Trans Panic in Clarkston as Parents Lose Their Minds Over Existence of Transgender Substitute Teacher

While the recent expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act may go a long way toward combating discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in Michigan, the fact remains that genuine respect and civility cannot be legislated. Such is the case in the tiny Detroit suburb of Clarkston, where certain parents have lost their minds over a transgender substitute teacher at Sashabaw Middle School.

A middle school parent who wishes to remain anonymous said she learned of the situation from the private Facebook group Clarkston Parents United, which purports to be  “a meeting place for concerned parents and community members to discuss issues relevant to our most precious resource; [sic] our children.” Said group consists of 650 members. "Jay" asked that her real name not be used because she has a child at the school.

“It’s really eye-opening to be in this group,” Jay told Pride Source. It was started by some school board candidates before the 2020 election but devolved from there. “It’s basically just an alt-right hate group in disguise,” she added. In a few threads that originated about a week ago regarding the teacher in question, parents were outraged at the school’s refusal to disclose whether their child would have a particular substitute teacher on a given day. Also discussed were the consequences for a student who walks out of class: They will be marked absent.

One of the posts that received numerous comments refers to the substitute as “the trans.” Throughout the comments, she is consistently misgendered. There is even a cooked-up story that she shared her journey of transitioning with the students; however, they also say there are no firsthand accounts. Jay believes it’s nothing more than a scurrilous rumor — not that there is anything inherently wrong with a teacher sharing personal details in an age-appropriate manner.

While there were a few group members who pushed back, most were entirely focused on the manufactured outrage over the existence of a transgender educator.

“I don’t feel safe in Clarkston schools after reading this,” one group member wrote. “To me, this person is mentally unstable. This is ridiculous to keep catering to this illness.” Another calls her a predator. One parent’s reaction to their daughter having the teacher was to declare an emergency: “I told her to call me immediately if this MAN is her sub again.”

Many comments focus on the teacher’s clothing.

“It’s uncomfortable for our kids to be taught about normal school subjects while the teacher is not dressing in a normal way,” one group member commented.

Perhaps most alarming is the following comment, which suggests violence: “What is tolerated today will master you tomorrow. War has been declared on our kids and on morality and Christianity. Time to act like soldiers.”

Parents are urged to “pull your kids” from public school. Some say they have instructed their children to walk out of class to the office if they have that teacher in the future. Throughout the comments, private school, homeschooling and virtual learning are encouraged.

Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott believes this “controversy” is just the latest iteration of the nation’s culture wars and part of the far-right’s attempts to defund public education.

“Sadly, right now, there are individuals that are working to impose a dangerous agenda that includes politicizing classrooms and using students as pawns in culture wars,” Knott said. “Michigan schools, the administration, school boards: They're not our enemy.” The foe they all share are extremists challenging them who are “well-funded and have utilized bigoted, homo- and transphobic, racist, fear-mongering tactics in an effort to topple our education system.”

For their part, the administration of Clarkston Community Schools appears to acknowledge the issue at hand. Their public relation director’s response to a Pride Source email inquiry reads in part:

“Unfortunately, board policy prohibits us from talking about the details of staff matters. However, I can confirm that Clarkston Community Schools embraces all individuals, and we make every effort to ensure members of the LGBTQ+ community are safe and supported.” They also included segments from their school board policy regarding public complaints and concerns: “… the Board of Education has a duty to protect its staff from unnecessary harassment.”

Jay said the teacher’s name and other personal details have been shared by community members on social media.

What’s left out of the narrative thus far is the students’ perspective. Notably, Jay said her child attends school with several transgender classmates and has been taught by the substitute teacher.

Jay asked her kid what happened in the class. “Well, nothing happened,” Jay said her child told her. “I had [a] class. This lady was our teacher." The student witnessed no inappropriate behavior. One of their friends asked what they should call the teacher. Jay said her child told their friend, “Well, you should refer to the teacher by she or her if that's what she wants to be called. And if you're not sure, you could always ask the teacher respectfully and say, ‘Excuse me, what are you most comfortable with?’”

Hearing that was a proud moment as a parent for Jay, who provides a positive, affirming example to her child. By contrast, the hateful commenters are teaching their children to be transphobic.

Jay is tired of painting a rosy picture of her community. She said she’s aware of an uptick in “casual, everyday racism” to the point that the school district is unable to control it.

“Sometimes it feels like the 1940s up in here,” she said, adding, “If you’re prejudiced in one area, you’re very likely to be prejudiced in others.”

“It's not just one or two people,” Jay said. “There's a lot of people, and they're just now finally comfortable being their bigoted self in public.”

As if on cue, one group member left the following remark: “Don’t be surprised if this gets spun into how transphobic Clarkston is.”