The discussion about how to best protect transgender student athletes in Minnesota’s high schools is set to resume this week, and despite two months of cooling-off time, one side in the debate is roaring back, full speed ahead and guns blazing.
That side is represented by a conservative group based in Mankato, Minn., that is well-known for its opposition to new guidelines that would apply to students across Minnesota and put the state in compliance with a U.S. Department of Education update to Title IX requirements. That update extends the law’s civil rights protections to all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Readers of the Sunday edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune couldn’t help but see the group’s full-page color ad in the main section, featuring a young woman of high-school age, dressed to play baseball, but warming the bench instead of standing in the batter’s box. The idea is that she’s off the team because a transgender student took her place.
The advertisement on page A10 was purchased by Child Protection League Action, which describes itself on its website as “a 501(c)4 nonprofit corporation that is committed to promoting the welfare of children and protecting them from exploitation, indoctrination, and violence. CPLAction educates the public and public officials, lobbies elected lawmakers, and equips its members to impact public policies and legislation toward the physical, mental and emotional safety and welfare of children.”
What the website doesn’t say is that the group has joined forces with the Minnesota Catholic Conference in protesting the proposal that would accommodate transgender student athletes. In September, CPLAction placed a full-page color ad on the back of the Star Tribune’s Sunday sports section, asking “A male wants to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter. Are YOU OK with that?”
This time, CPLAction’s ad took aim directly at the wallets and purses of parents of student athletes who are pinning their hopes of a college education on their children’s chance of a scholarship.
“The End of Girls’ Sports?” reads the headline, with the word “End” in red. “Her dream of a scholarship shattered, your 14-year-old daughter just lost her position on an all-girls team to a male,” the ad states, again highlighting a word in red, this time: male. The ad attempts to stoke the same fear as the September campaign, with the tagline: “And she may have to shower with him. Are you willing to let that happen?”
Once Minnesota media critic David Brauer tweeted about the ad, the Twitterverse lit up. At least one subscriber told The Advocate this second transphobic ad was just too much for her to tolerate and that she would be calling to cancel her subscription. Reaction on Facebook likewise has been swift and negative, as comments focused on the ad campaign’s attempt to inspire fear of transgender people, calling the effort “sick,” “disgusting,” and “shameful.” In response to the ad, Kirsten Hart wrote in a forum for parents of transgender children, “MY child is a risk to NO ONE.”
Some Facebook users criticized the publisher, former Republican Minnesota lawmaker Glen Taylor, who also owns the Timberwolves and Lynx pro basketball teams.
The Advocate reached out to the Star Tribune and its senior vice president and chief revenue officer, Paul Kasbohm, for comment. A senior editor at the newspaper said the newsroom had received no complaints so far, and Kasbohm has so far not replied.
The ad also appeared in the hometown paper of CPLAction, The Mankato Free Press. Organizers at CPLAction did not respond to The Advocate’s emails with questions about the ad.
One of those questions that needs an answer is how CPLAction came to use a photograph of a model portraying fictional lesbian baseball player Susie Torres in their advertisement, as tweeted by Chris Steller of Minneapolis and first reported by the Bluestem Prairie website. The photo was used to illustrate the cover of the young adult novel Going, Going, Gone: Susie's Story, published by Bella Books in 2012.
One of the four school leaders cited in the ad did at least acknowledge an email from The Advocate seeking comment. Troy Urdahl, the director of athletics for the St. Anthony-New Brighton Schools, has in fact received so much email as a result of this controversy that he has set up an automatic reply: “Recent direct mailings and newspaper advertisements have created significant interest in a proposed MSHSL transgender participation policy. I have received significant feedback from both supporters and those opposed to this policy. Please know I will be able to review your email, but due to the volume of messagse [sic] received, it is not possible to reply all emails. I appreciate you taking the time to provide me with your perspective.”
According to Minnesota Public Radio, the draft policy, which was expected to be approved by the Minnesota State High School League two months ago, dictated that “a female-to-male transgender student who has started hormone treatment can only play on male teams. One who hasn’t can play on either team. A male-to-female student must provide evidence of testosterone suppression therapy. The shower policy requires school districts (when possible) to provide private shower and changing facilities to any student athlete who requests them. It also bars school districts from revealing that a student athlete is a transgender person.”
The next meeting of the league is scheduled for Thursday, and the draft policy is again on the agenda for discussion. Star Tribune columnist Gail Rosenblum wrote back in October that the proposal was tabled so that, as league executive director Dave Stead said, the board could “walk forward to get it right.”