Mesa County school board president under fire for social media posts on gender

Stina Sieg/CPR News
The Mesa County Valley School District 51 administration building.

In Mesa County’s largest school district, a meme shared on social media by the president of the school board has many parents calling her transphobic — and others stepping up to defend her. 

The meme goes like this: A smiling, pregnant woman asks her doctor if she’s having a boy or girl. He replies: “That’s for the kindergarten teacher to decide.” 

When D51 School Board President Andrea Haitz shared that on her private Instagram and Facebook stories late last week, she said she didn’t see it as a “transgender thing.” 

“And I know people won't understand that, but I don't see it that way,” she went on. “I see this as really, this was a conversation for parents to have.” 

She said it's a conversation for parents, and not teachers, to have with children. Haitz explained she was inspired by recent legislation in Florida that critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — now a law — that bans many discussions of gender identity and sexual orienation at school through the third grade.

Haitz said she shared the meme either Friday or Saturday, but it continued to stay on her profiles through the weekend, including on Mother’s Day. Eventually, someone took a screenshot and shared it widely on social media. By that Sunday, District 51’s Facebook page was filled with dozens of angry and frustrated comments about Haitz. The discussion got so heated that the district limited comments on its own Mother’s Day post. 

The district also says it’s received dozens of messages and emails regarding Haitz, some calling for her removal. 

Leslie Saenz, a mom to a transgender child in the district, sees the meme as dangerous for trans kids.

“This is the kind of thing that will push children back into hiding, so they're not being who they authentically are because they're scared,” she said.

Saenz said she was scared, too, when she saw the post, scared of sending her kid back to school. She said she’s incredulous that “such an important person in the district” would share something like that, and she believes it puts her student at risk of being bullied.

“My child can be in danger,” Saenz said. “My child can be targeted.” 

Taylor Corpier, a transgender person living in Grand Junction, said he feels that Haitz’s post emboldened people with anti-trans sentiments. 

“From adults to children bullies, she gave the meanest people more validation in their hateful ideals,” he said.

Haitz and her supporters, however, insist that the whole incident is being blown out of proportion, and that the meme is not about transgender people at all. Instead, they believe, it’s about parental choice over what’s being taught in public schools, something they say is being erased. 

“We’re just constantly fighting just the general indoctrination of what’s been happening in the lower grades,” said Jacqueline Anderson, a mom to two children, one of whom still attends school in the district. 

She recalled when her son — now almost 21 — was in grade school and brought home a book from the school library about two gay male penguins who decide to have a family. While she said she’s not against that content, she felt it forced her to have a conversation with her young son that he wasn’t ready for. Those are the kinds of situations she believes Haitz was addressing with the meme.

Haitz said that there have been threats made against her, which she has alerted local police to. She hasn’t apologized for the meme, but insists anyone who knows her knows she meant “no ill intent by it.” 

She’s also said she’s open to sitting down with anyone who wants to have a conversation about the issue, even if they may not agree with each other in the end.