Tensions run high at second reading of the transgender policy


Myles Ma

Greg Quinlan speaks at second reading of transgender policy. Photo from NJ.com


The Pascack Valley Regional High School District’s Policy 5756 was passed on Monday, April 11. The second and last reading of the transgender policy took place at 7:30 p.m. in the Pascack Valley auditorium. This later time slot allowed for more opinions to be voiced and heard than the 4 p.m. meeting last week.

Joseph Blundo, the only Board of Education member who voted against the policy, explained his concern for students and members of the community who were “unaccounted for” and unrepresented in the BOE meetings. Blundo stressed that this point of view is not fueled by religion or politics, and that he agrees with and respects the rights of transgendered people; however, he disagrees with the part of the policy that addresses the use of bathrooms and locker rooms.

Maura Ellis, who voted for the policy, expressed some reservations, saying the administration should “put on writing something for the parents and the straight kids who are upset about this,” in order to help put at ease those who are uncomfortable with it.

“When it comes to this particular kind of policy, you can never be 100 percent. You can never make 100 percent of the people happy,” said Tammy Molinelli, a Board member from Woodcliff Lake in support of the policy.

The meeting was met with a large crowd of community members, as well as members of the press. The Board requested that those who had spoken at previous meetings should wait until those who had not gotten the chance to express their opinions. At this reading, there were more opinions in opposition of the policy. Those in opposition often cited religion (in particular, Christianity) as justification, quoting passages from Genesis, Psalms, Romans, and various books.  Others felt that there were students in the district who would be uncomfortable with the idea that peers with different genitalia could be changing in the same locker rooms and using the same bathrooms.

The most outspoken opponents of the policy were Greg Quinlan and Carolee Adams, who personally attacked Board of Education Jeffrey Steinfeld with raised voices at the podium. Quinlan, a member of the the Liberty Counsel and Garden State Families, sought to express his distaste for the policy by stating that “it’s a fraud” that transgenderism is a mental illness, and that there is no scientific evidence to prove that it’s not.

Instead of attacking the policy itself, Quinlan, a self-proclaimed “ex-gay” man, chose to attack Steinfeld, who wrote in a letter to the editor in The Record that, “The Liberty Counsel is a radical and extreme, far-right entity that masks its bigotry in the cloak of ‘religious freedom.’ The Southern Poverty Law Center has accurately characterized the Liberty Counsel as a virulent anti-LGBT hate group.” This was written as a response to previous editorials in The Record “Transgender safety” and “LGBT school policy.”

Quinlan also expressed his frustration by attacking Steinfeld’s law practice. As this attack had no direct relevance to the policy, Steinfeld ordered Quinlan to be escorted from the auditorium.

Adams, a member of the Eagle Forum, a conservative interest group, voiced her concern for the lack of parental rights included in the policy, but did not stay on topic while at the podium. Instead, Adams spoke about her personal life connection with Liberty University in an attempt to defend the Liberty Counsel, which is affiliated with the university. After going over the five-minute time limit for speaking, Steinfeld asked her to sit down.

As there were strong opinions from the opposition, there were also adamant opinions from those in support of the policy. Adam Shapiro, a parent from River Vale, stated that he has “never been as proud as I was when I read this proposed policy.” In response to the religious rhetoric used by those opposed to the policy, Shapiro expressed that “those same passages were used in the ‘50s and ‘60s to discriminate against blacks,” and finished his speech with a rousing statement of “Jesus was the ultimate liberal.”

Dr. Dwight Panozzo, a parent from Woodcliff Lake, also presented his disapproval of the opposition’s reasoning. Panozzo explained that the opinions shared by those opposed to the policy were guilty of demonstrating fear mongering, paranoia, transphobia and of being misinformed.

A transgender boy from Pascack Valley High School voiced that cisgendered students have the choice to use the gender-neutral bathrooms provided, or their respective gender-specific bathrooms. He argued that transgendered students also deserve the same opportunity to choose which facilities to use.

Hills teacher Mr. Doug Goodman’s father was also present and spoke at the meeting. A 1971 graduate of Pascack Valley High School, Stephen Goodman spoke emotionally about a dear friend of his that happens to be a transgender woman. It was at a high school reunion that this student presented herself to her former peers as a woman. Goodman stated that his friend seemed masculine in high school, but when he sat down with her to talk about their lives, he learned that this was all an act because her parents were not supportive. Just because this friend had transitioned from male to female didn’t mean that she had become a different person. In fact it was quite the contrary. Goodman says she was “still my same friend.”

Goodman also expressed his support of the policy arguing that the school district must “nurture and educate the children who are transgender.” As for those who are not comfortable or supportive, he emphasized that this policy gives the district the opportunity to educate and the “opportunity to correct their misunderstandings.”

One of the moments of loudest applause was for a Pascack Valley student who moved to the United States from Bulgaria three years ago. As a member of the minority, she expressed that feeling alone and left out is a horrible feeling, but that she was welcomed by members of the Pascack Valley community. She concluded her speech by facing the audience and stating “if you can make someone happy, that’s the most important thing.”

Hannah Simpson, a member of the transgender community who spoke at the previous meeting, provided an analogy she used to help New Jersey Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi better understand how transgendered people feel. Simpson explained that while there are two major political parties, the republicans and the democrats, the independents are also a valid part of the political system, even if they aren’t a part of the majority.

Members of the Pascack Hills student body also expressed their opinions at the podium. Andrea Kent, a senior, recognized that “all students may not be comfortable with this [policy],” and addressed the concern of “why are we changing the way we go about our lives just to accommodate these transgender students?” She answered it simply with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

Senior Megan Klepper also spoke about her support of the policy stating, “ Our school has developed such a great environment for everyone to be themselves and express themselves the way they want to.”

Justin Haber, also a senior at Pascack Hills, built upon Klepper’s statement by saying, “Coming from an ordinary student who doesn’t really know that much about the policy, I think that it’ll create a more positive environment, a more comfortable environment for students in our school, and overall, it’ll be a really positive thing.”

There was one redeeming comedic moment from Pascack Valley senior Sean Keohane, who came into the auditorium following his track meet, and proceeded to explain to the audience the process of removing clothes in the locker room. Many members of the opposition expressed their concern that genitalia would be exposed unsolicited in the locker rooms, but Keohane assured them that this was not the case. He went on to explain that there is little to no nudity in the locker rooms, and that more is revealed to him during track meets with short and tight uniforms than in Pascack Valley’s locker rooms.

Throughout the meeting were heckles from the crowd. After a speaker stated “We all respect transgender students,” there were audible whispers of “No, we don’t.” In addition to these whispers, John Russo Jr., a resident of River Vale, and an opponent to the policy, was asked by Steinfeld to refrain from commenting while others were voicing their opinions.

For a report on last week’s meeting, click here.

For a report on the possible lawsuit against the PVRHSD, click here.