Parent’s anti-trans comments spark backlash

Apology issued for flag football comments, Saranac Lake school board preparing statement

SARANAC LAKE — A local parent who directed anti-transgender epithets at a student athlete during a flag football game at AuSable Valley High School this past weekend is facing a potential ban from attending future games in AuSable Valley, and the parent’s actions have been condemned by the Saranac Lake school board.

The parent, Eric Wilson, was livestreaming when he mistook the student as a transgender female and made derogatory comments on social media about the student. He has since deleted his posts and apologized numerous times. But the student, who the Enterprise has granted anonymity to protect the child from retribution, says the damage has been done. The student said they will be feeling the effects of the public harassment for a long time.

The mother of the targeted student said Wilson posted false and sensitive information about her child on social media without ever meeting them, and she feels his actions put a target on their back. She said the posts took away her child’s control and rights. The student said the posts have hurt their confidence and self esteem. Both said it has instilled fear in them.

Wilson, the parent of an athlete on the Saranac Lake Red Storm, was in the bleachers at the sectional game on Saturday and heard from other parents that “a boy” was playing on the other team. There was a rumor that one of the AuSable Valley Patriots was a transgender female, a rumor which was false. The student was born female.

“The f***ing (player) on the other team is a thing with a penis,” the now-deleted post from Wilson read. “The other coach not only has a boy playing but he put the IT with a penis (in). Hey coach you really really suck a**hole.”

In the comments, some replies encouraged violence against the student.

Wilson has since apologized, calling his comments “disgusting,” saying he feels ashamed and embarrassed to have hurt a student.

“People may think there is a bias against athletes who are transitioning in this situation,” Wilson said. “There’s no bias directed toward the athlete themselves.”

Wilson said he disagrees with the state’s law allowing transgender students to play sports in the gender they identify as, New York’s Dignity for All Students Act, but that he said he voiced his disagreement in an inappropriate way — and was targeting a student based on inaccurate information.

“I don’t think that Mr. Wilson realizes the impact (he had),” the student’s mother said — in terms of the reach of his words and in terms of how her child is now a target based on false information. She said it might be “too late for sorry.”

The student said they did not want the negative attention the posts and videos brought, adding that Wilson not only hurt them but made hateful comments toward the transgender community, a protected class in New York state.

“It’s nobody’s place to have said that,” the mother said.

“Transgender or not,” the student added.

The mother said they want to educate people on how “disturbing” this is.

“Mean people suck,” she said.

Schools weigh in

The AVCSD officials are considering banning Wilson from school events there, and recommended SLCSD do the same, according to Jay town Supervisor Matt Stanley, who is the assistant coach for the AuSable Valley Patriots flag football team. Stanley said his community was “shaken” by the “very disrespectful, very hurtful” comments after the game. He traveled to Saranac Lake on Wednesday to attend the meeting.

“(It’s) very humbling to see what human nature has come to around high school sports,” Stanley said.

He said he’s “very proud” of the student athlete’s resiliency.

“The AuSable Valley Central School District believes that every student, faculty, staff and community member should be treated with dignity and respect,” AVCSD Superintendent Michael Francia wrote in an email to the Enterprise. “We do not stand for any behavior that spreads hatred, especially behaviors that target specific students or groups. We will continue to support our students and make inclusivity a priority.”

SLCSD board member Tori Thurston called for an emergency meeting on Wednesday night and read her statement through what she called “mom tears.” She was “horrified” that an adult would say this about a child, calling it “unacceptable behavior” that “needs to be dealt with.”

“Children cannot learn in an atmosphere that they don’t feel safe and that they don’t belong in,” Thurston said.

She said the board’s job is to look after students.

SLCSD Superintendent Diane Fox and Athletics Director Forrest Morgan are conducting an investigation into the incident, and the school board is preparing a public statement to potentially release next week. Fox said the district investigation is underway and that any action would be done administratively, not through a school board vote. She said any action would not be made until all the facts are uncovered in the investigation.

