Facing intense pressure after the publication of an anti-transgender newspaper ad, the Minnesota State High School League has tabled a vote on a proposal to create guidelines for transgender athletes.
Instead of taking a vote on the proposal, the board — made up of athletic directors, coaches, and administrators from public and private schools across the state — approved motions to postpone a vote until its Dec. 4 meeting and to establish a committee to examine the issue until then.
The Thursday morning motion is the second time the board, which meets every two months, has delayed voting on the measure, and comes days after the Minnesota's largest newspaper, the Star Tribune, ran a full-page ad by a local anti-LGBT organization attacking the proposal. The ad read, "A male wants to shower next to your 14 year old daughter. Are you okay with that?"
"That ad really sparked everything and really raised the temperature," John Millea, media specialist at MSHSL, told BuzzFeed News. "The ad itself had some misinformation, and the people who want a policy like this were really revved up by it. It certainly sparked debate."
Modeled after similar policies in 32 other states, the proposal seeks to create guidelines for athletic directors, coaches, and school administrators to handle requests by transgender students to participate in school sports teams so as to "create an environment free from discrimination," according to a draft of the policy.
Specifically, if a student and their parents or guardians submit a written letter requesting to participate on a sports team, the guidelines recommend school administrators consider the gender identity used on school registration documents as well as documentation from the student's medical provider showing they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and are receiving the appropriate clinical treatment.
Opponents of the policy say they fear it will allow boys to use female locker rooms and facilities, while supporters of the policy say it will simply help school administrators treat transgender athletes fairly and in accordance with their gender identity.
Overall, board members were apprehensive to take action on the proposal because they felt the public needed more time to learn exactly what it would do if passed, according to Millea, who also noted that nobody on the board opposes the policy. Millea emphasized that the guidelines would simply act as a resource for schools that are members of the MSHSL, not a law.
"A lot of people haven't realized that whatever this policy is when it's approved, it won't be a binding policy — it's just a guideline," he said. "All it does is say: If your school has a transgender athlete, these are some things you can do."
The board heard from at least 40 people on both sides of the issue at recent meetings, including for about 30 minutes at the packed board meeting Thursday morning.
"It's my job as a parent, not the school or this board, to educate my children on matters of sexuality," said Renee Carlson, a parent, according to a report by WCCO. "And I would like to have that right not taken away from me."
In an emotional speech before the board, Zeam Porter, a student, talked about having been assigned female at birth and experiencing hardship playing on the wrong sports team, according to the report.
"My love for basketball last year made me believe I could handle being on the wrong team," Porter said. "That was wrong. Constantly being mis-gendered and called the wrong name took away my soul."
The committee charged with examining the issue will likely submit a report to the full board in early November, Milliea said.