Skirting The Issues: Osseo
There are many ways to change the world. For example, some take to the streets and march with sheer numbers demanding change. Others stand on soapboxes, yelling into microphones with the hope that the powerful will listen.
Still others—a small minority—resort to violence and destruction, something that can scar a society’s soul.
I attempt to foster change differently. I believe in the power of human-to-human contact and the art of touching hearts. It’s this philosophy that’s had me in locales like Oxford, Mississippi, Fort Hall, Idaho and Alexandria, Minnesota—places that aren’t on anyone’s list as venues for making the world better.
I’ve found that it’s so much easier to reach people when you’re on their turf, respectfully sharing ideas and inviting listeners in. Sometimes, the invitation needs to be radical.
All of this gets me to a mid-July Tuesday evening when I stood in front of the Osseo (Minnesota) School District school board as it was set to vote on adopting a transgender and nonbinary-affirming policy. A board member had asked me to be there to comment on the policy and even though I would have only three minutes to speak (this is the way it works in most public meetings of any kind), I was happy to do as requested.
In Minnesota, the state Department of Education mandates that school districts protect transgender and nonbinary students from bullying, and requires that schools allow all students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity.
Given this, one would expect that passing a gender-affirming policy would have been a no-brainer for the Osseo school board. However, that wasn’t the case—a number of parents and concerned citizens, along with a couple board members, opposed the policy, citing how young, straight, cisgender kids might be turned gay or transgender with a more accepting school atmosphere.
If only it were that easy.
Thus, I sat near the front and listened as a half-dozen people rose to denounce the proposed policy. The naysayers included parents, religious leaders, and one person who reported that they had been transgender for several decades before God intervened to help them to understand that they weren’t trans. That person spoke passionately about de-transitioning and how there really is no such thing as being “transgender”; instead, trans people are simply confused and misguided.
It was when a second religious leader spoke that my heart began to hurt—not because he opposed the policy, but rather because of what he shared about his personal story.
The man related that growing up, he was labeled as being gay and bullied in school as a result. He explained that the trauma made him believe that he was gay, and for a decade after high school he identified as a gay man. Again, God intervened, and he smiled broadly as he shared that he now identifies as straight, complete with a wife and three children. He implored the board to reject the policy because of how it might influence impressionable minds.
I immediately felt this man’s pain and his story touched me. How horrible, I thought. No one should ever have to endure such trauma—even someone who may be intolerant of me.
When my name was called, I went to the podium and said that I favored the proposed gender-affirming policy because it would give young humans breathing room to figure out their own sexuality and gender identity. I also reminded the board that its mission was to inspire students to engage in a lifetime of learning; if so, that learning should begin with students understanding themselves.
At that point, I turned to the audience and spoke to the man/religious leader who had shared about being bullied. I said, “Your story hurt my heart and I’m so sorry that you went through that. I would welcome the opportunity to talk to you and to your congregation to see if we could find our commonalities and perhaps bridge what divides us.”
My words were grounded in compassion—to the point where I pushed back tears. There was no reason to shame or “other” the man, or even those like him. We’ll never get to where we need to be with shaming or guilting.
I sat down and listened to others who followed me, some pro, some con. When the comment period was over, I rose to leave. The man/religious leader I had addressed, who was in the back row, got up and approached me.
I stopped and whispered, “I meant what I said. I’m sorry that you went through that.”
The man pulled back and offered, “I could tell that you were sincere, Ellie. Thank you.”
He asked for my business card and said that he’d reach out.
I’ve not yet heard from the man, but maybe it doesn’t matter. The 50 other people in the room got a glimpse of what pushing for radical change looks like.
P.S. The Osseo school board adopted the gender-affirming policy.
Ellen (Ellie) Krug, the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change, speaks and trains on diversity and inclusion topics; visit www.elliekrug.com where you can also sign-up for her monthly 9000+ recipient e- newsletter, The Ripple. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].