The late night decision Tuesday — the vote happened close to midnight — allows transgender students to participate in middle school sports that align with their gender identity. At the high school level, policy is left up to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.
“I do not need to be protected from transgender girls, because we are both girls. They are not a threat,” said one 13-year-old who spoke during the public comment session of the meeting. “I will earn any opportunity I get based on my skills and no one else’s. I work hard for the things I achieve, and to assume I cannot do this is insulting.”
The board waived requirements to read and discuss the policy before voting on it, despite some concerns about not following procedure and the timing of the vote. The board did not consider the policy until nearly midnight following an extensive public comment session.
More: N.C. transgender athletes, advocates begin fighting bill against sports limits
“I understand there is a lot of passion on both sides of this issue,” said Vice Chairman Nelson Beaulieu, who attended the meeting virtually. “We were elected to make the tough decisions. This is one of them.”
Board members Pete Wildeboer and Hugh McManus oppose the policy. Wildeboer said because of the delicacy of the topic, he felt the board should not rush to make a decision, but rather pray on it.
Wildeboer noted that the policy would deviate from the requirements for high school athletes, as well as the national conversation going on around transgender athletes. States including Idaho, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Dakota and Florida have already passed bills banning transgender athletes from participating in sports based on their gender identity. At least 24 others have introduced similar legislation in 2021, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I do pray for all our students and I do want them all to succeed,” Wildeboer said. “I do ask … my colleagues on the board to think and pray about this very important decision.”
A bill was also introduced to the North Carolina House that would limit transgender students’ opportunities in sports for middle school, high school and collegiate athletes. Some worry allowing athletes to compete based on their gender identity will create disadvantages for biological female athletes, but those who spoke at the meeting said it’s about discrimination and exclusion.
Students, parents and advocates could be heard even from inside the Board of Education Center at the start of the meeting as participants linked arms along the stairs up to the building, sporting signs and buttons in support of the policy. The rally was organized by the lowercase leaders, a nonprofit advocacy group, in response to “racism and transphobia in New Hanover County Schools,” according to the rally’s Facebook event.
“If helping these kids feel loved means suffering a cheater or two, I’d say it’s worth it,” one parent said during the public comment session.
Across the lawn, organizers from the Kids First Alliance cheered as leaders spoke out against critical race theory, a controversial teaching that establishes systematic racism and white supremacy is a part of everyday life.
Groups protest at New Hanover County Schools meeting
The lowercase leaders rallied against racism and transphobia before the NHCSBoard meeting and clashed with members of FightForOur Children.org
Ken Blevins, Wilmington StarNews
Conservative groups have pushed back against critical race theory at a national level, and in North Carolina, a new social studies curriculum was approved by the state Board of Education that will teach about racism and discrimination from a more diverse perspective. Kids First Alliance is a nonpartisan, non-political organization, said organizer Lindy Ford.
Ford said the group wanted the New Hanover County Board of Education to outwardly oppose the teachings. She said there were also some concerns over a new partnership between the district and Sophic Solutions, which will conduct focus groups on the climate around equity in the district.
“We don’t want our children indoctrinated,” she said.
Sophic Solutions: New Hanover parents push back against schools’ new equity initiatives
Ford said the Kids First Alliance did not have a stance on the transgender policy addressed during the meeting.
Before beginning the first public comment session during the board meeting, Board Chair Stefanie Adams addressed the protests and tension she had seen on social media ahead of the meeting. She said rising anger over several issues in the district is “palpable, and it was obvious this evening.”
Protesters gather ahead of New Hanover County Board of Education meeting
Protesters gathered Tuesday ahead of the New Hanover County Board of Education meeting to rally over various issues in the district.
Sydney Hoover, Wilmington StarNews
She also said New Hanover County Schools do not teach critical race theory and follow North Carolina state standards. She challenged those in the audience to ask themselves on whether they’re fighting for the betterment of the school district or for a political agenda.
“The rhetoric on all sides of numerous issues is not healthy for our students, our staff, or our community as a whole,” she said.
Reporter Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or at email@example.com.