Hundreds of residents in Hastings, Minnesota, took to the streets over the weekend to rally in support of LGBTQ youth after an official’s transgender child was publicly outed.
The demonstrations in support of the child come after Concerned Parents of Hastings, a Facebook group for conservative parents, publicly outed Kit, 8, in the wake of a bitter school board election, KARE-TV, an NBC affiliate based in Minnesota, reported.
The child’s mother, Kelsey Waits, was running for re-election to the town school board in November when opponents of her campaign outed her child, who is nonbinary and uses gender-neutral pronouns. In light of the rally, Waits said she is proud that the community is denouncing the harassment.
“Seeing so many people rally behind a child is particularly meaningful. … It meant a lot to [Kit],” Waits told NBC News on Monday. “It was amazing. I would not have expected almost a thousand people to come out for my kid.”
The rally highlighted dozens of LGBTQ speakers, groups and elected officials who rallied in support of transgender children. This comes as transgender youth face a wave of anti-trans bills limiting their participation in school sports and use of bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity.
In a tweet on Saturday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz voiced his support for the Waits family.
“Everyone deserves to live in a state that values them for who they are — especially our kids,” Walz, a Democrat, wrote.
One of the participants at the rally, Ren Olive, a 30-year-old transgender person, said they want Kit to continue being themself even in the face of transphobic bullying.
“My message to Kit is to don’t give up,” Olive told KARE-TV. “We’re here, we’re loud, we’re queer and we have your back.”
Before her child’s gender identity was publicly disclosed, Waits said her family “spent years trying to be incredibly private.” Following the incident, Kit has been misgendered by classmates and is experiencing more anxiety and fear, Waits said in a statement.
Waits said this is the latest in a string of harassment facing the family. She hopes the demonstrations can hold the harassers accountable and prevent future incidents.
“If we moved away and didn’t say anything, the bullies would have won,” Waits said. “What does that teach? That teaches that they can do all of these things and that there are no repercussions and that no one is going to push back against them, and that just makes them bully harder for the next person.”
One of the administrators of the Concerned Parents of Hastings Facebook group issued a statement on Tuesday denying that they harassed the family.
“Many members were confused about why they were mentioned in relation to the harassment that the Waits family had received in this town,” the administrator wrote in a Facebook post, according to a photo Waits shared with NBC News. “Many of them said they had no idea Kelsey has a transgender child, let alone bullied her or her child.”
The administrator added that the controversy stems from Wait’s position on the school board.
“The only reason Kelsey’s parental decision was a concern to the members was because she was not just an average mom, but someone who was running for a position where she would be in charge of making decisions for other parents’ children,” the administrator wrote in the same post. “Most parents in the group believe that a child needs to be mature enough to make life-altering decisions.”
Following the demonstrations, Waits said residents are reckoning with the community’s lack of action on this issue.
“It’s woken a lot of people up to their silence,” she said. “A lot of leaders in the community were aware of what was happening and did not say anything because they didn’t want it to impact them. Now they are seeing the damage that silence can cause.”
While it’s unclear whether Waits will seek legal action, she is weighing her options with the support of the Minnesota-based advocacy group Gender Justice. As a result of the alleged harassment, Waits said her family is fleeing the city.
“We need to keep this work moving forward in this community for everyone who does not have the option to leave,” Waits said. “This was the final event for us, but really this neighborhood, this house, there is a lot of trauma here. A lot of negativity has been brought into our home, and we need a fresh start for our own mental health.”