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Vermont

Mother of Trans student in Vermont says daughter was bullied 

The conflict contains all the elements of a classic culture-war story, and national right-wing outlets have glommed on to it

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Randolph Union High School (Photo Credit: Screenshot/WCAX CBS 3 Burlington, VT)

By Alison Novak | RANDOLPH, Vt. – On September 28, a mother in Randolph received a message from a friend with a link to a story on WCAX-TV’s website.

The local news station reported that the Randolph Union High School girls’ volleyball team had been banned from its locker room while school officials investigated a conflict involving an unnamed transgender athlete on the team. The friend asked the mother whether the piece was about her daughter, an openly transgender first-year student at the school. (The mother asked not to be named because of privacy and safety concerns.)

The mother viewed the video and immediately realized it was about a recent incident involving her daughter. The news report featured an interview with just one person — a girl on the team who said that a transgender teammate made an “inappropriate comment” while other girls were getting changed for practice. The girl told the WCAX reporter that “biological boys” should never be allowed in a girls’ locker room and that other teammates and parents had similar concerns.

The story cited a Vermont Agency of Education memo, titled “Continuing Best Practices for Schools Regarding Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students,” that says a student should not be made to use a locker room that conflicts with their gender identity.

The news report made the Randolph mother feel sick, she said, because it flew in the face of what her daughter told her had actually happened: that other players had harassed her. But in the days that followed, right-wing news outlets including Fox News, the New York Post, and OutKick parroted the WCAX report and turned it into viral clickbait.

Now, the transgender student is being openly bullied in school, the mother said, while the school district was forced to disable its website over the weekend after it was hacked and inundated with “hate speech, symbols and photographs targeting transgender individuals,” according to Orange Southwest Superintendent Layne Millington.

On Monday, the Randolph mother gave her account of what happened to Seven Days.

One week before the WCAX report aired, she said, her daughter was changing in the girls’ locker room before volleyball practice when three teammates started yelling at her to get out and to stop looking at them.Her daughter hadn’t encountered that kind of open negativity about being transgender since moving to Randolph in eighth grade, the mother said, so the aggressive comments came as a surprise. The girl had also previously changed in the same room as her teammates.

“She never really felt unwelcome or like she didn’t belong,” her mother said.

After being yelled at, the girl went into a locker room bathroom stall to change. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to put on her team jersey, so she popped her head around the corner at one point to check with her teammates. The girls started yelling at her again.

When the transgender student walked into the gym after getting changed, she encountered the volleyball coach, who told the girl that she had overheard what had happened and was planning to report the incident to the school administration.

Two days later, an administrator called the mother to tell her that three people reported that her daughter had been bullied and harassed. As a result, the school was launching an investigation. The administrator also told the mother that the girls’ volleyball team could not be unsupervised in the locker room until the investigation was completed.

Superintendent Millington, who said he was unable to comment about the details of the investigation because of federal law protecting student information, confirmed part of the mother’s account in an email to Seven Days. The locker room was shut down “to ensure student safety while the investigation is conducted, and the shutdown applies equally to the entire team,” Millington wrote.

Administrators initially thought they would be able to keep the locker room open by finding people to supervise students, Millington said, but adults were reluctant to do so because of “false and escalating rhetoric on social media.”

After the mother saw the WCAX report last week, she stayed up all night, crafting a long email to the station’s news director, Roger Garrity, telling him that the outlet’s reporting was “aggressive, inaccurate, one-sided, and just altogether ugly.”

In an emailed reply the mother shared with Seven Days, Garrity wrote that the story was attempting to “explore whether the laws and policies meant to protect transgenderedstudents fail to offer resolution to what some people see as an inherent conflict: having children born of different sexes undressing in the same room.” He also apologized for the distress the issue was causing the mother and her daughter.

The next day, the mother got a call from the high school. Another student had showed her daughter the WCAX video, prompting her to go straight to the principal’s office. Her mother went to to pick up her daughter, whom she described  as “devastated” and “heartbroken.”

Throughout the saga, school administrators, teachers and counselors have been extremely supportive of her daughter, the mother said. However, she’s received unwelcome messages from community members on Facebook. In one, a man who identified himself as the father of the student interviewed on WCAX, wrote: “the truth is your son watched my daughter and multiple other girls change in the locker room. While he got a free show they got violated. you think this is fine and dandy, I wonder how you would feel if I watched you undress?”

The conflict contains all the elements of a classic culture-war story, and national right-wing outlets have glommed on to it. On Saturday, Fox News ran a story saying that volleyball players were banned from using the locker room “after some members objected to a biological male changing with them,” while the New York Post wrote that the players had gotten into “a dust up with a transgender athlete.”

