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Brainerd parks board approves transgender policy

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The Brainerd Parks and Recreation Board unanimously voted to adhere to the transgender policy adopted by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) when it comes to competitive youth sports.

The decision was prompted by an inquiry from parents with a male child - who identifies as a female - about signing up for the senior softball league for girls ages 14-17. Someone who is transgender identifies with and expresses a gender not matching their assigned sex at birth. Tony Sailer, parks and recreation director, said the child has yet to sign up and the deadline is Friday.

The parks board sought to get ahead of any future requests by accepting the policies crafted by MSHSL, which outlines eligibility appeal procedures for a male-to-female student. The policy requires written statements from several people, including the student, student’s parents, friends, teachers, health care professions and others, affirming “the actions, attitudes, dress and manner demonstrate the student’s consistent or sincerely held gender-related identification and expression.” That information is reviewed by an “independent hearing officer,” whose recommendation then goes before the MSHSL board of directors.

“I think that would cover the bases for now,” said Jackie Burkey, parks board president. “If the issue arose, then we could set up that panel as needed. You could go 100 years without needing it or you could go 48 hours.”

Board member Dale Parks moved to adopt the policy with the understanding a local version of the hearing officer and panel would be developed when necessary.

Council liaison Gabe Johnson asked Sailer whether he or a member of his staff would be comfortable with making an eligibility determination. Sailer said he thinks a committee should be established or the parks board as a whole should review transgender applications.

“Our issue is not what someone wants to present as, our issue is fairness for everyone else playing,” Burkey said, noting the size and strength of a male-to-female athlete could pose safety issues.

Board member Holly Holm asked whether a policy would be developed for kids younger than high school age.

Sailer said the policy would apply to all competitive youth sports. The non-competitive sports, including T-ball and pinto and colt baseball, already incorporate both boys and girls and would not need clarification, he added.

Board member Tim Boeder seconded Park’s motion, noting he’d like the board to “build that bridge when we get there.”

“This is really a whole new discussion nationwide and it’s certainly an evolving legal issue and sociology issue,” Burkey said. “I think if we tie ourselves to the state high school league, then as their policy evolves, ours would automatically evolve with them.”

Sailer said should the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association adopt a policy, Brainerd’s department could look at falling back to that one instead of MSHSL’s.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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