Support is rolling in for a Minnesota family that has chosen to move after anti-maskers publicly targeted one of their children during a school board race.
The Waits' family currently lives in Hastings, where Kelsey is winding down her final term as a Hastings School Board member. She and husband Chris, a Navy veteran, have two children, Abby and Kit, and love the dream house they built after moving to the Minnesota city.
As Kelsey campaigned for another term as chair of the school board earlier this year, members of a now-deleted Facebook group began to target not just her, but one of her and Chris' children.
As the couple explained to CNN in a story that aired over the weekend, individuals and admins in the group Concerned Parents of Hastings (originally called "Conservative Parents of Hastings") first took aim at Kelsey because they were against COVID-related mask requirements in schools.
But things escalated when the group publicly outed Kit, who is 8 years old, 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."
Kelsey, in an op-ed published in The Hastings Journal, called for civility as things unfolded, writing:
"I have no issues with people critiquing votes that I have taken or stances I hold that they may disagree with. However, even in this time of political division, a line must exist. Sunday, this line was crossed when a group of parents decided to not only attack me, but to attack my children. Families are off limits, this is true for my family and the family of anyone running for or holding office."
It did little to quell the targeted harassment.
Kelsey lost her re-election bid, but more importantly, as she explained to CNN, she lost her "most precious secret."
As Kelsey wrote in a public social media post following the story's airing, they "cannot make the information that is now public private again."
"Our strongest, most sincere wish for our child, and for our family, is that this information could have remained ours alone; that this information would have been publicly shared if and when they were ready to share it. Although that decision was taken from us, our hope now is that, by taking control of our story, we can humanize the kids and families who are hurt when adults use transgender children as political pawns, and give hope and support to other families who aren't able to fight back."
The "sustained harassment" has impacted the entire family, she wrote, and they've made the decision to move out of the community.
As she told CNN: "I can't un-see the things that have been sent to me."
Hastings Mayor Mary Fasbender, the day after CNN's story was published, posted a message online about the "mistreatment experienced by a family in our community."
"As a lifelong resident of Hastings, I share in the frustration and pain that the Waits family is feeling and am saddened by what is happening in our community," the mayor said, before urging people with different viewpoints to "listen and learn from one another."
Support has come in from across the state, including U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, who called CNN's story "heartbreaking."
"Kids have a right to privacy like everyone else and deserve to live their lives as their authentic selves," she tweeted. "I want every trans kid to know that I recognize how difficult this journey is and how much courage it takes."
DFL State Sen. Erin Murphy also weighed in, writing: "Even in a hard fought campaign with strong disagreements, all of our kids should be safe, no exceptions. That is the promise adhered to in Minnesota politics and it was broken in Hastings. It hurt a child and their family. It hurt Hastings too."
Former state representative Hunter Cantrell called it "shameful and horrifying."
Emma McBride with Women Winning wrote: "Kelsey is one of the fiercest moms and advocates I know. Her husband and her kids are an absolute delight. Nobody deserves the attacks this family has received."
Said retired Army veteran Dr. Ann Heiser: "I support Kelsey Waits, her daughter Kit and all her family. #Hastings Minnesota has a lot to answer for."
Local supporters have organized a rally for Saturday afternoon in Hastings "to show transgender, non-binary, and LGBTQ+ kids that the Hastings community has their back."
Kelsey is now turning her efforts toward launching a nonprofit called TransParent Alliance, with the goal of "educating parents of trans kids about their rights in MN schools and teaching them how to navigate local politics and advocate in their communities and schools."