Since 2015 I have often stated that nothing shocks me anymore. Nothing could leave me looking slack-jawed. Well, I was wrong. Very wrong.
After a cold and blustery Monday James and I sat down for dinner while watching the 6 PM news on the DVR. It was reported Madison School Board candidate Mary Jo Walters stated over the weekend that “I’m trans-a-phobic” when describing her platform for the spring election.
Walters, a former candidate for lieutenant governor in Wisconsin, is a full-time caregiver who has three students in the district, as well as some teaching experience from the early 1990s. She wants to reverse the district’s decision to implement gender-neutral bathrooms, open a discussion about school safety, and–most prominently–has been clear in her anti-transgender position. She cited anti-transgender comments from Dave Chappelle and J.K. Rowling, in a prepared statement she read before an interview.
I had to wipe my hands on a napkin before reaching for the remote to play back and again hear what I surely had registered wrong due to the frost built up in my head from the day’s biting cold.
Sadly, what was reported was all too accurate.
No student in the Madison School District who is questioning transgender issues should be needlessly used as a campaign pawn by someone who has an ax to grind. Adding insult to injury, by a candidate who ran for U.S. Senate (because Tammy Baldwin ‘needed’ a Democratic primary opponent) and has no chance come next spring for anything other inflicting harm on our youth.
Our transgender youth already has enough to handle with hormones and a wide array of expectations placed by their peers. They do not need additional discourse from the callous element in our city, so to be used as a verbal punching bag in an election.
It is that point that left me stunned at the dinner table. In all places, a candidate in Madison is going to challenge transgender youth as they pursue their path in life?
I know a bit about the harm that comes with negative connotations–in my case when it came to sexual identity. As a rural kid in school I was severely bullied for the perception of being gay. I had not yet come out but by the time my high school years were ending the national discourse on AIDS had taken on a very harsh and mean-spirited direction. The weight of words and scorn that were tossed about concerning ‘gays and AIDS’ landed on my shoulders. Like it did for other gay kids.
So I can find much empathy for the transgender youth who are coming to terms with their own truths and finding ways to navigate among family and friends. I also know the truth of what can happen when youth are not able to find the path they need, the support networks required to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
My best friend, also gay and bullied, committed suicide at age 18. As an adult, I have never stemmed my words when it lands on the issue at hand. We must do everything we can to support our youth, never allowing them to think they are too far over the margins. We must never allow them to be nothing more than a catchphrase for a candidate who can only inflict hurt for the most minimum of votes.
And we must be pro-active.
Therefore, I ask that Mary Jo Walters, for the sake of unity in our community which is required as we stand alongside our transgender youth, to pull back her decision to run for Madison School Board. Nothing is more important as we consider our students than their safety, both physically and emotionally. Her words are damaging and must cease.
There is no room in this city for rhetoric that is aimed at marginalizing and calling out a segment of youth who simply are wanting to live their life. They ask for nothing more than some basic understanding from the rest of us.
Mary Jo Walters can do a tremendous good for the entire community by stepping back from her proposed candidacy.
And so it goes.