A crowd of hundreds gathered in Hastings Saturday as the city remained in the spotlight over the treatment of the family of outgoing Hastings schools board chair Kelsey Waits, whose transgender child was outed by a group of parents during a fractious election season.
Waits and husband Chris spoke to CNN about the multiple instances of harassment and bullying directed at their 8-year-old child Kit they experienced, after they were targeted by a group calling themselves Concerned Parents of Hastings (originally called "Conservative Parents of Hastings") over Waits' support for a COVID-related mask requirement in schools.
Things escalated when the group publicly outed Kit as transgender, suggesting Kelsey and Chris should be "locked up for child abuse" and referring to Kit, who uses the pronouns they/them, as "actually a boy."
The CNN story prompted an outpouring of support for the Waits family, with Hastings community members and elected officials, including from the LGBTQ+ community, in partnership with organizations outside Hastings working together on how they could bring a positive response for Kit and the Waits family, leading to Saturday's rally.
Valerie Stoehr, leader of Afton Indivisible, a grassroots organization striving for progressive change, was one of the first people to organize what would be the community rally for trans kids.
"When the story broke it was personal for me. I'm lesbian, I've been a target of hate speech and I know how good it feels when allies show up," Stoeher said.
"So I made some phone calls, and people in the community, statewide organizations, and leaders in the trans community showed up. Many of us didn’t know each other and in five days, we planned this incredible event. It's a powerful story about pushing back against bigotry and hatred.”
A few days earlier, people not only in Hastings, but in West St. Paul, Hampton, Minnesota, and even in Florida, Georgia, California and Kentucky left their porch lights on to stand in solidarity with the Waits family. The hashtag #IstandwithKit also began early in the week to support Kit Waits.
The Concerned Parents of Hastings Facebook group has since been deleted o the website by the group's administrators.
When it came time for Kelsey and Chris Waits to speak at the rally, they wanted to give a special shout out to one member of their family whose name hasn’t come up as often as their own in the last week: their older daughter Abby.
Kelsey Waits said: “There’s been a mention of me, a mention of Chris and a mention of Kit, and I just want to do a special shout out to the best big sister and best ally that Kit could have ever asked for. And that’s Abby.”
Chris Waits added: “We love you Abby.”
Leigh Finke, multimedia storyteller for ACLU Minnesota and a trans woman herself, said that the rally was one of the largest in support for trans children the state of Minnesota has ever seen.
Finke spoke on the positive outreach and support she has seen from multiple communities toward the Waits family and specifically Kit.
"I'm from St. Paul and the response everywhere that I'm looking has been extremely gracious and loud," Finke said. "A lot of people have shown interest. A lot of people have stepped up to support Kelsey. And know whoever the people were, who are on the other side of this. They have shrunk.”
Among those in attendance Saturday was State Senator Erin Murphy (DFL–St. Paul), who spoke to the crowd, as well as Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL–Fridley), Reps. Michael Howard (DFL–Bloomington), Cheryl Youakim (DFL–St. Louis Park), and Kaela Berg (DFL–Burnsville). Shortly after the conclusion of the rally, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz sent out a tweet sharing his support of Kelsey Waits and her family.
Two of Kelsey Waits' fellow school board members attended and spoke at the rally on Saturday. Lisa Hedin and Brian Davis have worked with Waits on the board since they were elected in 2019. Davis and Hedin spoke on what the board plans to do not only during this Wednesday’s meeting, but what they can do for the students who experience bullying from adults in the community moving forward.
"It's about a mission and both oars in the water, all hopefully being on the same song sheet, and that's very important to note," Davis said. "Not only is the school board election supposed to be nonpartisan, they are nonpartisan on purpose. Because it doesn't matter where you sit in terms of your overall politics. It's about these children."
"It's not about red or blue or any of that, it's about the children. So we need to make sure that going forward we're all in that place."
Hedin said: "There's an accountability piece, this larger question of how do you keep something like this from happening again. We would expect the incoming board members to hold to those values. It's that being an upstander, and I think there's a commitment within the existing board that we are going to be upstanders and keep on track continuing with the current trend."