Activists and community members both for and against transgender protections in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spoke out before and during a board meeting on Tuesday, which at times turned contentious.
The North Carolina Values Coalition, a longtime fighter against equal rights for the LGBTQ community, held a rally ahead of the meeting. Proponents of the changes were also in attendance, holding pro-transgender signs in defiance of the rhetoric and signage coming from the other side, much of it recycled from recent HB2 rallies and Charlotte City Council meetings.
The two sides got into heated back and forth at points, and the energy carried into the board meeting, where 30 speakers signed up, each of whom were given one minute to speak.
In June of this year, CMS informed principals that starting when students returned to school in August they were to be called by the name and pronouns of their choosing, which would be honored in yearbooks and graduation ceremonies, refer to children as “students” and “scholars” instead of boys and girls, allow transgender students to participate in extracurricular activities based on their gender identity, avoid gender-based activities that have no educational purpose – think boys’ line and girls’ line to recess – and allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender.
That part of the rules update clashes with HB2, which, among other things, instructs transgender people to use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with the gender listed on their birth certificate, but coincides with the Obama administration directive which informs public schools to do likewise. They argue that discriminating against transgender students in public accommodations violates Title IX. The U.S. Department of Justice and the state of North Carolina have sued one another and CMS has paused the transgender bathroom and locker room portion of its rules change until the issue is settled in the courts.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a Virginia school could block a transgender male student from using the boys’ bathroom, thus putting on a hold an appeals court ruling that had been the basis for the CMS rules change.
Most of those speaking against the rules change, admonished the school board for not involving parents more in the decision and cited safety and privacy concerns.
Many others read from the Bible, asking the school board to repent. At one point John Kirwin, father of four, asked if the board had been “coerced or bribed.”
“If the state were to pass a law that allowed public immoral acts with animals, as to appease the lusts of some fringe of society, would you not allow that that is shameful and vile? And would you not resign?” Kirwin asked. He previously dressed up as a king and addressed the Charlotte City Council as King John “The Merciful,” ahead of the LGBT non-discrimination vote, and celebrated that now that transgender people could self identify gender he would be able to self identify as royalty. He coined the phrase “gender royal,” which was spoofed on Twitter.
Some of the speakers against the protections included CMS staff, including a teacher who claimed, “This anti-bullying plan, this new section that you put in, it limits teachers, it ties our hands behind our back. It undermines our authority.”
Transgender activist Erica Starling thanked CMS for the actions they have taken.
“Let me just thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking the step to stopping what could (happen), as someone who is transgender myself, who has a daughter in CMS, who knows exactly what it’s like to feel bullied, who knows what it’s like to be discriminated against,” she said.
“My brother walks in homosexuality issues too,” she said. “And we just adopted him, and he actually walked out of homosexuality…The truth is, we all choose. And so I love every single one of you like you are, and so does Jesus, but you also have a choice to walk out.
“As a 21-year-old man, I know what it’s like to have walked in the path of darkness,” said another opponent of the rules change.
“Do not do this,” he continued. “Think of our daughters and please protect them. Because I know what I would do if I were given the opportunity, without know what I know about love, to go in and rape a young lady if I was given the opportunity. I’m dead serious, guys. I don’t want this happening, and I would just love if you would bring Christ back into our schools.”
He left the dais to applause.
Watch video from the meeting below. The public comments begins around the 15 minute mark, starting with comments from Mary T. McCray, Chairperson, At-Large.
Here is WSOC-TV‘s coverage of the event with highlights from speakers representing both sides of the debate.