The religious right successfully derailed a proposed gender-inclusive policy at New London-Spicer Schools last Monday. Aided by the anti-LGBTQ Minnesota Child Protection League, a group of conservative Christian parents organized opposition to a policy that was poised to pass. Through the use of newspaper ads, radio interviews, a seminar, and organizing through churches, conservative Christians and Republican lawmakers were successful in convincing the school board to table the policy.
Here’s a timeline of what happened over the last four months.
In early February, the school invited the Minnesota Department of Education, OutFront Minnesota, and Transforming Families in an effort to be proactive about including LGBTQ students in the district’s schools.
“We’re trying to make sure that all students, all adults — including the community — knows about this and what we can do better to make sure that all students are welcome here at New London-Spicer,” NLS High School Principal Kevin Acquard told the West Central Tribune at the time.
On March 14, the school board heard the policy for the first time. The West Central Tribune quoted Superintendent Paul Carlson:
But he said given the high rate of suicide among students struggling with transgender issues, schools must take action. “To say we shouldn’t have a policy like this is really not an option,” Carlson said. “Some people would feel that, but it’s really not an option.”
On March 19, Gary Swenson penned a letter to the editor of the Lakes Area Review, a newspaper in the district.
“Are we in this community ready for a policy that allows boys to use the girls’ locker rooms and girls’ bathrooms and to participate on the girls’ athletic teams?” Swenson wrote. “That will be the almost certain result if the school board’s proposed transgender policy is adopted.”
Don’t be misled by the superintendent’s statement that it may be that transgender students could use “gender neutral” bathrooms and showers. Other schools tried that approach only to find themselves sued by GLTB lawyers and then forced to open all girls’ facilities to the boys. “Maximizing the social integration” for transgender students does not allow for keeping the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms and showers separate.
Notice also that the Board’s proposed policy says that “sex is assigned at birth.” What kind of fantasy is that? My own experience is hearing the doctor or nurse say, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” I have yet to hear the doctor ask, “Which sex shall we assign this to baby?”
Aren’t schools supposed to teach our kids about the real world? This new policy requires our schools and teachers, by word, example and policy, to substitute a fantasy world for the real world and force our kids to conform to a make-believe world where biology isn’t real.
We need to provide safety to all children, and many see this policy, as written, as harmful to every child. Keep in mind that most gender-confused children lose their confusion by the time they reach their 20’s. We all want all children to feel loved and accepted. Are we really helping them by affirming their confusion, rather than helping them address the underlying issues causing it?
Please contact the school board members to express your concerns about this policy. Ask them to please postpone their vote to allow the public adequate time to become more informed.
The district office will forward you an electronic copy of the Transgender Policy if you call them at 354-2252. The New London-Spicer school website lists the School Board members and their contact information. They need to hear from you.
Minnesota Child Protection League board member and spokeswoman Julie Quist spread the letter on social media.
On March 22, the Minnesota Child Protection League sent an email blast to supporters alerting them to the proposed policy:
This month, the New London-Spicer (NL-S) School District proposed a transgender policy that defines sex, not as a biological fact, but as something “assigned” to the child at birth. It defines gender as ones’ feelings and identity. It proposes “social integration” of “gender nonconforming students,” and allows students to use the locker rooms and bathrooms of their “gender identity.” It commits to encouraging and accommodating a student’s gender confusion without informing the child’s parents. (“Gender nonconforming” means continually changing genders, being neither gender, being both genders, or being no gender at all.)
On March 23, Swenson spoke at a press conference at the Minnesota Capitol along with Barb Anderson and Julie Quist of the Minnesota Child Protection League and Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, a Republican from Glencoe.
“We all found this a direct assault on the safety and privacy of the students, and on our mores and beliefs,” Swenson said at the press conference. “We strongly feel that this policy is an abuse of all children, while at the same time putting all of them in danger.”
The Child Protection League coordinated much of the testimony for that press conference.
On March 23, a version of Swenson’s letter to the editor appeared in the West Central Tribune.
On March 27, Republican Rep. Tim Miller helps rally anti-LGBTQ forces at an event at the Harbor Church in Spicer.
On March 28, the NL-S School Board met for a planning session. The gender inclusion policy was not on the agenda, yet 50 people attended the meeting and thought the board would be voting on the policy, the West Central Tribune reported.
On April 2, Swenson called into KWLM’s Legislative Review radio program and spoke with Rep. Tim Miller and Rep. Dave Baker who represent the area.