Both media outlets noted that the Vermont Agency of Education has a policy that allows a transgender student to use the locker room that aligns with their gender identity.The Daily Signal, a news outlet run by the conservative Heritage Foundation, also published a lengthy article on Sunday, with more allegations attributed to unnamed members of the girls’ volleyball team. (The transgender girl’s mother denied the allegations.)

And Northfield Police Chief John Helfant, a Randolph parent, published a commentary on the right-wing website Vermont Daily Chronicle on Monday, asserting that “for a male student to view, watch a female student change her bra or underwear in a women’s locker room or bathroom” is a violation of the Vermont law against voyeurism.

The conflict drew the attention of transgender former Olympian Caitlin Jenner, who tweeted “Shame on Vermont!” for allowing “biological boys with penises changing next to our daughters in locker rooms, and then have our daughters scolded by the school.” She also went on the morning TV show “Fox & Friends” to discuss the controversy. Well-known evangelist Franklin Graham, meanwhile, wrote to his 10 million followers on Facebook that “this story from Vermont just leaves you shaking your head.”

In his role as executive director of Outright Vermont, Dana Kaplan consults frequently with administrators, educators, LGBTQ+ youth and their families about issues such as this one.

“In 2022, it’s not that unfamiliar that this kind of thing is happening, especially amidst the current hostile climate,” Kaplan said. “Ultimately, kids are trying to be kids. They’re trying to go to school. They’re trying to play sports. They’re trying to go to the bathroom. They’re trying to get changed.

“They’re going about their lives, and it’s the discomfort of outer circles of people — oftentimes politically motivated — that ultimately gets in the way and turns this into something … much bigger than any young person should have to navigate in their day-to-day life.”

The situation has certainly snowballed in Randolph. On Monday, the mother was called to pick up her daughter from school midway through the day because she was being called a “pervert” and “freak” in the lunchroom and hallways, she said. The mother said that her daughter was planning to stay home on Tuesday to reset and then return on Wednesday.

She said her daughter is torn because by not going to school, she feels like she is letting down other transgender and queer students — but she also knows she needs to take care of herself.The mother is hoping that national organizations such the American Civil Liberties Union and the Trevor Project take notice of her daughter’s story. She also wants WCAX to take more responsibility for its reporting.

“I feel like they have a moral and ethical duty to acknowledge the harm that they did and rectify it by doing some kind of educational piece on what transgenderism is,” the mother said.

In a statement to Seven Days on Monday night, WCAX news director Garrity wrote that the purpose of last week’s news report “was to examine a dispute over locker room usage and what state education policy has to say about it.” He said he believed the story accomplished that.  

“We are aware that this is an extremely sensitive topic that can evoke strong emotions,” Garrity continued. “As journalists, we can’t shy away from those conversations, but hope that our reporting will inform viewers and lead to better understanding.”

The transgender student has also written to Garrity to let him know how she feels.

“I am here to inform you that what was written about me is not truthful, I had never made inappropriate comments in the girls locker room nor outside of it. That is a lie,” she wrote in an email shared with Seven Days. “News is meant to inform but all you have done is enable lies that not only hurt me, but hurt the transgender youth that are within Randolph and Vermont.”

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Alison is the former managing editor at Kids VT, Seven Days’ parenting publication and writes about education for Seven Days.

You can email Alison at: [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Seven Days, an independent weekly newspaper covering Vermont news and is republished by permission. 

Seven Days is an independent weekly newspaper covering Vermont news, politics, food, arts and culture. New issues are published each Wednesday and distributed free at 1,000 locations in Northern and Central Vermont and Plattsburgh, N.Y. 

The Seven Days website, sevendaysvt.com, includes breaking news reports, videos, up-to-date event listings and job postings.

Sign up for Seven Days’ email newsletters or follow on Facebook or Twitter.

Vermont

Out Vermont state senator wins Democratic primary in U.S. House race

Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress

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Screenshot via Becca Balint for Congress

MONTPELIER – The Green Mountain State’s state Senate president pro tempore has won the Democratic nomination for the state’s at-large congressional seat, the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Becca Balin is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress if elected in November. Vermont is the only state that has never had a female member of its congressional delegation.

The VTDigger, a statewide news website, reported; “Balint, 53, is the first openly gay woman elected to the Vermont Senate and the first woman to serve as its president. The former middle school teacher and stay-at-home mother won her first political contest in a race for her southeastern Vermont Senate seat in 2014

She rose quickly through the ranks of the Democrat-controlled chamber, becoming majority leader in 2017, at the start of her second term. Four years later, in 2021, she was elected pro tem — the top position in the Senate.”

