught me that someone is born male or female?” she asked. “Disagreeing with someone isn’t automatically bullying.”
Leva cited research saying that the cause of gender identity disorder is not fully understood and that “most kids grow out of it, according to studies.”
A crowd of 50 to 75 people, mostly sympathetic to the council’s stance, listened from chairs set up in the gym, while a roughly equal number of people filled the bleachers and stood quietly in the back of the gym holding signs supporting transgender inclusion.
Among the signs’ messages: “We love our transgender children,” “Nova grandparent of a transgender student,” “This Nova parent supports gender inclusion” and “Yes for trans justice.” That group left the gym first and formed a semicircle in the atrium, silently holding up their signs as the others left. No words were exchanged.
The Family Council has been one player in a debate that began after David and Hannah Edwards asked the school to ensure that their child wasn’t being bullied.
The controversy comes as schools across the country are enacting policies intended to make transgender students feel protected and included. In March, the St. Paul Public Schools approved a gender-inclusion policy.
Eric Williams, the school’s executive director, said before the meeting that the school does not share the Family Council’s position.
“We’re trying to bring forth some understanding, so with that comes compassion and respect,” he said. “We wanted to be absolutely crystal clear where the board stood. We support … transgender students.”
The only discussion with elementary students, he said, has been the reading of a poem that “talked about gender identity and gender nonconformity. At that point, we talked about girls wanting to play with boy things and boys wanting to play with girl things. “I would say the majority of parents are supportive of our efforts,” he said. “But we’re in America, and not everybody agrees on everything.”