Thurston listed a number of violations of local school policies, state policies and conduct she saw. SLCSD board President Mark Farmer said they definitely have a situation with apparent violations of multiple policies of multiple institutions.

Thurston said she was not at the game, so she wants to know what they are talking about before the board makes a statement. She said she wants this statement to be something of substance, not just lip service. But she wanted to start the process immediately.

“We appreciate the way Superintendent Diane Fox and the Saranac Lake Board of Education have handled this situation. They truly share in the belief that the health, safety and well being of all students is vital to their education,” Francia said.

The targeted student’s mother said they are thankful for the support of their community and the response from the SLCSD.

“I can’t say I’m sorry enough,” Wilson said. “I just can’t come up with the words strong enough to say how mad I am at myself and how sorry I am that I made this kid unhappy. … Knowing that my poorly chosen words hurt somebody kills me.”

Wilson, who SLCSD and other schools contract to record graduation ceremonies, has a company called “Good Guy Productions.” He said he was struggling with the irony that at that game, he was not living up to the company’s name, motto or mission.

Asked about the status of Wilson’s contract with SLCSD, Fox said there was not yet a definitive course of action.

“At this point we’re really doing a full investigation,” she said. “So no final decisions have been made. Once we have all the facts we’ll go from there.”

Wilson said he “doesn’t have a hateful bone in (his) body” and that it was ignorance, not hate, that led to the “it” and “thing” language in his posts.

Stanley compared words to bullets and posting on social media to pulling a gun’s trigger. He learned in weapons training that he is responsible for every bullet that comes out of his gun.

“(Its) the same thing when we hit ‘send’ on a social media post,” Stanley said. “It doesn’t stop if we erase it. It doesn’t stop if we apologize for it. The damage has already been done.”

Community responds

Kelly Metzgar — who is executive director of the Adirondack North County Gender Alliance, a member of SLCSD’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion committee and a trans woman — said she was pleased with the school board’s follow-up on Wednesday.

To be fair, Wilson apologized, Metzgar said. But she added that the damage was already done.

“And the fact that he acted in such a knee-jerk way initially still speaks volumes,” she said. “Transgender people are always made out to be the problem. We are only looking to live our authentic lives.”

“Perhaps this individual should spend time getting to know transgender youth and transgender people before condemning us,” Metzgar said on Wednesday. “I call on this individual to have empathy for others.”

This incident comes as LGBTQIA-plus rights, and specifically transgender rights, come under fire by Conservatives in state houses across the country and at the federal level. Transgender youth — who report experiencing “significantly increased rates of depression, suicidality and victimization compared to their cisgender peers,” according to a 2019 study by the Trevor Project — are the subject of many of the pieces of legislation being proposed. Despite the small minority of transgender athletes who participate in high school sports, at least one third of U.S. states have banned transgender students from playing school sports. At least 515 anti-LGBTQ-plus bills have been proposed by state legislators across the country, many targeting the health care and rights of transgender people specifically, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

At the federal level, North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik has backed a bill that would ban transgender athletes from playing on teams in line with their gender identities. The bill passed the House but has not seen any movement in the Senate since it arrived there a year ago.

Bingo Valentin, an athlete on the Red Storm flag football team, said at the Wednesday school board meeting that the comments after the game were “uncomfortable and disgusting,” especially being a transgender athlete on the Saranac Lake team themselves.

“What my teammates and others said online and off the field was not appropriate,” Valentin said, saying the words caused harm.

Metzgar said some LGBTQIA-plus people she heard from did not accept Wilson’s apology. They said he “doubled down” on transphobic and sexist comments and called it “too little too late.”

“He called a child an ‘it’ all because he thought (they were) trans,” one person said.

“Why don’t folks realize this is pretty gross — to base your opinion on a child athlete based on what genitals you think they have,” another said.

The SLCSD board plans to craft a statement on the issue in public session at a meeting planned after the school budget and board election vote on Tuesday.


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