Minnesota Genderbread

In today's Sunday paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an ad from the "Child Protection League Action," or CPLA (and no, it's not just you--the syntactic construction of that name makes no sense).

Here's a photo of the ad:


There are (at least) two distinct problems with this: the ad itself, and the Strib's decision to run it.

Let's start with the ad.  The target of the ad is a proposed policy by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHL), which would allow transgender students to play on the athletic team that matches their gender identity.  The colu.mn has a brief overview and draft of the policy here.  CPLA also has a copy of that draft, but says this (pdf) is the most current version of the policy.  (Incidentally, I had never heard of the colu.mn before today, but will be adding it to my reading list.)

With the tagline "A male wants to shower beside your 14-year-old daughter. Are YOU ok with that?" CPLA is obviously directing its fear-mongering at skittish parents who they hope will share in their transphobia.

CPLA demonstrates a willful misunderstanding of gender identity.  Gender identity and biological sex (also called assigned gender) are two separate things.  Biological sex has to do with anatomy and chromosomes.  Gender is a social construct.  Both exist on continua; neither is binary.  If you want to explore this more, one of the most accessible tools I've seen is The Genderbread Person developed (though not originally created) by Sam Killermann at it's pronounced metrosexual (here's the 1.0 version of his Genderbread Person if you want to see the evolution).  To explore the intersection of race and gender and sexuality, be sure to read all you can at Black Girl Dangerous.

On their page about the proposed policy, CPLA includes a "report" (it's just a letter) about the proposed policy.  Oh, and CPLA wants you to know that the "report" is imbued with extra-legit credibility because it was written by an unnamed "local attorney." 

Says the "report:" 

There are no exemptions for religious schools under this policy, nor are there any accommodations made for those who believe that gender is a biological and genetic reality, not a social choice.
— "Local Attorney"

So our local attorney believes that gender is a "biological and genetic reality, not a social choice."  Never mind that this is out of step with every major scientific and medical institution in the country.  Never mind that in 2012 the DSM was revised so that it now says explicitly (pdf) that gender nonconformity is not a disorder (side note--APA, what the hell took you so long??).  Never mind that science and medicine disagree with her/him; this local attorney believes gender is a "genetic reality" and believes it SO hard!  Who will stand up for their right to believe this and impose their beliefs on trans* students?

In seriousness, the implications of CPLA's opposition to this policy are severe for trans* students.  This goes way beyond being able to play on the sport team that aligns with your gender identity, though that is important and is the immediate question on the table.  At a high level, due in no small part to the messages they receive from society and groups like CPLA about the illegitimacy of their very identities, studies have shown that over 40% of people who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming have attempted suicide in their lives.  Over 40%.  

And doing nothing, accepting this status quo for trans* folks, is obviously indefensible.  That's why it's critical that we make sure this ad completely backfires on CPLA.  Before today, I didn't even know the MSHSL was considering this policy.  But I know now.  And I need to make sure the MSHSL knows why I think it is critical that they protect and affirm trans* athletes.  

There is one sentence on the CPLA ad that I agree with wholeheartedly: "Contact the MSHSL Board BEFORE WEDNESDAY." 

Helpfully, Local Attorney includes the email addresses for all of the MSHL Board members at the bottom of the letter-report, so scroll down to see whom to contact.  You can also tweet the MSHSL here.  Let them know how strongly you feel that they support and affirm trans* athletes and not be swayed by the persistent hate that will be flung their way by CPLA supporters this week.

Before wrapping up, I want to return quickly to my second concern with this ad.  I'm not surprised that CPLA exists.  It seems to be a collection of the same "homosexual agenda" folks who have battled against anti-bullying protections for LGBTQ students in Minnesota for years.

What I was disappointed by, however, was the Star Tribune's decision to run this ad.  Obviously, merely running an ad doesn't mean that the Strib endorses its content.  But that's not enough here.  My concern is not that the act of running the ad means that the Strib supports CPLA.  Indeed, past editorials suggest that it probably doesn't.  My concern is that by running the ad, the Strib is accepting and validating the premise that the identity of trans* students and their right to affirming protections of their identity are legitimate grounds for debate.  That rather than this being a fundamental question of human rights, this is a political discussion.  This is unacceptable from our region's largest paper.

The Strib is under no obligation to run any advertisement.  In fact, in their Terms and Conditions (pdf), the Strib clearly reserves the right to reject any ad at their discretion.

Running this ad was an act of hostility by the Star Tribune against trans* people.  Full stop.

So while you're contacting the MSHSL, take a moment to drop the Star Tribune a line, too.