Parents critique Boys & Girls Club
Thu, 06/16/2022 - 3:08pm admin
Club says they are “LGBTQ+ affirming organization”
Amanda Mendez, Publisher
Interactions between a non-binary employee of Boys & Girls Club of the Greater West Plains Area and a group of 8- and 9-year-old children have prompted outcry from parents and community leaders.
In a letter to parents dated June 7, Executive Director Hannah Salvesen said, “One of our employees, who is non-binary, introduce[ed] themselves as they/them to a youth group.”
“Being non-binary means that they don’t identify as exclusively male or female. Some non-binary people may feel like they’re a blend of both genders, while others may feel like they don’t identify with either gender,” says a guide published by Boston Children’s Hospital.
Three mothers who reached out to Howell County News said the interaction went beyond an introduction using gender-neutral pronouns. Their concerns are two-fold: One, children were introduced to concepts of gender identity without parents’ prior knowledge or consent and two, the response of the club’s leadership about their concerns did not meet their expectations.
As Told by the Parents
“My son came home last Wednesday, [June 2] and stated that his teacher said they have to call her ‘Captain [X]*’ because she’s not a boy or a girl,” said Desirea Hubbard, a mother who had three children enrolled in the club’s summer program. Hubbard has elected not to send her children back to the program since the first day.
Another mother, Christal Legler, said the prohibition on gender-specific pronouns was a classroom-wide rule.
“They have a new teacher. Her name is Captain [X]. She said [the children] are pirates this year… not boys and girls, just kids,” Legler told Howell County News in an interview. Legler did send her 9-year-old daughter back to the program a second day with instructions that she was not to be placed in the non-binary employee’s room.
“They assured us she would not be in that class anymore,” Legler told the News. “When I dropped my daughter off, I even asked whose class she was going to go into. I wanna make sure she’s not going to be in Captain [X]’s class.”
Her child was in activities with the non-binary employee that day, Legler said. She alleges that when other employees were not around, the non-binary employee approached her daughter directly and asked if she knew what non-binary meant.
“[My daughter] said yes because I had talked to her about it, but [X] gave her the definition anyway. And then asked her again. She asked her twice,” Legler said. Legler’s children have not returned to the club since the second day of the program.
The Club’s Response
In the letter to parents, Salvesen said, “It’s important you know that at the club, any discussion of LGBTQ+ information is limited. We know each home may have a different approach and we do not intend to encroach on a parent’s ability to discuss and explain these matters in a way that is cohesive with your family’s values system.”
Parents described consequences and correction when their children failed to use preferred pronouns.
Crystal Tackitt, a mother who had two children enrolled in the summer program, said, “This teacher had gotten in his face and sternly said ‘don’t call me that.’”
“My son is a very tough kid,” Tackitt went on. “But he almost retreated into a shell, and said ‘They got in my face, and I felt weird around them’…It bothered me as a parent.”
Boys & Girls Club did not respond to any one of the seven direct questions from Howell County News about these parents’ allegations and the details of any discussion about gender identity. Instead, Salvesen responded with this statement:
“Boys & Girls Club of the Greater West Plains Area’s mission, like all local Boys & Girls Clubs, is to enable all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible individuals. Inclusion and equality are core to our broader mission to ensure every young person has access to quality out-of-school time opportunities where they are physically and emotionally safe, healthy, and develop the leadership skills they need on their path to a Great Future. When young people see others included, they are more likely to feel included too…”
Parents React to the Club’s Response
“I don’t think the CEO handled it well. I don’t think she was proactive. I don’t think she was understanding to anyone who was concerned,” said Hubbard, who reports she has been sending kids to the club since 2013. “They should have told parents who the teachers were beforehand. They should have trained employees better. The word non-binary should never have come up; 8 and 9-year-olds do not need a sophisticated explanation.”
Hubbard went on to say she requested a refund of the nearly $900 she paid to enroll her three children in the summer program but was denied.
“We’re stuck as parents,” Hubbard said. “I have to get a babysitter for the rest of the summer.” She expressed concern about other parents who may be uncomfortable sending their children back but have no other alternative.
“I have tried to be in contact with [the CEO],” Tackitt said, “to be respectful…but each time, my questions did not get answered directly or I got no response.”
Legler described the response from the club as dismissive. “It was like, ‘We are right and you as parents are wrong and need to change how you parent’,” she said.
“Boys and Girls Clubs of the Greater West Plains Area will not be teaching a curriculum about gender identity, as we feel that is the parents’ responsibility,” reads the letter from Salvesen to parents from June 7. The letter goes on to suggest resources for at-home discussions between parents and children.
All three mothers were insistent that their issue was not with LGBTQ+ employees per se, but rather with their children’s exposure to these topics without their knowledge or permission. All three mothers described harassment they have received for speaking out.
Hubbard described “backlash from so-called friends.” Legler said her social media posts have been shared with a message to avoid her business. Tackitt’s small business has been attacked online.
“People have taken photos of my children and posted them online,” Tackitt said. “I’ve been called horrible names. I don’t want to be mean or hateful, but I also have strong beliefs and have to protect my children.”
Tackitt plans to address the club’s board of directors at their next meeting.
Community Leaders Weigh in
Parents have also reached out to local legislators with their concerns.
“In this country, family values and beliefs are protected,” commented State Representative David Evans in a statement. “I have talked to parents…that are concerned that at least one instructor is advocating in the classroom alternate gender identities to young children. It is also alleged that an instructor has in a loud voice compelled kids to use gender neutral pronouns even when talking to other kids and that parents are encouraged to change their beliefs and to instruct their children to use nonbinary pronouns.”
“I think we need to let young children be just that,” said State Representative Travis Smith of the neighboring 155th district. "Teach them basic learning skills and problem-solving abilities. My personal belief is that kids don't need to be talking about adult issues as they don't have the cognitive abilities to do so.”
“The parents that I talked with were uniformly very respectful of other people’s beliefs. However, they felt both confused and saddened in that their own beliefs were being ignored,” Rep. Evans reported in his statement.
In their letter to parents, the Club also emphasized the importance of respect.
“Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater West Plains Area as well as Boys and Girls Clubs of America are an LGBTQ+ affirming organization, and we strive to be kind and respectful to all. Research has repeatedly shown that if we accept people as they are and show kindness and respect regardless of identifying pronouns, gender, or sexual orientation, they are less likely to suffer from mental health disorders in life. We model that approach with our employees,” reads the letter.
“There is a big push for everyone to accept everything as normal,” expanded Rep. Smith’s statement. “In America, we have the right to be who you want to be and the liberty to pursue your dreams whatever they may be. However, there will always be others who have totally different views than your own…I support Boys and Girls Club. They help thousands of young people in Missouri. Let's get back to basics in teaching our children. They will be adults soon enough.”
“No one wants to lose trust in the West Plains Boys and Girls Club,” said Rep. Evans’ statement. “It remains the “boys” and “girls” club in West Plains. It has been a great organization for many children, but these issues also cannot be ignored. To be fair and complete, I still need to talk to more people including having further conversations with parents and the Boys and Girls Club. I would also very much appreciate hearing from others in the community on these issues. The care and well-being of children must always remain our top priority.”
Representative Evans invites members of the community to contact him with thoughts on this topic by phone at 573-751-1455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Publisher’s note: In the absence of any verification from the Boys & Girls Club about the identity or name of the employee in question, Howell County News has elected not to publish a name.