By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN – It turns out Nebraska may not be “one of the best states to be a transgender high school athlete,” as the state was christened by Deadspin in May.
In fact, mass confusion seems to reign in Nebraska after the executive director of the Nebraska School Activities Association told multiple national media outlets that Nebraska had a policy protecting the rights of transgender students, but began backpedaling after Nebraska Watchdog picked up on the story.
In June, Rhonda Blanford-Green told Nebraska Watchdog the NSAA board of directors passed a transgender policy in December. But after other Nebraska press began reporting the story, NSAA officials disputed Blanford-Green, saying the policy was discussed, but not approved.
Then Blanford-Green said the NSAA board would vote on the policy during Wednesday’s meeting, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the NSAA board has decided to send the policy to its districts for perusal.
NSAA board of directors chairman Alan Garey told Nebraska Watchdog the transgender policy was discussed by Blanford-Green at a board meeting in November, but the board never adopted it. That’s the sort of issue that must go through the membership in a process that will take a school year, he said. That means if the six districts don’t want to adopt the policy, it may be dropped.
“Something this important needs to be run through our membership,” Garey said.
Several people showed up at the NSAA board meeting to talk about the transgender issue, assuming it would be voted on.
“We don’t have a policy on transgender issues,” NSAA board member Brian Maher of Kearney told them. “There is no governing document on transgender issues for the NSAA today.”
Greg Logsdon, representing Nebraska Catholic schools, said Catholic schools have “serious concerns” about how a transgender policy would affect their “philosophies and moral teachings.” Blanford-Green’s proposal would recognize transgendered students’ right to participate in interscholastic activities without discrimination, and certain criteria would determine whether they could participate in sports and activities with the gender with which they identify.
“My concern is how this would affect Catholic schools in the state and how this policy would affect our participation in some of those activities,” Logsdon said. “I do feel that this is something that is serious.”
Dave Bydalek, executive director of Family First Nebraska, told Nebraska Watchdog that Christian and parochial schools could be faced with a dilemma of whether to continue participating in the NSAA or signing off on something that violates their religious tenets.
“There could be some major consequences,” Bydalek said.
Logsdon said he expects “serious and very spirited discussions” about the proposed policy in the districts.
Jessica Gall, education project director for the Anti-Defamation League in Omaha, told the NSAA board the league appreciates its consideration of transgender issues and offered to help craft a “fair, inclusive” policy. She acknowledged the issue can be polarizing, but urged the board to adopt a solid policy.
“We believe school activities are important for all students in the state of Nebraska,” she said. “And everyone deserves access to those activities. Everyone deserves to be safe and secure in our schools. ”
Joni Stacy, an Omaha attorney and regional director for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, told the NSAA board it has legal cover to protect transgender students. She urged the board to avoid knee-jerk reactions and not make a decision until it’s educated.
“Once you’re educated, that fear will disappear,” she said.
Nolan Beyer, director of activities and athletics for Millard Public Schools, sought guidance from the NSAA on how to proceed while a policy is contemplated. There are transgender students in his schools and he expects to get requests soon.
“I’m not here to suggest what those guidelines are,” he said. “We will be questioned regardless of what suggestions you give to the member schools.”
Maher said there’s no way he could support giving schools guidance before he’s educated on the issue. He advised Beyer to consult his school’s legal counsel. He told Beyer the transgender policy has never been an agenda item. At that point, Blanford-Green interjected, noting she gave a report on the issue in November, but Maher interrupted, saying firmly, “It was not an agenda item.”
After the meeting, Garey said the alleged approval of a policy was a misunderstanding. Asked if anyone was disciplined over it, he said he couldn’t comment on personnel matters.
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