Social media posts by Mesa County School District 51 Board of Education President Andrea Haitz have prompted outrage from some on the Western Slope.
Two posts perceived by some as being anti-LGBTQ have circulated online this week. The first is an April 23 post to her personal Instagram page wearing a red shirt that reads “Make America Florida,” a reference to a political action committee that, according to its website, is “committed to spreading the policies that have made Florida a conservative model for the nation.”
The second post is a meme by the Charlie Kirk-led organization Turning Point USA that Haitz shared to her Facebook page — a post that automatically deletes after 24 hours — depicting a pregnant woman asking a doctor, “Is it a boy or a girl,” and the doctor responding, “That’s for the kindergarten teacher to decide.”
Parents and teachers of LGBTQ students in District 51 schools have criticized the posts as Haitz’ endorsement of Florida’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which bans discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools until after the third grade.
The bill’s supporters claim that such topics are inappropriate in schools and that only parents should have such conversations with their children, while its detractors, who have labeled it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, argue that the bill seeks to suppress LGBTQ identity and further alienate LGBTQ students, and that the bill’s vague language leaves it open to easy abuse.
Some parents in Mesa County have expressed their concern that these posts signal that Haitz and the school board could pursue similar actions, and that the posts are based on transphobia and homophobia.
In a statement on her school board campaign page on Facebook on Monday, Haitz said that the memes have been “misunderstood,” stating, “I feel that such discussions are inappropriate. I ran my campaign for the school board on the notion that schools should focus on the delivery of core educational curriculum, and that parents’ right to raise their children as they deem appropriate should be honored and protected. This position is not anti-teacher, transphobic or homophobic — far from it.”
As of Thursday, the post has generated more than 300 comments, with a roughly 50/50 split on comments of condemnation and support.
“Somebody went looking for it and screenshot it and, without reaching out to me for clarification, decided to kind of make up what they thought I meant by it,” Haitz told The Daily Sentinel. “That’s why I responded with what I meant by it. It was on my personal profile, really posting as a parent. I get memes can be misunderstood and people don’t always understand satire.”
Haitz said she’s received “mild” threats on her social media and through texts to her phone, causing her to contact District 51 security and the Grand Junction Police Department. This has led her to lock all of her personal social media accounts.
She said she will use social media less moving forward and won’t post any more memes while serving on the school board.
“If I were to give somebody advice who’s going to be running, I would say either don’t have a personal social media account or, if you do, it needs to be really with people who absolutely know you and understand you and I wouldn’t make it public at all,” Haitz said.
“I think there can be blowback around misunderstanding, and unfortunately, in the political climate we’re in — and this is on both sides — people are wanting to jump more to the story they think it is rather than reaching out to that individual to seek clarification and understanding.”
Heidi Hess is the Western Slope Field Organizer for One Colorado, an organization committed to “developing diverse coalitions and bridging gaps within LGBTQ communities in Grand Junction and along the Western Slope,” according to its website. She spoke to The Daily Sentinel to provide insight into the perspective of students, parents and teachers who view Haitz’s posts as being potentially threatening and ominous.
She said she’s been in contact with some of those “frightened” parents and teachers and is speaking out publicly on their behalf because they feel that they can’t without fear of retaliation against their children in schools.
“The concern about the posts ... is that it devalues the conversations with trans youth and their parents, and it’s very threatening to the parents of trans children and LGBTQ children when our school board president is posting things that devalue their children and devalue the experience of their children and the experience of their parents,” Hess said. “There’s a huge difference between sex and gender identity, and that meme and Andrea herself fail to acknowledge that. There’s much study and peer-reviewed research that defines how sex, genitalia, is different than gender identity.”
Haitz emphasized to The Daily Sentinel that her posts shouldn’t be interpreted as transphobic or threatening when asked what her message is to those criticizing her.
“My intention was not to see it as being hurtful or attacking anybody. I have gay and lesbian friends. I’ve even chatted with them about it,” Haitz said. “I’m not anti-trans or anti-gay. As far as the oath I took with the district, I’m there to give equal access and opportunity to all of our students. All of them. That part has not changed from where my commitment is and what I stated. I know some people are going to think differently because they saw this and they’ve painted a certain picture, but that’s not changed for me.”
After seeing Haitz’ statement, Hess said she and many of the parents and teachers of such students still aren’t convinced.
One factor in their doubt, they say, is Haitz’ membership of the public Facebook group REBOOT 2022, a group whose moderator and administrator is Cindy Ficklin, who briefly was a candidate to run for state house and also applied to be on the school board during a vacancy created in 2021.
The online group’s mission statement includes common conservative sentiments such as emphasizing teaching and valuing the U.S. Constitution and promoting trades and the military to students as opposed to college.
What’s notable, however, is the statement’s final sentence: “Transgender is not an option. It’s the greatest blow to equal rights for women in America in 245 years.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Haitz was listed as being a member of the group. On Thursday morning, she was no longer listed as a group member. It’s unclear whether she left the group or if this is the result of her making her personal Facebook account private.
“To date, she’s been unwilling to hear the harm that that post caused to parents of transgender youth,” Hess said. “Another thing is that there are factually elementary school transgender youth in District 51, and not talking about that does nothing to affirm or provide a safe environment for those children. Finally, if she were truly saying that she’s not anti-LGBTQ, then she would not be part of REBOOT, which specifically says on their organizational page on Facebook, ‘no trans.’
“She can say she’s not anti-trans, but she belongs to a group that’s typically anti-trans, says they’re specifically anti-trans and she’s an elected official that belongs to a group that’s anti-trans. As an elected official, she has accountability for that.”