OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Students and parents in the Blue Valley School District are shining the spotlight on recent tweets from a member of the Board of Education, referring to them as transphobic.
A petition is now gathering signatures calling for his censure and removal, and families are speaking out.
Leo Connelly came out as a transgender man last year.
"It has been a huge turning point for Leo in terms of Leo’s mental health and Leo’s self-esteem," Connelly's mother, Wendy Connelly said.
The coming out process for LGBTQIA+ youth is not easy for everyone.
"It’s definitely difficult coming out and knowing that people are trying to prevent that from happening, and there’s so much hatred out there, [it] makes us scared for our future," Connelly said.
That fear stems from what some Blue Valley transgender students call a hateful climate.
This includes one other student who spoke to KSHB 41 on the phone, and asked to remain anonymous to protect their safety.
"Having a school board member be outwardly transphobic is definitely a bit concerning," this student said.
That board member is Jim McMullen, who was elected five months ago, winning his race in November by just 51 votes.
The petition, which includes screen grabs from the tweet from McMullen, has more than 1,000 signatures.
In the tweet, McMullen says he'd "continue to speak out about poison that is gender ideology."
"It's hard to fathom that a member of the Board of Education could make those remarks and retain his position," Wendy Connelly said.
McMullen sent KSHB 41 an extensive statement which can be read below:
In recent days, there have been demands for me to step down as a school board member. Why? On April 1st, I posted a tweet highly critical of President Biden’s statement the prior day (which was Transgender Day of Visibility) because the President gave his support for “gender-affirming care” for youth, and I then had a follow-up exchange. I think gender ideology harms kids; it is one of the most important societal issues that we need to be willing to address even in the face of extreme criticism. These are my individual political views. I don’t speak for the board.
I also hold important non-political views. Our public schools should treat everybody equally, regardless of identity or situation. I began my career as a public school teacher. You treat everybody as you encounter them, and you do so with empathy. Additionally, all students should be able to attend school in a positive and uplifting educational environment; we as a community, however, do have different ideas on what that means and how to achieve that.
In the days following my tweets, respected lawyer and writer Abigail Shrier wrote this article that addresses in a long-form article some of what I said in a few tweets. This author also links to empirical studies highlighting the harm to kids because of this ideology. I suggest everybody read it. Long-form essays are a far superior medium to short tweets."
Board of Education president Patrick Hurley also sent KSHB 41 a statement:
"At the heart of Blue Valley’s Strategic Plan and written into board policy is Blue Valley’s commitment to provide safe and inclusive environments for all. We want every student and staff member to arrive at school knowing they are in a learning environment that cultivates social awareness and fosters an appreciation for the growing diversity of our school communities. The ideals and behaviors of individuals, regardless of position, that foster discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, have no place here. All means ALL."
Students say they want their identities to be respected.
"Queer people are human and trans people are human and we want the same things as everyone else," said the anonymous Blue Valley student.
They say they also want acceptance, the kind that Leo Connelly has at home.
"My parents accepting me is why I'm at the place I am now with being happy and feeling the best I ever have," he said.
KSHB 41 reviewed the Blue Valley Board of Education's Conduct of Board Members policy, which you can read here.
When asked how this policy pertains to McMullen's social media posts, a district spokesperson told KSHB 41 "the application of Policy 1305 to a board member’s conduct is a matter that is addressed by the Board of Education and its legal counsel."
Blue Valley's next Board of Education meeting is on May 9 at 6 p.m.