Swenson said: “I’d like to maybe change gears a little bit and talk about an explosive issue we’ve got going in our area and that’s this transgender policy that the school is trying to implement and you know many of us have read this policy and are just shocked by some of the provisions in there and we’ve been checking with all kinds of authorities and we’ve been told that the law requires that they have this but when we talk to constitutional attorneys about this and they say no, there is no law that says you have to allow transgenders into opposite sex bathrooms… I wouldn’t have known about this except the West Central Tribune had an article about LGBT issues brought up in the school that was the first alarm. And yeah we are shocked that we even have to talk about this.”
On April 5, Swenson organized the Facebook group “Citizens for Safe and Responsible Gender Policies for All.”
On April 6, another letter to the editor from Swenson appeared in the Lakes Area Review. The letter attempts to lay out a legal case for opposing the gender inclusion policy with information supplied by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious right legal outfit that opposes LGBTQ equality.
Residents in the New London-Spicer School District are opposed to allowing students access to opposite-sex restrooms and locker rooms. Letters to the Editor, the West Central Tribune poll, and conversations in the community indicate this. Furthermore, as Attorneys Derrick R. Good and J. Mathew Sharp, have informed us, the school district has no legal obligation to allow students access to opposite-sex restrooms and locker rooms.
The Gender Inclusion Policy being considered by the school board addresses many complex and controversial issues such as bathroom/locker room policies, student name and pronoun changes, gender diversity curriculum, requiring personnel to “support” lifestyle choices with which they might disagree, and unfamiliar definitions of unfamiliar terms; not to mention the possibility of severe restrictions of religious liberty and the privacy rights of the majority. Because the community has not had adequate time to learn about these issues, as well as the possibility of unintended consequences, and also because there is no legal deadline which must be met to have a transgender policy, the best course of action would be for the school board to postpone voting on any transgender policy until the community has had sufficient time to learn more about the issues and provide feedback in order to arrive at a policy which will be acceptable to all.
Also on April 6, The Harbor Church, a pentecostal congregation in Spicer teamed up with Swenson’s Citizens for Safe and Responsible Gender Policies for All to show a video of Autumn Leva of the Minnesota Family Council speaking at Nova Classical Academy, another school that attempted to pass a gender inclusion policy but was fought by the religious right. Leva’s presentation warns of potential legal action against schools that are inclusive of transgender students.
On April 10, Julie Quist of the Minnesota Child Protection League appeared on
KDJS AM 1590 with News Director Bev Ahlquist to promote an upcoming seminar led by Barb Anderson called “Gender Fluidity and Other Fables: Understanding the Harm of the Transgender Movement.”
On April 11, the New London-Spicer school board held it’s second reading of the gender inclusion policy. Swenson’s Citizens for Safe and Responsible Gender Policies for All organizes opposition to the policy at the meeting. A counter event was also organized called Flush Transphobia at NL-S. School Superintendent Paul Carlson told Willmar Radio that the district was considering the policy to ensure a supportive environment for all students.
“Our ultimate goal obviously in something like this is to make sure that we are providing equal access to success for all of our students in a supportive environment. One of the statistics I shared at the board meeting on the 11th is the highest rate of suicide occurs with students who are struggling with this.”
On April 12, Swenson traveled to St. Paul to testify in support of an anti-transgender bill authored by Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen and several dozen Republicans.
My name is Gary Swenson. I’m from the New London-Spicer School District and I was uh — did not have time to prepare remarks. We had a meeting last night in in our — with the school board and that was packed with individuals around the state testifying. So anyway we were alerted to this about two months ago when the department of education, a gal of the name Amy Marsicano brought out two people from Minneapolis, one was from Families Transforming or Transforming Families and the other one was from… another girl, gay group I can’t remember what the name of it is. Outfront Minnesota. Represented by Rox Anderson and they come out and they um had a workshop for the teachers about LGBTQ students and how to address them and um after that was done then they come with this transgender policy that the whole community has been up in arms about. There’s been a poll in the Tribune that 80 percent of the people are against this and we found it alarming that the Department of Education would be promoting this kind of thing so, so anyway we’re trying to get a handle on this we’re .. you can tell the school board is under pressure. They feel they are under pressure to adopt a policy that the community is against so thank you for your testimony and time.
On April 15, the West Central Tribune published another of Swenson’s letters.
The Minnesota Child Protection League sent an email out on April 18 that mentions the proposed policy in New London-Spicer. That same day, the group held a seminar at the Spicer American Legion titled,
“Gender Fluidity and Other Fables: Understanding the Harm of the Transgender Movement.” The seminar was sponsored by Swenson’s Citizens for Safe and Responsible Gender Policies for All, and was conducted by Barb Anderson and Julie Quist. A reporter from the West Central Tribune attended the seminar and live-tweeted the presentation.
The Minnesota Child Protection League has become heavily involved in the district. It appears the group ripped video from the district’s password protected site to use for its “seminars” sometime around April 19.
