Two Becker school board members resigned last month following a presentation by a group deemed by many to be anti-LGBTQ.

Cindy Graham and Sarah Schafer, who were both elected to the six-member board in November 2020, resigned March 15, the day after the presentation that focused on gender identities. Community members learned of the resignations at the April 4 meeting, at which Superintendent Jeremy Schmidt announced the resignations and the board voted on a process for filling the vacant seats.

Schmidt declined to comment more on the resignations, and Board Chair Mark Swanson did not return a request for comment. Schafer also didn't respond to a request for comment.

Graham said that she resigned after seeing the lack of respect from students at the presentation, as well as hearing criticism from residents and seeing national news stories about the presentation.

"I was on the news in L.A., and unfortunately my face was one of the faces that were shown," she said. "I've had people comment on how my face lacked empathy. That's my job as a board member — to remain neutral and take in information. That's what I was doing."

The school board invited the Child Protection League to speak at a special meeting March 14 following outrage from some community members after OutFront Minnesota — an organization supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights — presented at an August meeting.

One of the League's founders, Barb Anderson, is known for her involvement in conversations about gender inclusion with the Anoka-Hennepin school board a decade ago — around the same time a lawsuit claimed the district didn't respond to harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and it saw a rash of suicides among students.

Anderson was not at the Becker presentation; Julie Quist, board chair for the League, spoke mostly about what she called the "worrisome" increase in the number of transgender youth in the last decade and cited possible reasons as anxiety, autism or sexual trauma exacerbated by peer and social media influences — something the group calls a "social contagion."

Also speaking were former Becker board members Betsy Armstrong and Chris Klippen, who advocated board members hear the "other side" of the issue after the OutFront presentation.

More than 100 protesters, mostly students, held up signs and chanted messages supporting LGBTQ youth. Some in the audience frequently interrupted the speakers.

"That's not what we teach kids in school. We teach kids to be respectful. We teach kids to follow the rules, and that was just too much for me," said Graham, who was a teacher in Monticello for nearly four decades before she retired. "Whether I agree with it or didn't agree with it, they had a right to speak."

Graham said she would like teachers in the district to remain neutral on gender issues — something that Anderson also argued in favor of with Anoka-Hennepin schools.

"Kids' minds are not developed until they are into their 20s and I think as a teacher you have to be careful about the words and the conversations you have with kids," she said.

In a letter sent to Schmidt one week after the presentation, the St. Paul-based advocacy group Gender Justice called the presentation by an "anti-transgender and anti-gay hate group" a "completely inexcusable exercise in poor judgment."

Megan Peterson, executive director for Gender Justice, wrote there are no "two sides" to the conversation when it comes to protecting the health, safety and well-being of marginalized youth.

"There is certainly no valid 'side' that would involve a group of adults taking the stage in a room full of children and parents and likening gay and transgender youth to 'social contagions,'" Peterson said.

Peterson wrote that after Anoka-Hennepin was sued for pushing policies harmful to LGBTQ youth, the federal government mandated the district "vocally and affirmatively support LGBTQ+ youth" instead of letting staff "remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation."

Applicants for the two open seats will be interviewed at the May 2 meeting, at which the board will appoint two members to serve until new board members are elected in November.