Virginia school board candidate bullies student he thinks is transgender in campaign video

John Kinchen devoted an entire campaign video to encourage people not to accept trans kids in schools.

CREDIT: Facebook
CREDIT: Facebook

John Kinchen, a school board candidate in Virginia’s Campbell County, devoted an entire campaign video to telling voters he is not interested in fostering acceptance for transgender students and targeted one student in particular, although he was not mentioned by name. The student says he is not even transgender and felt singled out in the video, according to the news outlet he spoke to.

“I like to wear makeup. I identify myself as a male,” he told a local news outlet, ABC 13 News.

In the video, which was posted on Kinchen’s campaign’s Facebook page, Kinchen singled out Brookville High School sophomore student Mikel Jenkins, who was featured in a two-page spread in the school’s most recent yearbook for staying true to himself. This bothered Kinchen, who said the issue of accepting transgender students was a “local issue” and said that he disagrees with people who say there are more “important” and “real issues” for county schools to deal with. In the video, Kinchen said:

Several students were given focus for a specific ability, talent, or achievement, which is normal for any yearbook. Each was given a two-page spread and a nice paragraph describing their accomplishment, but on pages 18 and 19, one student was highlighted for staying true to himself. This means wearing makeup and dressing in feminine clothing. He says, ‘I wish people would teach their children to be open minded about things because that would save a lot of problems.’ He goes on to say, ‘If I could do one thing to change the world, it would be to teach acceptance.’

Kinchen is implying that it is not an accomplishment for transgender students to stay true to who they are in high school. But the Gay Lesbian Student Education Network (GLSEN)’s national survey found that 75 percent of transgender young people feel unsafe at school. In such an environment, many transgender young people were absent from school, had significantly lower GPAs, and were less likely to plan to continue their education. And whether Kinchen knew it or not, when he decided to focus his campaign video on a student who he believed to be transgender, he was encouraging bullying of a teenager. The student is still susceptible to bullying as a gay cis male student. Students in the LGBTQ community in general struggle to avoid bullying in harassment and physical intimidation in school, with 33 percent of LGBTQ students being physically harassed in the past year because of sexual orientation and 23 percent were physically harassed being of their gender expression, a 2014 GLSEN survey shows.

Throughout the video, Kinchen made it very clear that he does not want to foster any kind of acceptance of transgender students or the rest of the LGBTQ student community. Kinchen appears to be concerned that acceptance of LGBTQ people will somehow harm straight and cisgender people — so afraid that he won’t even acknowledge what it is that he’s afraid of and simply describes being queer and being transgender as “this way of thinking and this lifestyle”:

However, acceptance has also become a code word sought by liberal activists. It begins with persuasion then acceptance then approval where leaders and influencers condone the behavior and that way of thinking. The leaders of the school should have given more guidance to this publication. But by allowing such a piece they have tacitly condoned this way of thinking and this lifestyle. Lastly, once these ideas find their way into approval, it is normalized.

Kinchen couldn’t end this ad opposing the acceptance of transgender students without suggesting that transgender students would somehow hurt cisgender students:

These are not national issues. They are local issues that affect our children, our family, our values, and our society here in Campbell County. Join with me to reaffirm our values, bring common sense back to our schools, keep our kids safe, and remember we are one nation under God.

Kinchen’s reference to keeping kids safe, when he did not make a clear argument that transgender kids would hurt cisgender kids anywhere else in the video, may be an attempt to keep this implication low key. But it’s still quite clear what viewers are supposed to take away from that statement in an ad entirely against the acceptance of transgender students. Kinchen has focused on transgender people and educating students about gender in multiple ads, and has also mentioned keeping kids safe in at least one of his other campaign ads.

In reality, the more people know other people who are transgender, the more likely they will be to support their rights. For example, people who say they know someone is transgender are more likely than those who don’t to say trans people should be able to use bathrooms that match their gender, according to a 2016 Pew Research poll. Young people are also far more likely to support transgender people having access to the bathroom of their gender, at 67 percent of people ages 18 to 29, versus half or fewer in older age groups.

There also isn’t any evidence to show transgender people want access to bathrooms of their gender to harass cisgender people. Instead, the research shows that it is transgender people being harassed, physically assaulted, or denied access to a bathroom by cisgender people. And the issue affects anyone who doesn’t fit some particular gender norm as deemed appropriate by whoever is hostile to them in a bathroom or any other space set aside for a specific gender, regardless of whether someone is transgender. The fact that Kinchen unknowingly focused his outrage at a student who is not transgender is proof of that.

UPDATE: Barbara Rypkema defeated John Kinchen for Campbell County school board.