Metro Weekly

Anti-gay group pushing Michigan school district to reverse pro-transgender policy

District announced last month that it would allow a transgender male to use the boys' bathroom at his elementary school

Grass Lake Public School – Photo: Dwight Burdette, via Wikimedia.

Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-gay group that is behind the bulk of challenges to pro-transgender policies in school districts throughout the nation, has raised the possibility of suing the Grass Lake School Board, in Jackson County, Mich., for allowing a transgender male student to use the boys’ bathroom.

The school district made the decision in order to conform with a December 2016 ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld a lower court order preventing an Ohio school district from enforcing a policy that would have barred a transgender female from using the girls’ restroom.

In order to comply with that ruling while balancing out parental concerns over privacy and exposing students to people with different biological genitalia, the school district announced in August that it would begin building stalls with lockable doors around every urinal in all boys’ bathrooms in the district. The modifications would start at elementary schools in the district, and eventually trickle up to the district’s middle and high schools.

As with all other school districts across the nation, girls’ restrooms already have stalls with lockable doors.

Behind the scenes, ADF has been waging a stealth campaign designed to get residents of Grass Lake — and even some who don’t live in the community but oppose LGBTQ rights — to intimidate school board members into rescinding the policy.

According to Media Matters for America, activists on the ground working in coalition with ADF operatives had previously distributed fliers opposing the policy, and created both a Facebook page to organize themselves and a petition on calling for the reversal of the policy. During the school board’s monthly meetings, in both August and September, hundreds of community members packed the room in order register their opinion of the pro-transgender policy, reports

One speaker, Dale Foster, a community member and parent who objects to Grass Lake’s policy change, accused the board of being “ineffective at protecting our children’s most basic human rights.” Foster also attempted to intimidate the school boar members with the threat of a recall election, saying: “I should remind you, it only takes 25 percent of the people that voted in the last gubernatorial election in this district to petition you people out of here.”

ADF previously sent a letter to the school board on Aug. 14 in which it alluded to the possibility of a lawsuit should the school board failed to meet its demands. In that letter, the organization maintained that the school district was misrepresenting the 6th Circuit’s decision.

“In sum, the policy stated on the Grass Lake Community Schools website is based on incorrect information and threatens students’ constitutional right to bodily privacy, opening the school district to a risk of litigation,” ADF’s Doug Wardlow wrote in that letter.

Instead of Grass Lake’s current policy, ADF recommends dealing with transgender students on a case-by-case basis, and, if they desire not to use facilities matching their biological sex, allow them access to single-stall facilities.

ADF’s actions in Grass Lake mirror a pattern of behavior in which the organization has engaged in various school districts throughout the country. As Media Matters has frequently reported, beginning two years ago, ADF representatives or attorneys indirectly affiliated with ADF have testified at local school board meetings urging similar solutions. In those districts where elected officials have passed pro-transgender policies, ADF has sued to overturn or halt those policies from being enforced, as is the case with the ongoing lawsuit against the Boyertown Area School District in Pennsylvania.

In addition, ADF has pushed local school boards or state legislatures to adopt policies restricting transgender bathroom access that conform with its model “Student Physical Privacy” policy. North Carolina’s controversial HB 2 law adopted many of the same features that can be found in ADF’s model policy.

Media Matters also contends that ADF may have played a role in recruiting candidates for local school boards who oppose LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies. One such example occurred in Palatine, Ill., where there was a failed attempt to oust school board members who had agreed to keep in place a policy allowing a transgender student to use the girls’ locker room.

Terri Neely, the mother of the transgender boy in question, addressed this past Monday’s meeting of the school board to explain how the old policy keeping her son from using the boys’ restroom at his elementary school has caused him to be depressed.

“Want to know what’s happening to my son now? He’s rarely going to the bathroom. He’s not able to make it through a full day of school every day because the depression is setting in. In his mind, he is no longer good enough. He is no longer legitimate…My son now says he wants to kill himself again. He wishes he were dead because everybody hates him.”

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