William Heffron, left, and Jeremy Clifford, students at Traip Academy in Kittery, speak in favor a transgender policy proposal at Tuesday night's meeting of the Kittery School Board. Credit: Ioanna Raptis | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — Following a single staunch plea to the School Committee to kill a transgender policy proposal Tuesday night, parents and students then rivaled the opposition with powerful support, a committee member shed tears, and one mother added, “There is no room for hate in Kittery.”

The policy to support transgender and gender expansive students ultimately passed by an unanimous 6-0 vote after its second reading at Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, with Chairwoman Julie Dow proclaiming, “I have never been more proud to be on the School Committee.”

The policy, researched and drafted by the district’s Policy Committee, states the Kittery School District will honor the wishes of the student when it comes to desired gender identification, name and pronouns. While the student’s official record will continue to bear their legal name, unless changed by a court order, the school district will use the student’s preferred name and pronouns on all other documents including school identification, classroom rosters, certificates, diplomas and yearbooks.

[School committee considers transgender policy]

In the event that a student and their parent do not agree on the gender identity or expression, the school district will abide by the wishes of the student, the policy says.

In addition, the policy also states that students will be permitted to use restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities corresponding with the gender identity they assert at school.

Resident Susan Wiswell told the School Committee the policy “affirms the delusions of gender-confused children,” and would potentially allow “a biological male who claims to identify as a female to enter the girls’ locker room” to molest or rape a female student.

“What about her rights or dignity?” Wiswell said. “Are the majority of students who are not gender-confused expected to accept this violation?”

Wiswell said the “ill-conceived policy” is education malpractice. “More than half of our property tax goes to fund the schools,” she said. “We do not want to face the litigation costs. We will remember how this board votes when it comes to the polls.”

After the policy proposal’s first reading on May 15, the Christian Civic League of Maine criticized its contents, and urged people on Facebook to submit feedback to the district in disagreement.

Prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, Superintendent Eric Waddell said he had received feedback on both ends of the spectrum.

[Transgender teen kicked out of old school voted homecoming king]

Following Wiswell’s remarks, many meeting attendees took to the podium to contest her notions and express support for passage of the policy.

“My heart is racing right now because I’m so furious to hear you talk about transgender children that way,” said Barbara MacLeod, mother of a transgender child. “It’s outrageous to target vulnerable children who are transgender. You may not understand it, you may not like it, but you can’t erase them from public life, which is what you’re trying to do.”

Resident Karen Matso said she loved the approach Kittery schools have taken in regards to gender, race and religion. “I’m completely in support of this policy,” she said. “I think it’s terrific.”

Traip Academy students William Heffron and Jeremy Clifford both supported the policy, with Heffron noting his transgender friends “are the kindest, gentlest… least dangerous people I know in my life.”

“I will be thankful if this policy should go through,” Clifford said. “It is something that should be happening in our community.”

[Portland school board adopts policy to protect transgender students]

Resident Wanda Dorlean said when her family moved to Maine two years ago, she was nervous about being a woman of color with three young children of color in a predominantly white state. However, she said, they found acceptance in Kittery.

“I looked into Kittery, and I thought this sounds like the best place for us,” she said. “This policy is one of the reasons why we moved here and why we are looking to live here for the long haul.”

Mary Stevens, a Kittery resident and lawyer, addressed the legal issues raised by Wiswell in her remarks, and noted “this issue is already settled law in the state of Maine,” referencing a 2014 Maine Supreme Court ruling. She said she felt not approving the policy would actually subject the town to more liability.

When the policy came to a vote, School Committee member Anne Gilbert said the committee’s “first and foremost responsibility is to protect our students, all of our students. Anyone who’s on this school committee is on it to protect students, not for votes or any other reasons.”

School Committee member Kim Bedard shed tears when she shared a story about an enlightening experience she had with a transgender person who helped her gain better understanding many years ago, noting she appreciated different views on the matter.

“The topic bothered me at first, it actually rocked me at my core,” Bedard said. “But I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

“This policy and this discussion is one small step in the right direction,” she said. “We need to educate the people who just don’t know.”

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