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Gettysburg School Board Battles Over Rehiring of Trans Tennis Coach

Gettysburg School Board Battles Over Rehiring of Trans Tennis Coach

Tennis court and Gettysburg school bus

One of the board members stalling renewal of Sasha Yates's contract is an activist with Moms for Liberty.


A transgender high school tennis coach’s job is being threatened in Gettysburg, Pa., and one of her major opponents is a school board member connected with the far-right group Moms for Liberty.

So far, the Gettysburg Area School Board has not decided whether to rehire Sasha Yates, who has coached both boys’ and girls’ tennis since 2018. The board’s meeting Monday night was packed with members of the public who commented on the matter, most of them supportive of Yates.

The key issue is what restrooms and locker rooms Yates will be allowed to use, according to local news sources, although school officials deny that the matter involves Yates’s trans identity. She came out as trans in November 2021, and since then there have been some complaints about her.

In the fall of last year, there were objections to her changing clothes in the girls’ locker room. In a letter from last September viewed by local media, Gettysburg Area High School Principal Jeremy Lusk told Yates that “concerns” had been raised and that she must maintain “professional boundaries.” She was advised to use private changing facilities for coaches.

“I was changing my top in a secluded area away from others. I did not get down to my bra and panties as they suggested,” Yates told the Gettysburg Times.She “accepted the compromise” of using a private changing room, she said. “I did this to show that I can be reasonable and that it is not about me, but it is about what is in the best interests of the student athletes,” she noted.

There was also an objection to Yates using the girls’ restroom at a school event in April. Steve Carbaugh, a parent who attended Monday’s meeting, said his daughter became uncomfortable when she encountered Yates there, PennLivereports.

Another attendee at the meeting, local tennis instructor Nell Matthews, responded by saying, “Frankly, I am appalled and flabbergasted that [Yates’s] contract is in jeopardy because some of you feel uncomfortable,” according to PennLive. Matthews said she has worked with Yates for several years.

The letter from Lusk further claimed that Yates had asked students invasive questions “about menstrual cycles and preferred underwear styles,” but Yates said she did not recall doing so. It also said “she had engaged in a conversation with a parent about a medical procedure that the parent felt was inappropriate,” PennLive reports.

Yates said she thought any concerns raised in the letter had been resolved and that she was unaware of any controversy since then, except for Carbaugh’s comment. Lusk and Athletic Director Casey Thurston, who met with Yates about those earlier concerns, have both recommended the renewal of her contract.

But at a school board meeting August 7, the board deadlocked 3-3 on that renewal, with one member absent and one abstaining, the Gettysburg Connectionreports. Then at Monday’s meeting, the board decided to remove her name from a list of hirings to be approved and vote on her rehiring later.

“In my opinion, given the gravity of what’s before the board, we owe it to everyone to give it the due diligence and respect to make sure we have all of the information available before we make a decision either way,” school board Vice President Dickerson told reporters after the meeting, according to PennLive.

He said there was “not a gender identity issue,” but there were other issues, which he could not discuss publicly because they are personnel-related.

However, there is widespread public perception that Yates is being targeted for being trans. “I have yet to hear any legitimate reason for not renewing Ms. Yates’s contract,” parent Lance Windish said at Monday’s meeting, PennLive reports. “What I have heard is testimonials of people whose lives she has touched and changed and strengthened as an educator.”

“Coach Yates is one of the very, very few people who got me through that high school experience," said Chelsea Zimmann, who played tennis at Gettysburg Area high School and graduated in 2021. “At tennis practice, over and over again I was encouraged to be myself and work through my problems,” she explained. Yates was “one of the most important people that has happened to me in my life, and without her I may not be standing here today,” Zimmann added.

“It does not hurt our children to be in the presence of trans people,” attended Sonya Del Tredici said. “The existence of trans people does not hurt our children; what hurts our children is discrimination against trans people.” She has two sons who’ve been on the Gettysburg tennis team. One of them, Paul Kennedy, said there is “no one more qualified” than Yates.

Several of the commenters criticized board member Michelle Smyers, who has backed efforts to get rid of Yates. Smyers chairs the local chapter of anti-LGBTQ+ group Moms for Liberty. Some pointed to her homophobic and transphobic Facebook posts, such as one in which she said “social contagion” had created a “transgender cult.”

“Never have we ever experienced such a time in our history when so many people have bought into the idea that you can just change your gender,” she continued in the post. “Newsflash: Children cannot consent to puberty blockers. Society must stop pushing this or accepting this contagion as real and start asking what’s going on that this is occurring. They are children. They cannot and do not make rational decisions because they are children. Adults must stop the insanity from continuing by saying NO and by speaking and exposing the truth.”

Smyers has claimed that Yates has undressed multiple times in front of the girls’ tennis team and engaged in conduct Smyers would find objectionable from any staff member. She has also said district administrators and lawyers have denied her access to documents related to Yates’s employment. She has retained America First Legal, a far-right law firm, and another lawyer to represent her. Smyers said the district’s lawyers have told her she could be held liable if Yates sues for discrimination, according to an America First press release and a letter it sent to Gettysburg school officials; America First deadnamed and misgendered Yates. It does not appear that Yates has filed a suit.

One public commenter at Monday’s meeting reclaimed the word “liberty.” “I moved to Gettysburg because this is the home of emancipation, not discrimination,” Jennifer Nalright said in remarks captured on video. She continued, “By all accounts this is a wonderful coach. ... I’m confused why we are even having this discussion. ‘Liberty’ is the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views. Since I’m a mom, I guess I’m one of the true ‘Moms for Liberty.’” The entire meeting can be viewed on YouTube.

Jason Landau Goodman, board chair for the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, a statewide LGBTQ+ policy advocacy organization, attended Monday’s meeting and released a statement saying, “The school district has effectively fired [Yates] by attrition,” and that the action is “purely based on her gender identity.” This “is outrageous and spiteful,” he said.

“This is like something out of a 1950s playbook when the federal government culled LGBTQ employees during the Lavender Scare — yet it’s 2023 in Gettysburg,” he noted, concluding, “It’s sad that this school board feels driven to score political points for a game most people could care less about, over the wellbeing of incredible student athletes who just want their cherished coach back. Hopefully, this school board will vote to reappoint Coach Yates at their next meeting.”

“I guess we are still in limbo, and my kids still don’t have a tennis coach,” Yates told the Gettysburg Times. “I just want this to be over, so there is closure so my kids can move on and have a tennis season.”

The next board meeting will be September 5. It's unclear if Yates's contract will be voted on then.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.
Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.