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Vermont

Police charge man threatening to shoot Trans people ‘getting near his kid’

“If they’re going to have a transgender drag queens- anybody comes near my daughter with a f**king dick & fucking panty hose, I’ll kill ‘em”

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Entrance to town of Canaan, VT (Photo Credit: Township of Canaan)

ESSEX COUNTY, Vt. – A Canaan man was arrested by New Hampshire State Troopers after he allegedly uttered a threat against the school his daughters attends if administrators were to allow a transgender person or drag queen at school.

The threats were uttered this past Monday by resident of Canaan, Shane Gobeil, while at Solomon’s Store in neighboring Stewartstown, New Hampshire in the presence of two Canaan Schools students, ages 16 and 17, and which he later repeated it to responding Vermont State Police officers, according to court charging documents.

Media outlet VT Digger reported that the students were alarmed by the threatening conversation and told Canaan Schools principal Principal Ryan Charles Patterson who in turn notified authorities.

The Canaan Schools, which include two separate buildings — an elementary school and a high school that share a campus —  serve about 180 students. Both schools were closed Tuesday and Wednesday in response to the alleged threat.

The VT Digger

The Solomon’s manager had also forwarded the store’s security footage of the interaction to Vermont Troopers investigating Gobeil’s comments.

“The school’s changing,” Gobeil said to the two students, according to a Vermont State Police affidavit. “Before you know it, there’s going to be a drag queen show and, you know what, I’m probably going to show up and kill somebody. A lot of bodies.” He then added; “You understand?” he said. “If you guys ever do that to Canaan and my daughter’s in that school, be ready for God’s wrath.”

The VT Digger also reported that according to to the court documents, both students subsequently stated that they were alarmed by Gobeil’s statement. One of the students said that they were afraid to go to school the next day.

Shane Gobeil booking photo, New Hampshire State Police.

When Vermont State Police made contact with Gobeil, he allegedly reiterated, “if they’re going to ever have a transgender and drag queens … and bring it right here in my daughter’s face, I am going to have a big problem with that. … If anybody comes near my daughter with a fucking dick and fucking panty hose, I’ll kill ‘em.”

Vermont State Police troopers said in their report that they advised Gobeil “multiple times” that his statements were concerning to the students, teachers and parents of children who attend the school.

“Gobeil advised that he did not care, and he would say whatever he wants as it was his own right to do so,” the affidavit states.

Following the threat, Canaan Schools shut down their high school and elementary school Tuesday and Wednesday, which would have been the final two days of the school year.

Because the threat had been initially made in New Hampshire, Gobeil was arrested and charged in that jurisdiction with the Vermont State Police interview as a portion of the court evidence and record.

The VT Digger reported that according to the New Hampshire State Police arrest warrant, the school had previously served Gobeil two separate Notice Against Trespass forms.

In December 2021, Gobeil allegedly showed up at the school and yelled at the administrative assistant for wearing a mask as part of the coronavirus pandemic safety protocols.

Following that incident and a warning, Gobeil allegedly confronted a mother and two students for wearing masks on two separate occasions. He was subsequently served a Notice Against Trespass form.

On June 7, 2022, he was served another Notice Against Trespass form by the Essex County Sheriff’s Department. According to court documents, Superintendent Conroy said the order stemmed from Gobeil upsetting students, parents and staff over wearing face masks.

Court records show that Gobeil will appear before a judge in the 1st Circuit District Court in Colebrook, New Hampshire on August 11. He has been charged with charged with harassment, a misdemeanor that carries a possible jail sentence of less than one year and a fine of $2,000 or less. 

He was released on bond and as a part of the conditions of his release he is barred from contacting or being present near Principal Patterson the two students from Solomon’s Store. He is also prohibited from possessing firearms or other dangerous weapons.

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Vermont

Beloved Trans woman murdered, Vermont’s Governor reacts

“To Vermonters in the LGBTQA+ community, I want you to know we stand with you and support you but know we have more work to do”

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Lia Mari, Vermont-based writer & artist (L) and Fern Feather (R) (Mari/Facebook)

MONTPELIER – The stabbing death of a 29-year-old beloved member of Vermont’s LGBTQ+ community this week drew outrage and grief from across the state including from Republican Governor Phil Scott, who condemned the “disturbing hostility towards the transgender community” across the nation.

“Exploiting fear and targeting divisive rhetoric at people who are just trying to be who they are is hateful and can lead to violence,” Scott said in a statement released on Twitter Wednesday evening. “To Vermonters in the LGBTQA+ community, I want you to know we stand with you and support you but know we have more work to do.”

