Decision time after transgender athlete forum: Minnesota State High School League set to vote on participation

By Tim Leighton, St. Paul Pioneer Press BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. -- It's decision time for the Minnesota State High School League's board of directors. On the eve of a vote on a policy to guide member schools on how to clear transgender student-ath...

Transgender vote
Pioneer Press Photo by Ben Garvin 16-year-old Zeam Porter of Minneapolis, a transgender student athlete who played high school basketball until last year, walks away after testifying in support of the MSHSL's proposed policy regarding transgender students at a meeting in Brooklyn Center on Wednesday.

By  Tim Leighton, St. Paul Pioneer Press

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. - It’s decision time for the Minnesota State High School League’s board of directors.

 On the eve of a vote on a policy to guide member schools on how to clear transgender student-athletes for participation in activities, the board hosted an open forum at league headquarters in Brooklyn Center. An overflow crowd of more than 150 supporters and opponents stuffed themselves into a crowded board room for about 90 minutes of testimonials and persuasive pleas to the board. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed policy at its board meeting today. As it is an action item on the agenda, the board can approve, deny or table the topic.

“It was really a good exchange of information on both sides,” MSHSL executive director Dave Stead said in an interview. “There is still some confusion with some that it is up to the local schools to make decisions on this. We help guide the schools in this process.”

Minnesota is not among the 32 states that have policies or procedures for participation by transgender students. State statutes and federal laws govern requirements for student participation based on their “sexual orientation or gender identity.”


Stead reiterated to the assembled body that locker room and restroom requirements are not addressed in the draft policy.

Three Brooklyn Center police officers were present for the meeting, but there was no major uprising. The board’s directors received more than 10,000 emails, and the league office received emails and phone calls that were threatening, Stead said.

“We had one little outburst, but other than that, I think everyone was pretty respectful of one another,’’ he said.

Fifty-five people signed up to address the board, but time permitted just 28 of them to speak.

Zeam Porter, 16, a junior at a Minneapolis high school, is gender non-conforming and addressed the board with such passion that it brought tears.

“It’s hard being misgendered,’’ Zeam said. “This policy … is a great start. It lets me know I have value as a human.’’

Zeam played basketball through last season on “female-bodied teams. I was forced to play on female teams.’’

“I have struggled all my life playing for the wrong team,’’ Zeam said after the meeting. “The more I felt attacked, the more I felt silenced.’’


Zeam quit sports because of a lack of support within schools.

“It was hard to be here today, I am not going to lie to you,’’ Zeam said.

Among other supporters of the policy was the St. Paul Public Schools. Administrator Ryan Vernosh read a statement of the school district’s support, which drew loud applause from other supporters.

Amy Marty of OutFront Minnesota, an LGBT advocacy group, shared with the board and audience that she is transgendered.

“This is the first time I’ve come out in public, so bear with me,’’ Marty said. “I urge this board to adopt this policy. It would create security and well-being for transgender students.’’

Religious leaders and family advocacy groups were among those to voice opposition to the policy.

Dr. Jeff Mattner, of the Association of Christian Schools International, requested that a religious exemption be added to the policy.

The Rev. Fredric Hinz, representing the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said he does not “believe a policy is (a) prudent way to solve challenges.’’


Norene Shephard, a retired educator, said “We are about to open a Pandora’s box. … Our anatomy is what it is, not what we would like it to be.’’

Autumn Leva, an executive with the Minnesota Family Council asked, “Why is this policy so vague? Parents and schools have raised concerns about the ambiguity of this policy. How does this policy protect physical and privacy rights of non-transgender students?”

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference said, “The process lacks transparency. We need a re-boot of the policy before the board takes action.”

Adkins had a thick stack of paper that he said had 3,300 signatures on a petition opposing the policy.

Becky Swenson, who was among the final citizens to address the board, drew the only vocal disdain of the day when she said, “I wonder if the true goal isn’t transgender promotion.”

Mike Martin, who said he rode his bicycle more than 40 miles to attend the meeting said, “A lot of the language I hear today does not sound welcoming. … I encourage everyone that stands in opposition to open your heart.

“If people having equal rights makes you uncomfortable, you have no right not to be knocked out of your comfort zone,” Martin said.

The transgender policy addresses just transgender students and does not alter any existing MSHSL rules.


The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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