On April 26, Swenson’s “Citizens for Safe and Responsible Gender Policies for All” rebranded as “NL-S Safe.” The group sent out a press release:
A group of concerned citizens from the New London-Spicer School District met on Monday, April 25th, to organize NL-S Safe, an organization opposing the proposed Gender Inclusive Policy.
NL-S Safe believes that the policy being proposed by Superintendent Paul Carlson and the NL-S School Board will be harmful to NL-S students. NL-S Safe also believes that many of the mandates in the policy constitute a violation of the values, the beliefs, the standards, and the mores of the vast majority of the members of this community.
One goal of NL-S Safe is to educate the public about the dangers of this and other similar policies. Another goal is to encourage the public to replace those school board members who have betrayed the trust of their constituents whom they have been elected to represent, and to encourage candidates to step forward to oppose them.
An NL-S Safe Facebook page has been created to communicate information and to promote NL-S Safe efforts. The page includes a link to an online petition in opposition to the Gender Inclusive Policy, and links to information about why the policy puts all our children at serious health, safety, and emotional risk.
NL-S Safe welcomes people to join our efforts to keep our children safe and bring sanity back into our educational community.
NL-S Safe, PO Box 800, New London, MN 56273
On April 26, Swenson’s NL-S Safe launched a petition against the gender inclusion policy, a petition very similar to one linked to the Minnesota Child Protection League in Virginia, Minn.
The petition reads: “We oppose any new policy that the New London-Spicer School District is proposing to deal with students who are struggling with transgender or gender nonconforming issues. We believe that the policies that the district has in place will take care of any problems that arise.”
Some comments on the petition:
Support the majority please. Political correctness is destroying our nation. – Deb Spichke United States, Willmar
I am against any policy that causes gender confusion by proclaiming males can become females and vice versa. God, nature, genitalia and genes all decisively determine what sex you are. – Robert Horyza United States, Willmar
It’s not fair for the women to have pedophiles to have no questions asked access – Jordan bjork United States, Willmar
On April 27, Swenson appeared on Willmar Radio to talk about his new group and the proposed policy.
Of course it’s obvious one: boys and girls being allowed to the same locker rooms and bathrooms and so on and so forth. This is just shocking to the whole community. That’s why this has to be and the other thing is the curriculum, this policy issues a whole new paradigm, sexual fluidity for instance. I mean these concepts are alien to our culture. We are opposed to that because it will have to be include into the curriculum if you have students start living by those rules.
When they have a policy they have a first reading and a second reading generally and they’ve had two and because of the large response they’ve had in opposition to this, they’ve decided to have a third. That’ll be May 9. So of course we’re are going to continue to express our concerns about this. Hopefully, they can change their mind on this, and find some other solutions, you now, we are the only school around here that is involved in this dispute at the moment. Why us?
On May 7, Swenson’s NL-S Safe placed an ad in the West Central Tribune opposing the gender inclusion policy using the same font and imagery that the Minnesota Child Protection League has used in the past, including a controversial Star Tribune ad in 2014.
On May 9, the school board tabled the proposed policy. Superintendent Paul Carlson told Willmar Radio, “A motion was made to approve the gender inclusion policy as presented and that was seconded and then another motion came to postpone adopting the gender inclusion policy until the Minnesota School Boards Association comes out with a model policy. The motion also included and directed administration to provide accommodations and alternatives for any gender non-conforming students.”
According to the West Central Tribune, parents threatened to sue the school if the school welcomed transgender students.
During public comments the board was warned several times that if the transgender policy was approved, there would be a lawsuit filed by parents who opposed it and there would be people ready to run for their seats on the board. There were quotes from the Bible, criticisms leveled at board members and administrators, as well as tears from a man who said there would be “hell to pay” if the policy passed and anything happened to his granddaughters.
There were also comments from a woman who said transgender rights are the “civil rights battle of our time,” a student who said he was disgusted with the “lynch mob” atmosphere of adults he was supposed to respect and a local doctor who feared that the transgender youth in his exam room who didn’t want to be “brutalized again” would take the path of suicide, which statistics show many transgender youth often take.
On May 13, the Obama administration issued a directive telling schools they need to be inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming students. Superintendent Paul Carlson told the West Central Tribune that the school’s proposed — yet tabled — policy would have followed Obama’s directive.
After reviewing an email he received from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights early Friday morning, NLS Superintendent Paul Carlson said the directive provides “a lot of support for what we were trying to do” with the local policy.
He said many of the guidelines in the federal interpretation are addressed in the proposed NLS policy.
Carlson said, however, the proposed NLS policy requires a doctor’s documentation for a transgender student, which is prohibited in the federal interpretation of the Title IX law.
Given that provision, Carlson said it was perhaps a “good thing” the NLS policy was postponed until “everything gets fleshed out.”