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Transgender High School Tennis Coach Rehired After Prolonged Controversy

Transgender High School Tennis Coach Rehired After Prolonged Controversy

Tennis players and Gettysburg Area High School

School board members denied that transphobia was in play, but supporters of coach Sasha Yates begged to differ.

After weeks of turmoil that left her future in doubt, transgender tennis coach Sasha Yates has kept her job in Gettysburg, Pa.

The Gettysburg Area School District’s board voted 6-2 Tuesday to renew Yates’s contract to coach the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams at Gettysburg Area High School, PennLivereports. The board had failed to rehire her when doing so with other staffers over the summer as complaints circulated about her.

Some of the comments appeared to be transphobic, though school officials denied that her gender identity was an issue. She had coached at the high school since 2018 and came out as trans in 2021. Many parents and students had rallied around her as the controversy played out.

“I have been very moved by the outpouring of support that I have received,” Yates told PennLive via email, and “I am very much looking forward to continuing to support and guide both teams as they represent Gettysburg Area High School in the coming seasons.” The girls’ team plays in the fall and had started its season without a coach; the boys’ team plays in the spring.

There had been a complaint last year about her changing in front of students in the girls’ locker room — she said she was merely changing her top and did not strip to her underwear — resulting in a directive for all coaches to use private changing rooms. There were allegations that she had asked female players inappropriate questions about “undergarment preferences and menstruation,” PennLive notes, but Yates said she did not recall asking such questions. At an August meeting, one parent had said his daughter was uncomfortable encountering Yates in the girls’ restroom.

School board member Michelle Smyers, who chairs the local chapter of anti-LGBTQ+ group Moms for Liberty, had claimed that school administrators were denying her access to Yates’s employment records. Smyers had retained right-wing law firm America First Legal to represent her, and in an August press release that misgendered Yates, the firm vowed to “continue to fight for parental rights and to protect students from the insidious transgender movement.” Also, “Smyers has recently given interviews to right-wing outlets suggesting that Yates’ disrobing in the locker room was more provocative” than school administrators said, PennLive reports. One report, for instance, had Yates stripping to her brassiere and panties, which the coach has said was not the case.

Smyers was one of the board members who voted against rehiring Yates. She made a brief statement before the vote. “I am not a schoolyard bully, I am not anti-LGBTQ,” she said, adding, “Never once have I ever discriminated against a child here.”

But Smyers “has used her platform to attack the trans community even before there was any question about the conduct of Coach Yates,” Molly Heaton, who plays on the girls’ tennis team, said at Tuesday’s meeting.

School board President Kenneth Hassinger denied that the delay in approving Yates’s contract had anything to do with her being trans. “Overall, I think it came down to widespread rumors that were going on in the public, and we wanted to take a deep breath and make sure we had all the information before we took a vote,” Hassinger told PennLive.

“The vote tonight would tell you that the majority of those rumors did not have a factual basis to them,” he added. He said he had no way of knowing if the rumors were motivated by transphobia, but he asserted the board’s action wasn’t.

However, Yates’s supporters said she was being treated differently than a cisgender person would have been. “There’s no validity to the disgusting claims I’ve heard about my coach,” Tristan Smith, captain of the boys’ tennis team, said at the meeting. He said Yates was an excellent coach and noted, “I cannot stand here and refuse to acknowledge that blatant transphobia is the main motivation behind this commotion.”

About 200 people attended the Tuesday meeting, and the previous one, two weeks ago, drew a similar number. “Although a few more people spoke against Yates than before, the majority of the comments were still squarely in the coach’s corner,” PennLive reports.

Among the anti-Yates attendees were several bikers who had anti-trans messages on their clothing and “frequently heckled speakers who referred to Yates as a woman,” according to the outlet. Hassinger at one point threatened to kick them out of the meeting.

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