About 20 protesters just outside of Great Hearts Veritas Preparatory Academy in Phoenix were swarmed Friday afternoon by a politically diverse group of teen students.
Hannah Duncan, a 2011 Great Hearts graduate, admitted part of the draw could have been the free brownies.
But the students also engaged in a civil discourse about the school's "sex and biological gender" policy, which many believe is discriminatory towards transgender students, and that made Duncan feel great.
The protesters with Duncan carried signs and a transgender flag, offering fact sheets for the students at a table. After school ended at about 3:15 p.m., some of the several-dozen students came bounding across the school's lawn to sniff out the sidewalk diplomacy and side of brownies.
A few students approached Duncan with questions about the policy and its legality.
One inquisitive young boy excitedly approached Duncan’s booth and asked, “Do these brownies have marijuana in them?”
Some students were happy to grab hold of signs with messages condemning Great Hearts’ policy, which prohibits transgender students from using bathrooms and facilities that correspond with their gender identity, or their internal sense of being male, female, or something else. The rules dictate that students must follow the “uniform code and grooming standards” of the sex listed on their birth certificate, and don't require teachers to call students by their preferred name and pronouns.
Elena Conklin, a sophomore at Veritas, proudly stood with a sign that read, “I Support Trans Rights @ Great Hearts.”
Conklin said she had friends and family members who were transgender and said she couldn't "really imagine a world where they aren’t who they are."
She called the policy “detrimental” and said if it were up to her, she’d leave the school.
Another male student came to the table to argue that legally, the policy didn’t need to change. He and Duncan discussed the implications of Title IX and he said he’d never seen a transgender student be affected by the policy.
“I’ve been here for a long time and I have never seen or heard tell of any sort of controversy or problem,” the sophomore student later told Phoenix New Times. He did not wish to be identified by name.
“I think the policy is fine because so far, as I said, there hasn’t been any problems. Until there really is some kind of compelling argument to change it, it’s fine as it is now.”
Sonja Stone, whose son is a transgender former Great Hearts student, attended the protest and argued the policy is actually causing big problems. She said her son, Jude Stone, faced some ostracization and recalled a time when students wrote “there are 2 genders” on a bathroom designated for all genders at Scottsdale Preparatory Academy.
Some students took the demonstration more seriously than others. A few asked Duncan if they could make their own signs.
Duncan later joked that giving the kids markers was a bad idea.
One boy made a “Make America Great Again” sign and later led his group of friends in “Trump” cheers, shouting “Let’s make America great again!” alongside all the
One boy borrowed a protester’s sign that read “This is ridiculous” and added “People who undergo hormone therapy have a 45% chance of suicide" in small black lettering.
The boy, who said he’d rather not give his name to New Times because he feared it could limit his career options, said he’d gotten the statistic off of a website, though he couldn’t recall which one.
He created a second sign that read “Honk if you like porn.”
The boy said he would “heavily prefer” that Great Hearts not change their transgender policy.
“I don’t think they need the right,” he said of transgender people in general.
“I hear them say, ‘Why are you disrespecting people?’” the boy said. “Frankly, I think people should learn how to get harder skins. I do not support bullying to the point where the person kills themselves — but I think ridicule can make a person stronger at the end of the day.”
The boy did double-back on his statements, noting: “I don’t think kids have the best opinions — even me.”
All in all, Duncan said at least 20 kids signed a petition rebuking Great Hearts' transgender policy and said she was glad to see the kids engaging in conversation.
"If the parents aren’t willing to come to the table, the kids certainly are,” Duncan said. “One of the reasons we’re upset with the board of directors right now is not just because they have an anti-transgender policy, but because they refuse to host a public forum where exactly this kind of conversation can take place.”
Most of the kids cleared out after 4 p.m.
As a truck passed the lingering sidewalk protesters, the boy who made the "Make America Great Again" sign hung out of a back seat window bolstering his sign and shouting “Trump!” one last time.
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