Discover more from Steve Ahlquist
Conservative anti-trans activists focus efforts on Foster-Glocester School Committee
Activists are searching for a community they can push to challenge the state's Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Transitioning Students policy...
As voters throughout Congressional District One awaited primary results on Tuesday evening, over two dozen Rhode Island anti-trans activists brought their objections to the Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Transitioning Students policy to the Foster-Glocester Regional School District Committee.
Last week, the Policy Subcommittee reviewed the policy and found that it conformed with state and federal law. This seemed to anger Nicole Solas, a South Kingstown resident and outspoken "parents’ rights" advocate, who argued that the School Committee got bad advice from their attorney, Mary Ann Carroll.
"You're wrong," said Solas, who went on to mischaracterize the policy as allowing boys to enter the girls’ bathrooms. "There is no binding law, no binding regulation, no binding guidance, no binding guideline requiring schools to let boys into the girls' bathroom or hide information from parents about their kids who think they're the opposite sex. You got bad legal advice from your attorney."
Confusingly, Solas contended that Attorney Anthony Cottone, Chief Legal Counsel for the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), has conceded that these guidelines are not binding law. But speaking before the Smithfield School Committee in June, Cottone said exactly the opposite.
“Those regulations have the force and effect of law," said Cottone. "They're not guidance, they're like a statute. The regulations provide that each school district must adopt a policy providing a safe, supportive, and non-discriminatory school environment for transgender and gender non-conforming students. And this is a significant point - that it is consistent with state and national best practices, guidance, and model policies."
State and federal law requires that, for accommodations around the use of bathrooms and changing areas, students be allowed to use the facilities that best meet their gender identity. The policy from RIDE enshrines this idea and incorporates a wealth of other best practices. The policy is lauded for keeping students safe, and for prioritizing the mental and physical health of all students.
Many of those speaking out against the policy were not residents of Foster or Glocester. Some had spoken out in June when the Smithfield School Committee decided to review their policy on Transgender, Gender Nonconforming, and Transitioning Students. Out-of-town speakers included Westerly resident Robert Chiaradio, Providence school teacher Ramona Bessinger, and Joshua Joseph from Woonsocket.
Ramona Bessinger has made a second career of sorts out of opposing transgender rights and what she calls “critical race theory” or CRT in schools. Classical High School students in Providence staged a walk-out over her continued employment, which they maintained made students in their school less safe.
Glocester resident and anti-trans activist Lauri Gaddis Barrett approached the podium twice [here and here] to make her points. Gaddis Barrett is the person who brought this issue up at the last meeting of the School Committee, prompting the policy review undertaken by the Policy Subcommittee. Gaddis Barrett maintains, based on conversations she's had in the community, that the present policy is a cause of concern for "a lot of the students who are not being heard." Gaddis Barrett also claimed that there has been a marked increase in the number of students who identify as transgender and/or gender non-conforming, what Gaddis Barrett called being "confused" about their gender.
Two residents of Foster and/or Glocester did speak out in support of the policy.
"I would like to say that we should support the trans community, that respect for people that are trans costs nothing, and if there are issues and concerns that people have about trans people using bathrooms, there can be an accommodation made for them so that anybody that is trans or anybody that is not trans can use a bathroom that they feel comfortable in," said resident Alex Haynes. "It should be possible to make [a policy] so that everyone can coexist. Trans people, trans students, and trans children need support. There are issues with mental health for trans people as well as for cisgender people in schools. Mental health is an important subject that everybody should be supportive of. Keyword: Everybody. If there's an issue about trans people, it's something that we definitely need to pay attention to. The trans movement is upon us and trans people have been a part of society since the beginning of time. [Trans] people are now getting rights that cisgender people have always had. [This] should not be an issue for people to be concerned about in our society."
"I really like this policy. I have spoken with [a child], mine specifically, who this policy and thinks it's great and is too afraid to speak because last year she got a death threat," said Becky Pellegrino. "There are kids who are for this policy but are too afraid to speak because sometimes Foster-Glocester can be very red-leaning and it's scary to speak your mind if you're a liberal. So I just wanted to speak on behalf of the transgender, LGBTQ community who thinks that this is a very good policy."
Also speaking in support of the policy was Jaye Watts, Director of the Transgender Health Program at Thundermist Health Center. Watts spoke movingly of Rhode Island's long history of supporting transgender rights. Watts was involved in developing the Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Transitioning Students policy.
"I moved to Rhode Island 20 years ago because at the time we were only one of two states in the country that had protections that allowed me to not get fired from my job," said Watts. "We were the second state in the country to do that. We've always been at the forefront of making sure that everyone is protected and people have rights in place."
Watts applauded the School Committee for approaching the review of the policy with caution, and not succumbing to the pressure from anti-trans activists. But towards the end, Watts talked about the emotional toll these attacks have on people in the trans community.
"I've been out for 20 years,” said Watts. “The vitriol and the fear that exists in the community, and the way that the trans community is being demonized as this other - that we don't exist, that we don't get to have these spaces, that these kids aren't suffering, and aren't really who they're saying they are is all - it's new," said Watts. "We've been around you forever, but the heightened amount of emotional, the tug of war that's happening, I hope that there are no other trans kids or trans people in the room hearing this today because I'm hearing people saying things like, trans people don't exist. And sitting here - I came alone tonight because my staff are all seeing patients and [I'm] feeling alone in this space. I'm thankful for other people who've spoken up in support of the community..."
It is unknown what the next steps will be as the Foster-Glocester Regional School District Committee continues to review the Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Transitioning Students policy. Right now the committee is awaiting a review of the policy from RIDE, and the Rhode Island Attorney General has taken an interest in the issue.
What is needed is for more Foster-Glocester parents and students who support the policy to let their opinions be known to members of the school committee. Conservative groups such as Parents United RI (founded, in part, by Lauri Gaddis Barrett, and CORR (Citizens Organized to Restore Rights) which was involved in the illegal installation of the right-wing Clay Johnson onto the Chariho School Committee, are searching for a community willing to challenge these guidelines, hoping for a court challenge that will roll back the Rhode Island laws that protect trans rights.
Steve Ahlquist is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.