Vermont State Police homicide detectives have charged Seth Brunell, 43, in the murder of Fern Feather, a trans woman from Hinesburg, the VTDigger reported.

Seth Brunell attends his arraignment by video from Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury. His attorney entered a plea of not guilty in the April 12 stabbing of Fern Feather, a transgender woman from Hinesburg. (Screenshot via VTDigger)

Brunell told police that he had been defending himself after Feather “made a sexual advance and attacked him,” according to a Vermont State Police press release.

“Investigators observed no injuries or evidence of a struggle or an assault on Brunell,” Vermont State Police investigators said.

Governor Scott signed legislation last year that bans use of the ‘gay panic defense” by criminal defendants. H.128, prevents a defendant at trial or sentencing from justifying violent actions by citing a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. 

That law specifically pertains to “circumstances in which the victim made a nonforcible, noncriminal romantic or sexual advance toward the defendant.”

House Speaker Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, told the VTDigger that Feather was “tragically taken from this world too soon, like so many other transgender people who are targeted in bias driven attacks.”

“We absolutely need to continue to take steps to make Vermont a more equitable place and be clear that hate has no place in our state,” Krowinski said in a statement to the media outlet on Wednesday afternoon.

At a debate hosted by VTDigger Wednesday evening, two candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives — state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, and state Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham — condemned the killing.

“We have lost a trans woman in Vermont, and I am holding our trans community in my heart,” Ram Hinsdale said.

“As we look across the nation, LGBTQ kids and adults are under siege and it touches me personally,” said Balint, who is gay.

The Pride Center of Vermont announced that it will hold a vigil for Feather this Saturday afternoon. Tributes also poured in across social media this past week as Feather’s friends remembered her.

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Vermont

Out Vermont state senator announces run for U.S. House seat

Balint is the first openly gay woman elected to the Vermont Senate and the first woman to serve as its president

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Screenshot via Becca Balint for Congress

MONTPELIER – The Green Mountain State’s state Senate president pro tempore announced Monday morning that she is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Peter Welch for the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Becca Balin, (D) will be running in the Democratic party primary campaign race against the state’s Lt. Governor Molly Gray, (D) to replace Welch who is also a Democrat who is vacating his House seat to run for the U.S. Senate. Welch is running to replace retiring U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.) No Republicans have entered the race.

The VTDigger, a statewide news website, reported; “Balint, 53, is the first openly gay woman elected to the Vermont Senate and the first woman to serve as its president. The former middle school teacher and stay-at-home mother won her first political contest in a race for her southeastern Vermont Senate seat in 2014

She rose quickly through the ranks of the Democrat-controlled chamber, becoming majority leader in 2017, at the start of her second term. Four years later, in 2021, she was elected pro tem — the top position in the Senate.”

Vermont has never elected a woman to federal office the VTDigger noted.

Campaign Video: Change Is Possible: Becca Balint for U.S. Congress

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Vermont

Vermont high school homecoming halftime show turns into a ‘drag show’

“The crowd was decked out in LGBTQ+ affirming clothing- the stands were completely packed. It was just so heartwarming to see”

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Burlington High School, Burlington Vermont homecoming game October 2021 (Screenshot via YouTube)

BURLINGTON, Vt. – A quintessential annual Fall time-honored tradition held across America’s on high school football fields are homecoming games. This year a mix of students and faculty members Burlington High School, along with some participants from South Burlington High School, added a touch of ‘drag’ to the halftime show.

“Things went amazing,” Ezra Totten, student leader of the Gender Sexuality Alliance at Burlington High School, told the Associated Press, speaking about Friday night’s event. “The stands were completely packed. It was just so heartwarming to see.”

The school’s principal, its Athletic Director, and other staff were fully supportive with Andrew LeValley, an English teacher and GSA adviser, the faculty member who created the idea along with a boost from Burlington High Athletic Director Quaron Pinckney suggested that the show be held at the homecoming game’s halftime.

Pinckney, who is Black, told the AP that the school gave him the space to “uplift my voice” and that he was able to reciprocate and “uplift the voices of another marginalized group and share a space in the athletics realm that doesn’t normally get shared.”

The crowd was decked out in LGBTQ+ affirming clothing, costumes and waving Pride flags raucously cheering as the ‘drag ball’s’ performers paraded and danced to show support for LGBTQ+ students and the larger LGBTQ+ community. They commenced the halftime show with a runway-style event while they lip-synced to singer Todrick Hall’s “Rainbow Reign.”

Burlington High School’s halftime drag show

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