With an estimated 10,000 e-mails about a controversial proposal to guide the participation of transgender athletes in high school sports already in hand, officials of the Minnesota State High School League heard the impassioned voices of parents, students and advocates Wednesday.
An unprecedented and overflow crowd of about 150 people packed the league's boardroom in Brooklyn Center, as three city police officers stood by to ensure that the workshop on the sensitive and divisive topic remained civil.
And while the views were pointed, the tone was measured, as 55 speakers lined up to urge the league to either approve or reject the new plan in a vote scheduled for Thursday. Only 28 were heard during the one-hour, 45-minute meeting, where some members of the crowd wore stickers reading "Yes for Trans Justice" while others wore buttons with the umbrella logo of the Child Protection League Action, which opposes the plan.
The policy, listed as an action item on the agenda for the league's board of directors meeting scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, spells out how schools are to determine eligibility for transgender students. The process can include scrutiny of medical documentation such as hormone therapy and surgery. The policy leaves much to schools to decide, including how to provide "reasonable and appropriate restroom and locker room accessibility for students.''
Zeam Porter, a high school junior who identifies as "trans genderqueer," spoke about the psychological struggles of being "forced" to play on girls' basketball teams. Porter stopped playing basketball after last season.
Porter, who broke down while speaking, said it hurt listening to those opposed to the gender identification of transgender people.
"It's like, 'I respect transgender people, but ...' " said Porter, who declined to name the high school in Minneapolis. "The 'but' is what I've been hearing my whole life. All I hear is, 'You are problematic; you're wrong.' "
Porter supports the policy, calling it "a great start" and believes it will be approved Thursday. But a policy might not bring Porter back to the court.
"I am not sure; it would be hard to be the only trans member on the team," Porter said. "Sports were also very traumatic for me, although I still love basketball and do play pickup games."
While Porter and other supporters said the policy would affirm transgender athletes by sending a message that the high school league recognizes their challenges and aims to provide a positive experience, opponents criticized the proposal as too vague.
They also contended that the plan violated legal requirements and failed to provide options for non-transgender athletes. Other opponents asked for an exemption for Catholic private schools and still others questioned the idea of gender as a choice.
During his presentation, Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, held up a stack of paper he said contained 3,300 signatures petitioning for rejection of the transgender athlete policy.
League executive director Dave Stead opened the workshop, noting that 32 states already have "some sort of policy or procedure" in place regarding transgender student-athlete participation.
He went on to debunk the Mankato-based Child Protection League Action's full-page advertisement opposing the plan, which appeared on the back page of the Star Tribune's Sunday sports section. He said the ad included inaccurate descriptions of some of the plan's provisions.
The ad, and a similar e-mail campaign from the group last week, set off a social media storm of commentary on Twitter and other forums. OutFront Minnesota sent an e-mail decrying the newspaper ad as "derogatory'' and called on supporters to attend the workshop.
On Wednesday, however, Child Protection League Action state coordinator Michele Lentz ripped the high school league for not going to greater lengths to make parents more aware of the transgender policy.
"If you ran an ad, we wouldn't have had to," Lentz said. "Now parents know."
Autumn Leva, director of legislative affairs and communications for the Minnesota Family Council, said "the policy is not in the shape it needs to be in to go forward. We've offered to work with the high school league on developing a policy with language to protect the physical privacy rights of students. That's gone unanswered."
Minnesota Family Council, a Christian-based advocacy group that says it aims to promote and defend biblical principles in public policy matters, wrote the high school league two letters urging that the policy be rejected.
The board voted to table a transgender policy discussion at the June meeting. E-mails and phone calls also prompted the league to remove the policy as an action item from the August meeting agenda and schedule it for Wednesday's workshop.
"We've heard rumors that some members want to table it," Leva said. "At minimum that's what needs to happen."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574