2017 Changemakers: Hannah and Dave Edwards

Hannah and Dave Edwards (photo by Ashley Rick, St. Paul Photo Co.)

Like any parents, Hannah and Dave Edwards wanted a safe, supportive school environment for their daughter. It was something they shouldn’t have had to fight for — but when it became clear they would have to, they never wavered. 

Their daughter, “H,” is transgender. During her kindergarten year, a series of broken promises and hurtful actions by her school (Nova Classical Academy, a charter school in St. Paul) led the Edwardses to pull her out to protect her safety and well-being. 

After settling H into a new, supportive school, the couple — with the help of Gender Justice, a nonprofit legal and policy advocacy organization — filed a complaint with St. Paul, charging Nova with violating the city’s human rights ordinance. The city’s investigation found a basis for litigation. 

The eventual settlement included a non-monetary section in which, Dave says, Nova agreed “not to do the bad things they had done to our daughter” to other kids going forward. The school agreed to revise its policies and practices to support its transgender and gender-nonconforming students. 

The Edwards hope that other families can avoid similar ordeals. They see some positive signs. 

Dave served on the work group that drafted what became known as the “Gender Toolkit” — a set of “best practices” to help Minnesota schools provide safe, supportive environments for transgender and gender-nonconforming students. Recommendations cover a range of topics, including pronoun use and access to restrooms consistent with students’ gender identities. The project was spearheaded by the School Safety Technical Assistance Council, a statewide entity created by 2013 anti-bullying legislation. 

The Toolkit faced fierce opposition, led by the Minnesota Family Council. The version of the Toolkit ultimately approved by the Council in July looked very different from the work group’s draft, says Dave, but the main points remained: “There’s a lot of good in there.” 

As members of an online parents’ group, Hannah says, they’ve been heartened to see “so many parents posting that they’re taking the Toolkit to school administrators and saying, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’ And it can happen without a big battle.” 

At a time when federal protections for transgender students are being rescinded, “the state has been really supportive,” says Dave. For example, Gov. Mark Dayton declared a Day of the Transgender Child in June, sending a strong signal of support. 

The safety and well-being of transgender kids should matter to everyone, the couple says. They cite the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, which reported that 55 percent of transgender students had attempted suicide in the past year, compared to 19 percent of cisgender students. 

The survey found that 2.5 percent of Minnesota students are transgender or gender-diverse — which translates to more than 20,000 kids. “When we have so many students with adverse outcomes, it harms the whole community,” says Dave. “So everybody should care.” Hannah points out that while parents of transgender kids have successfully sued schools for discriminating, there are no cases of parents successfully suing schools for taking steps to support transgender students — which some parents of cisgender kids claim infringes on their families’ rights. So even if school administrators don’t care about kids, says Hannah, they should at least want to avoid liability. “And if you don’t care about kids,” she adds, “I don’t know what you’re doing in education.”