We harbor no illusion that an appeal to reason will change many hearts in Hastings, the normally bucolic town downriver from St. Paul. The great majority of people there probably find recent events involving a school board member and her transgender child abhorrent, as do we. Those who do not find them abhorrent probably find them delightful. This is an issue with scant middle ground.
As reported by CNN and other outlets, the school board president, Kelsey Waits, ran for re-election this year and lost. She is now finishing the remainder of her term. One of the positions that may have led to her defeat was her vote in favor of a mask mandate in the Hastings public schools. Taking a stand in favor of public health during a pandemic should not be a political liability, but here we are.
Some of Waits' antagonists in the community pilloried her in a Facebook group, with evident relish. Then the Facebook posts took a turn.
Waits belonged in jail for child abuse, declared one of her critics, because the younger of her two daughters is actually a boy. Rather than recoiling at the group member who had so repugnantly crossed a line, others rushed to cross it too. They piled on.
Waits and her husband, who serves in the Naval Reserve, were stunned. Their transgender child, just 8 years old, had expressed a wish to pursue life as a girl. The parents had been cautious in revealing the development to family and friends, and had held it close as a confidential family matter — or, as Waits told CNN, "my most precious secret."
In interviews, Waits points out that transgender kids are at increased risk for suicide. Statistics back her up; a 2021 survey by the Trevor Project found that more than half of nonbinary and transgender youth had considered suicide. To Waits, those who outed her daughter were endangering a child's life.
"We appealed for decency within the community, and we were rejected every time," Waits told MPR News.
Those who, in the name of politics, would intentionally expose an 8-year-old to the hatred that often confronts transgender people are contributing to a dangerous downward slide in American discourse. They are wallowing in the same mud puddle as those who stage demonstrations at a public official's home. Their message is simple and threatening: Public service entails risk — not only to you, but to those you love and to any sense of privacy they might hold dear.
"This isn't about policy anymore," Waits told MPR. "This is about gossip. This is about causing pain. This is about personal attacks. This is about winning at all costs. It's no longer about working for what's best for the country."
Waits and her family are moving from the home they built in Hastings because they no longer feel safe there. It's hard to fault their decision, but there is plenty to lament about it. For one thing, they are obviously a family that values public service, a quality that every Minnesota community should want to nurture. For another, their departure will strike Waits' detractors as a victory. Tactics like theirs should bring rebuke, not reinforcement.
Perhaps some of that rebuke will show up Saturday, when a "Rally for Transgender Kids" is scheduled to take place at a riverfront park in Hastings. We hope so. And we hope that those who decided to out a child will be moved to consider the harm they are doing to that child — and to the conduct of politics.