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An anti-LGBTQ+ speaker presenting the "other side" of the equal rights debate drew protests at a school board meeting Monday in Becker, Minn.
The Becker Public Schools board had invited a representative of the Child Protection League to make a presentation after some local residents objected to the board's hosting of OutFront Minnesota, an LGBTQ+ rights group, last August, and urged the board to bring in someone with an alternative viewpoint. Becker is a town of about 4,000 located between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.
Child Protection League Board Chair Julie Quist, who was once an aide to anti-LGBTQ+ former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, spoke to the school board and a large audience along with former school board members Betsy Armstrong and Chris Klippen, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Quist spent much of her time denouncing books that encourage acceptance of transgender people. Her group was established in 2013 to oppose safe schools legislation; its founders include Barb Anderson, who was also behind the now-defunct Parents Action League, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a progressive watchdog organization.
Armstrong, for her part, called the apparent increase in the number of trans youth "worrisome" and wondered aloud if perhaps anxiety, autism, or peer pressure is causing young people to become transgender, dubbing the latter a "social contagion." She quoted the Bible as saying God created two sexes, male and female, and said people who adhere to this belief should be respected. "Use of a new name and preferred pronouns should be [optional] for those interacting" with LGBTQ+ people, Armstrong said.
"Armstrong spoke for about 50 minutes and was interrupted several times by protesters -- mostly Becker students -- questioning her statements or chanting 'gay rights are human rights,'" the Star Tribune reports.
After the anti-LGBTQ+ speakers finished, Joe Rand, a teacher with the University of Minnesota Extension who works part-time with the Becker district, condemned their rhetoric strongly. "That was all garbage," he told students. "You are all valid."
"What we're having trouble helping people understand is that there aren't two sides," he added. "This is a protected class of people by law, and there aren't two sides to human rights."
Heather Abrahamson, a social studies teacher and adviser to the district's Gender-Sexuality Alliance, said the original presentation by OutFront Minnesota was supposed to have been a staff training for the district but grew into a public event. LGBTQ+ students and allies had called for a response to bullying in the schools, which led to a walkout last spring.
Several other staffers and students told the Star Tribune they were upset that the board brought in anti-LGBTQ+ speakers. "It feels very careless and reckless coming from the school board members," high school junior Erin Deering said.
The board did not allow public comment at the meeting but said those who wish to respond could sign up to speak at the next regular meeting, set for April. Administrators declined comment to the Star Tribune on the controversy, but Board Chair Mark Swanson read a statement on the matter to open Monday's meeting.
"As a school board, we recognize that we are learners, just like the students we serve. Therefore, a critical part of our jobs as board members is to listen and engage," he said. "We see that it is essential for us as individual board members and as a collective to engage with a variety of perspectives and voices to ensure a complete picture."