Family plans to move from Hastings following transphobic comments
Hastings School Board member Kelsey Waits has been actively pushing for equity in Hastings schools and her community since moving to Hastings eight years ago.
Through her work on the school board, Waits helped pass a diversity and equity policy, and she has been an LGBTQ+ advocate through her work with OutFront Minnesota.
Even as an advocate for traditionally marginalized communities, Waits said her family was extremely private about their 8-year-old child’s gender identity.
In a story with CNN, Waits said her youngest child who was assigned male at birth wanted to start being called Kit after asking for a Kit Kittredge American Girl doll for their fourth birthday present.
"About a week later, when dad was in Japan, and I was standing right there in the kitchen, Kit walks up to me and goes, 'Mom, can you call me Kit?' And my stomach dropped a little bit. Because all of a sudden, maybe things were making a little more sense. Click. And I said, 'Sure. Still my little ... boy?" And Kit goes, 'No, your little girl,' Waits told CNN.
The family immediately respected Kit’s decision and now refer to their child by their preferred pronouns they/them.
Afterward the Waits family was careful who they shared Kit’s gender identity with to ensure the safety of their child.
“The only people who knew were the people in our home-school group and our play group, and it was a very small group,” Waits said. “But we always knew that there were people who knew, and we knew that those groups were not safe.”
It wasn’t until a member of a parents’ Facebook group revealed Waits’ child Kit is transgender and people continually started misgendering them, that Waits decided to share the discrimination her family was experiencing with CNN.
“We talked about it for a really long time and we said, ‘You know what? Kit is supported in this family, and Kit is loved, and we have the privilege of being able to move somewhere safer,’” she said. “And so we felt like we had a responsibility to tell this story and expose what was happening here to protect trans kids.”
When a post in the “Concerned Parents of Hastings” Facebook group, previously named “Conservative Parents of Hastings”, was made in August outing Kit’s gender identity, the Waits appealed to Facebook to take the post down.
Facebook rejected the appeal, so the family worked with moderators of the group to get the post down, but a month later Waits said the post appeared in the group again.
The discrimination happened outside of Facebook, too, and Waits said the comments showed up at her husband Chris’s work and people began misgendering her child when Waits was at school board events.
“People began misgendering Kit, and they were people who had never known Kit as anything other than my daughter,” she said.
As a member of the school board who ran for reelection this fall, Waits knew parents in the community didn’t agree with her politics, but she never imagined they would start harassing her child.
“As far as I know there were at least four instances where this group brought up my child, including after the election when I had already lost,” she said.
When the discrimination continued after Waits lost reelection, she said it became clear that the harassment would continue whether or not she was on the board and that her family would need to move to a safer community.
“Because of the actions of these parents, we cannot make the information that is now public private again,” Waits said in a statement after the CNN story came out. “We made the decision to go public with what’s happened to us in Hastings because we’re tired of others in our community misrepresenting our family and using private information about our child in their political attacks against me.”
And just as much as the discriminatory comments against her child hurt, Waits said the fact that people saw what was happening and did nothing hurt just as much.
“That silence hurt,” she said.
Protecting transgender kids
Waits said she wanted to share what was happening to her family because while her family supports Kit, not all transgender kids have the same support and they are the most at-risk kids for family rejection.
“This was about more than us, this was about the trans community, and we wanted to make sure that we were not silent,” she said.
Waits said Kit has always felt confident and comfortable in their gender identity, but when the Facebook comments started circulating and people started misgendering them, Waits said Kit started thinking something was wrong with them because they were transgender.
“They have never thought that something was wrong with them because of their gender identity and this community took that from them and these parents took that from them,” she said.
The Waits have made sure Kit was loved and supported and anyone who didn’t support Kit was cut out of their lives for their child’s safety.
By sharing Kit’s story and talking about the discrimination they faced, the Waits hope to protect trans youth through showing their support.
According to the Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 52 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth consider suicide.
“Science and research is becoming clearer and clearer that supporting these kids is how we save their lives,” Waits said
Transgender youth who reported having pronouns respected by people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived, according to the Trevor Project survey.
“If using my child’s preferred name and pronouns saves their life, you can bet I’m gonna save their life,” she said.
In the week since CNN shed national attention to the transphobic actions againsts the Waits’ child, some Hastings residents have rallied support for Kit and condemned the discrimination against transgender kids in the community.
Tessa Norgaard Anderson started a grassroots effort to show support for Kit by encouraging people to leave their porch lights on the night of Dec. 1.
Using the hashtag #IStandWithKit, Anderson encouraged people to leave their lights on to show support for the Waits family and post their pictures to Facebook.
The campaign received wide support with more than 800 people in Hastings and across the country posting pictures of their porch lights using the hashtag.
“Hundreds of houses in our community and around the country put on their porch lights for Kit. Looking through all of the photos has been the highlight of their night,” Waits said in a tweet.
Local politicians and community members have also released statements of support for the Waits family.
State Sen. Karla Bigham released a statement Thursday that said the community must do better to speak out on injustice and support transgender, non-binary and LGBTQ+ children.
“What happened to the Waits family is unacceptable, disappointing and hurtful,” Bigham said. “It has exposed a dark side of our community that we must shine a bright light on to ensure that this never happens again to any child”
In her statement, Bigham thanked Waits for her dedication toward supporting transgender kids.
Waits’s school board colleagues released a statement Friday expressing their support for LGBTQ+ students and families.
“What’s happened in our community gives us an opportunity to state, unequivocally, our support for our LGBTQ+ students and families,” the statement said. “We are committed to their safety and wellbeing, as we are for all our students.”
The board said that reports of discrimination against marginalized groups was happening in the school before the Waits’ story made national news.
“Kelsey's experience is not an isolated incident but rather a glimpse into bigger issues of discrimination and “othering” of various groups,” the statement said.
The board encouraged the community to express their support for the Waits family.
“They need to know we stand with them and do not condone the kinds of behavior they have been subjected to,” the statement said.