Metro Weekly

Transgender School Board Member Resigns Due to Harassment

Resignation follows months of misgendering, harassment, and targeted attacks by right-wing activist seeking to "sow divisiveness."

Former Asheville City Schools Board of Education member Peyton Daisy O’Conner – Photo: Facebook.

A transgender school board member in North Carolina resigned earlier this month after being harassed for months in the course of their job by a local member of a far-right organization that has been classified as a “hate group.”

In a Facebook post on December 5, Peyton Daisy O’Conner, a transgender member of the Asheville City Schools Board of Education — believed to be one of the first, if not the only out transgender member of a school board in the Tarheel State, according to experts — announced her resignation from the board, despite the fact that her term wasn’t set to expire until 2024.

In her post, O’Conner attributed her resignation to two months of repeated harassment by Ronald Gates, a local minister for Greater Works Church 1 in Asheville, who has described himself as an “ambassador” for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing, socially conservative group that opposes LGBTQ visibility and the expansion of LGBTQ rights, which has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group.”

“[Gates] attended our meetings and attempted to revive a fascist rhetoric designed to embolden the extermination of the LGBTQIA+ community,” O’Conner wrote. “No embellishing, it’s a group that has supported the sterilization of trans people.”

In the past, Gates had attended board meetings and repeatedly misgendered O’Conner, even after other board members had told him to stop. Additionally, Gates accused the board of trying to “indoctrinate” students into becoming LGBTQ, going as far to say that O’Conner herself was a product of transgender “indoctrination” — a charge that O’Conner called ridiculous.

O’Conner also included a copy of her resignation letter in the post, saying in that official statement that she believes Gates is trying to “wedge a political divide” amongst the members in an attempt to “whittle away at the thin layers of protections we have for our queer students, staff, and family.”

She further stated that she believes Gates is seeking to exploit her gender identity to distract from other issues facing the school board, and has misrepresented an incident in which she ripped up a letter from him to the board — which demanded that parents and clergy be informed if teachers plan to allow “indoctrination teaching” in the classroom, as reported by the Asheville Citizen-Times — as a racially-motivated demonstration of “lack of respect” in order to sway others who would not typically support his cause to his side. 

“I can’t in good conscience give him the foothold and I believe that stepping away may give him less of an opportunity to sow divisiveness,” O’Conner wrote in her resignation letter.

“[Gates’] views are ignorant, disgusting, and vile. He is repeating the same rhetoric that has been used over and over again throughout history to justify the literal murder and persecution of the LGBTQIA+ community,” O’Conner wrote. “It is the type of hatred that resulted in the deaths if queer people in a nightclub just a few days ago and it is part of a larger system of oppression that is still very much present in the lives of queer people today.”

But O’Conner also used her resignation to warn other board members of what she claims is a deliberate strategy being pursued by right-wing groups like ADF to attack school boards and then claim victimization when they are called out or penalized for bad behavior.

Mr. Gates will continue attacking until he is censured in a way that allows him (with the assistance of the ADF) to create a lawsuit and turn our district into a circus,” she wrote. “This isn’t a guess, the ADF makes no attempt to hide its tactics. It’s a group with 1.6 million followers, they are looking for their next opportunity for their next Fox News press blitz.”

In a statement sent to the Charlotte Observer, ADF — through its senior legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco — denied the claim that they were a hate group. Instead, Tedesco called ADF one of the “most effective legal advocacy organizations dedicated to protecting the religious freedom and free speech rights of all Americans.”

In a statement to the Citizen-Times, Tedesco wrote: “This article repeats a false charge put forth by the Southern Poverty Law Center against ADF. While it is true that the SPLC includes ADF on its subjectively compiled ‘hate group’ list, we categorically reject this deliberate mischaracterization of our work.”

Tedesco’s statement to either paper did not address allegations that ADF is pursuing a strategy of deliberately disrupting school board meetings in school districts throughout the country in order to inflame anti-LGBTQ passions, in the hope of pressuring elected officials into adopting anti-LGBTQ policies.

O’Conner said that, after recognizing the enormous clout and financial wherewithal of ADF, she felt resignation was the only option that might stop or slow-walk Gates’ continues harassment of her while trying to carry out her school board duties.

“Regardless of how I responded, Mr. Gates was going to continue until he got an escalation. Further, he shouldn’t have had the opportunity to interject commentary that essentially created a public debate about the existence of queer people,” O’Conner said. “I’m not here for what he’s attempting to do. It’s honestly a distraction from the work that the board needs to focus on and I have no desire to contribute to his platform.”

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