We demand justice for Nicola, mom fired for objecting to transphobic slur in school play.

We demand justice for Nicola, mom fired for objecting to transphobic slur in school play.

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Concerned FCTA members started this petition to Dhelfman@mseanea.org and

We, the undersigned, are educators and union members, transgender individuals, parents of trans kids, and community members. We are all outraged to hear of the termination of Nicola Van Kuilenburg earlier this year after she (publicly) called for the removal of a transphobic slur from a school play her transgender son planned to attend in Frederick County, Maryland. 

Many of us have personal experiences with the word 'tranny'. It is the most commonly used word in acts of violence against transgender people. It is used by bullies when they attack us physically and verbally. It is widely recognized hate speech  and therefore has absolutely no place in schools. 

In April of this year Nicola became aware that the performance at Oakdale High included this slur, despite the word being removed from other recent performances in the school district ( GTJHS 2014 performance). She emailed the decision makers- the musical director, the school principal and various Central Office administrators asking them to remove the word. It was only after the school system refused, claiming that it was "empowering" to use a slur without any educational context, did Nicola take this issue to her own personal social media. A number of us saw Nicola's posts that day, and as caring educators, transgender adults or the parents of trans students, we shared our disappointment and frustration with the school district's decision to deliberately introduce such a hateful word. Nicola did not ask for any discipline to be taken against the educators involved, nor did she " threaten students" as was later falsely claimed. Her efforts were simply focused on protecting children, including her own son.

We are absolutely horrified to learn that Nicola's advocacy and efforts to create a welcoming and affirming school environment for vulnerable students then resulted in her termination. 

To the Leadership of the Maryland State Education Association: 

Your decision to terminate Nicola was cruel and sends a strong message that you do not understand the issues facing transgender and gender non-conforming students. We are also disappointed that you would terminate her employment after complaints by a vocal minority that their ability to receive fair representation is undermined by Nicola's advocacy for LGBTQ students and employees. There are many more educators that are very grateful and proud of the work Nicola did as staff liaison to the FCTA LGBT committee. You silenced their voices by not even having the courtesy to respond to their emails expressing their concerns. Instead of taking a stand for safe schools for students, you chose to side with the right of educators to use casual hate speech in schools. We are disgusted that you, in an attempt to justify your actions, would later argue that Nicola should have kept her son from seeing the play. Transgender students have the right to access all educational opportunities- including afterschool plays- without fear of hearing words that are derogatory and offensive. You also made claims during the unemployment appeals process that are simply untrue, particularly with regards to alleged harm suffered by the educator. We know that he received a promotion and enjoyed sold out performances. Again, Nicola never asked for any discipline or retribution for any educators or students. Your rush to terminate her make us also question your commitment to union values for your own employees.. These actions have therefore significantly damaged your reputation and credibility.  

Please reinstate Nicola immediately and use the skills she has to continue to provide LGBTQ training and resources to your members and employees. Her work is needed more than ever.  

To the Frederick County Board of Education:

We were horrified to learn of your letter to MSEA celebrating the removal of Nicola, a single mother. It is our understanding that none of you reached out to her after her attempts to remove the slur, and that you based your letter on one sided allegations. We have seen interviews and social media posts from your BOE President Brad Young that make false allegations against Nicola- including implying that she was hiding prior discipline etc. He has insulted parents of transgender students online, and to this day there has been no apology from FCPS regarding the use of the word. You collectively attacked Nicola's right to free speech as a (tax paying) citizen of Frederick County. Free speech that was only necessary after her earlier private attempts to remove the word were ignored by the school district. Your failure to act to protect transgender youth on that day forced her to reach out to others to ask for their help, and then you condemned those actions without getting the full facts. Despite having a policy that claims to welcome and affirm transgender youth you have actually failed them. We have heard recent stories of transgender students leaving your system due to feeling unsafe and unheard. Your actions with regards to both the play and Nicola confirm you still have a lot of work to do. 

Please issue an apology to both the transgender community and to Nicola for your failure to listen to legitimate concerns regarding the safety of vulnerable students. Commit to providing trainings regarding the use of inclusive/ dehumanizing language and adopt Best Practices that include soliciting feedback from marginalized groups when considering using derogatory language in school sponsored activities. Do not ignore parents of transgender students when they attempt to share their concerns with you. Lives are at stake. 

To Nicola Van Kuilenburg:

We are very sorry that this happened to you. We understand that being the parent of a transgender child means you are frequently forced to fight to keep your child safe from harm. That harm has included asking teachers not to call James " It" and to refrain from misgendering him, along with supporting the right of his GSA to put LGBT affirming posters in their school. Working for a teachers union should never result in a "conflict of interest" because protecting trans youth should be a shared goal for everyone. Research shows that over 50% of transgender boys will attempt suicide and we know that your efforts back in April were simply to prevent James or any other transgender student/adult from feeling " othered" or stigmatized. No parent should ever have their livelihood taken away because they are trying to protect their own child. We recognize that this has been traumatic for your family and that you have been forced to defend yourself from rumors about your motives and false claims of harm caused by your actions. We know you are tired, but applaud your strength and resilience.

Please know we support you and have your back. Thank you for taking a stand for transgender youth at a time when physical violence and suicide rates involving transgender individuals is increasing. 

Due to the actions of MSEA and the Frederick County Board of Education the Van Kuilenburg family is now facing homelessness. You can support them here:





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