Transphobic Manoeuvres In the Dark


It’s a messy four-way stop where bigotry, ignorance, arrogance, and nastiness intersect, within the context of kids’ lives.

On Monday April 4th, the Clarence school board held what what supposed to be its annual budget adoption meeting. This was postponed by a week, however, so that trustees could digest an unexpected, unprecedented influx of state aid and decide how to allocate it. Superintendent Dr. Geoffrey Hicks presented the administration’s recommendations – sock some away in the fund balance, use some to further reduce the tax levy, and hire a handful of needed teachers and aides. It was all very calm and tidy. For a district that has been under constant siege by people who don’t believe in public schools, it was a welcome respite. 

Late to the party is former councilman and current cartoon villain Joe Weiss, who bemoans the fact that his mansion has appreciated in value. We feel your pain, Joe!

During the generally free-wheeling public comment section, some had questions about the budget, but all the speakers were supportive of its inherent equity. Notably absent were two members of the anti-school cabal who have attended every budget meeting to interrogate the members of the board about things ranging from fiction to half-truths. Whether they’re being advised by – or colluding with – either Jason Lahti or Roger Showalter, the two tax protest members of the board, isn’t exactly known. Yet for some reason these budget-process regulars didn’t show up for what was quite an important and pivotal budget hearing.

Perhaps they were advised to stay home because the 2016 school election season isn’t going to be about money, but about something altogether different. 

If not spending and taxes, then what? 

Kristin Showalter (Roger’s sister-in-law) rose to speak, and though her questions were polite, they were wildly off-topic. Eschewing any commentary on the budget, she had questions about the school district’s three month-old gender identity policy. She questioned it at the November meeting, as well. Clarence adopted its policy, which I described here, in January. 

Susan Gugliuzza – a parent and nurse who had assailed the proposed transgender policy in November, also spoke. Her comments were not dissimilar from what she had talked about then, but now had the added bonus of complaining about the alleged bureaucratic complexity of: by what name an infinitesimal handful of kids choose to be called. Ms. Gugliuzza also said that this could all lead to a lawsuit, which is, indeed, possible. One gets the impression, however, that she wasn’t so much warning the board against a potential lawsuit, but hoping for one. 

Finally, Jacob Kerksiek – one of last year’s anti-school candidates for the board – attended a meeting for the first time in over a year, and his second board meeting, ever. Everyone was curious about his sudden re-appearance after he embarrassed himself last year, lecturing people about school finances with what could charitably be called unclean hands.  He spent an inordinate amount of time disrespectfully hectoring the board over a gender identity policy enacted in January, and asking about why and how it was passed, which he could have learned by (a) attending prior meetings; (b) reading the minutes of past meetings; or (c) watching the videos posted to YouTube of every relevant school board meeting. 

As it happens, the board considered, discussed, and accepted public comment on that gender identity policy at its October, November, and December board meetings. It was passed 5-1 – Showalter voted against, and Lahti abstained – in January. It has been in use for about three months, without known adverse incident. 

Here’s Brad Riter and me dissecting this transphobic eruption via Trending Buffalo podcast: 

What could have so suddenly and unpunctually energized our anti-trans triumverate? Evidently, a transgender boy posted a triumphant picture of himself at a urinal in an empty men’s room to Instagram. Regardless of whether there were any victims in that instance, or whether it in any way indicts the gender identity policy, these people – especially Gugliuzza – were sufficiently outraged by that – something that most people had no idea about; even people who are generally up on what’s going on in social media. Sorry, but even bathroom selfies do not lend a government justification to violate an LGBT student’s basic dignity and human rights. 

You can watch the video of the meeting here: 

Kerksiek rambled on incoherently and rudely about his genitalia and where he can and can’t use them. (BREAKING: he evidently exclusively uses urinals for his toileting).  He continually interrupted board President Maryellen Kloss when she attempted to answer what weren’t so much questions posed, as accusations spat. Gugliuzza is a nurse, but that alone doesn’t give her some sort of especial clinical authority to opine on other people’s kids’ childhood developmental issues. Instead, it all reeked of personal hatred, bigotry, and animus wrapped loosely in a thin pretense of dubious clinical experience. By contrast, Mrs. Showalter was calm, asked some probing questions, and Dr. Hicks answered them. Of the three, she was the only calm and courteous one.

You don’t have to understand or agree with the gender identity policy; it doesn’t matter. That’s because the school board discussed and debated it, and took public comment about it throughout the fall and early winter. That was the time to comment. Not now, not so rudely, and not with such hate ranging from misinformation to fiction. A budget hearing is not the place to publicly hector the board about its long-ago passed gender identity policy. 

Are kids confused about gender? Yes. That’s why the gender identity policy can’t even be triggered unless mental health professionals, administrators, and a kid’s parents are consulted. A kid cannot decide day to day that he wants to use the girls’ bathroom or locker rooms. It’s not how it works, and that sort of commentary is fundamentally rude – bullying, if you will – of the tiny number of transgender kids in the district. It assumes that transgender kids who want to use the bathroom that corresponds with their consistently expressed gender identity are creepers, peepers, and pedophiles. It’s mind-numbingly insulting and derogatory.  

Are there privacy issues at play? Yes. That’s why the administration has implemented ways to ensure that all kids – transgender and not – feel comfortable in bathroom and locker room situations. The district doesn’t have to adopt the transphobic absolutism of Gugliuzza and Kerksiek in order to protect the privacy of the vast majority of students who are not transgendered. If these people are really all that concerned about nudity, sexuality, modesty, and dignity, why do we let kids of any gender get naked in front of other kids at all

Could there be a lawsuit? Yes. About anything. On any day. A lawsuit does not necessarily have to be meritorious to be filed. All you need is money for the filing fee; you don’t even need a lawyer. 

But the notion that transgendered people are pedophilic predators is slander. The notion that this is something kids can just do and undo on a whim, day to day, is a lie.

The policy passed 3 months ago and no one has yet complained about it, and even if they did, there’s an internal administrative process to handle it.

This is all about an election that can’t be about taxes and fiscal policy, so they’re going to make it about modesty and misinformation. I’m appalled by and condemn the patent transphobia that was on display, and I have no doubt that it was a spectacle choreographed by the two incumbents who are up for re-election, and whom we must defeat.

The school board has a special meeting Monday April 11th at 7pm to vote on the proposed 2016/2017 budget, which includes an equitable distribution of additional state aid. It will be interesting to see if the board changes its rules for public comment to require that they be relevant to the budget process. 

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