A Tuesday afternoon protest against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ plan for transgender students turned into a rain-drenched shouting match as supporters of the new rules chanted “Love, not hate” and blocked speakers.
The North Carolina Values Coalition organized the protest to support North Carolina’s House Bill 2 and to oppose CMS plans to allow transgender students to use pronouns, names, restrooms and changing facilities based on the gender they identify with. CMS leaders announced that plan in June but said last week that a new court ruling has forced them to hold off on the new approach to restrooms and locker rooms.
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Speakers said the CMS plan violates student privacy, squelches communication with parents and disregards gender assigned by God at birth. The program temporarily broke down as shouting counterprotesters moved to the front and a rainstorm drenched the crowd.
The new rules regarding bullying and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students were not on Tuesday’s school board agenda – the regulations don’t require a board vote – but about 40 people signed up to use the public comment period to speak for or against those rules.
The confrontational tone continued there. Board Chair Mary McCray opened with criticism of people she said had spread misinformation about the CMS plan to “divide and incite people.” She limited speaking time to one minute, rather than the usual three.
The Rev. Flip Benham, head of Concord-based Operation Save America, opened the comments by asking people who believe Jesus is lord to stand, and he argued with McCray over the time limit. Speakers for and against the plan drew applause and cheers.
School board members say they’ve been deluged with emails and phone calls from around the country since the Raleigh-based Values Coalition launched a letter-writing campaign against the CMS plan last week. Evangelist Franklin Graham also joined the fray, taking to Facebook to compare the CMS regulations to communist brainwashing.
Graham accused CMS of using a cartoon “gender unicorn” to “grab the imagination of children and make this seem acceptable.” The gender unicorn, a graphic created by a national transgender youth group, was used in training for employees but has not been used with CMS students.
“Everyone should be aware of what’s going on,” Graham wrote in a post that included a link to board members’ contact information. “You can be sure that these battles are being fought in your community as well, and if not, they’re just around the corner.”
Board members said many emails were simply copied from the Values Coalition’s site and sent from the coalition’s email address.
“There’s advocacy that’s effective and there’s advocacy that’s just not. To me that’s just spam email,” said board member Rhonda Lennon, a Republican who says she stopped answering her phone because some of the callers were rude.
To a large extent, the final decision about how CMS will handle transgender students’ access to restrooms is in the hands of judges, who are reviewing North Carolina’s House Bill 2 and a Virginia case involving a transgender student’s bathroom access.