BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – She helped him with his costume. His classmates too. Step by step, the Magic City Acceptance Academy senior helped her history teacher become a Mardi Gras queen. The occasion was a fundraiser for a drag show to help the school’s history quiz team attend a competition in Washington, D.C. The fundraiser was a student idea, the school principal, and was a success. The quiz bowl team is heading to DC next week.
“It was a fun thing,” the MCAA senior said, though it’s hard for her to remember it that way now. Because now, in the shadow of an election in Alabama, she said the fun event was “gunned down” in a TV ad by Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James. The ad, which incorrectly labels the MCAA as “the South’s first transgender public school,” includes footage of the fundraiser the elder had worked to succeed. Footage showed staff and students, including the senior, with their faces visible.
“I hope he is ashamed”
The MCAA senior, whom CBS 42 chose not to identify by name, was one of the students featured in the ad. She said when she realized she was being photographed, her heart sank.
“I didn’t treat it immediately,” she said. “My first reaction was to laugh because it’s such a ridiculous concept to attack a school whose purpose is to avoid bullying people for something they can’t control.”
The senior, who identifies as gay, said Magic City Acceptance School is one of the best places she has ever been to. The public charter school, which markets itself as an LGBTQ-affirming learning environment, opened last year and welcomes students from all walks of life. Transgender students make up less than 10% of the school’s student population, its principal said, and the majority of MCAA students are not members of the LGBTQ community.
The eldest wanted to attend the MCAA because she had been bullied at her previous school.
“I faced a lot of ostracism, bullying and meanness towards myself and my friends,” she said. “I became desensitized to this because of the gravity of the situation.”
One afternoon at her old school, she was waiting to be picked up when a group of boys who had never been friendly threw a noose at her.
“You can go home and use it later,” she recalled saying.
So when she heard about the possibility of attending Magic City Acceptance Academy, she jumped at the chance. She hoped she could feel safe without having to isolate herself.
She got it at the MCAA.
“The first day I came here, I came home and cried because it was fantastic,” she said.
But now the senior feels her school has been violated.
Since the release of Tim James’ gubernatorial announcement, Magic City Acceptance Academy has stepped up security. The decision was prudent. On one occasion, a car drove past the school and its occupants shouted insults at students outside the school. In another, a woman approached the school, filming its exterior, with someone waiting in a nearby car. When the students noticed her, she ran away.
The eldest was there for the second incident. She and her friends were having lunch outside when the woman approached the school.
“As security chased after her, I pushed my friends to come in,” she said. “It was a serious situation that could have ended in violence.”
She said that before the Tim James commercial aired, she had never felt unsafe at the MCAA. Now, although she’s glad the school has tightened security, she worries that ‘there’s always a threat of people coming’. His safe place has changed forever.
The eldest said she wanted the ad taken down.
“It’s misinformation, and it’s deplorable to act as if being part of a minority group is something shameful,” she said. “It’s a lie, plain and simple, and it’s embarrassing for him.”
She said the ad stirred up hatred and resentment and she feared it could lead to violence against minorities.
“I hope God doesn’t get violent,” she said, “but I’m really afraid it will get.”
At 18, this is the first electoral cycle where seniors will be able to vote. She said she would not vote for Tim James and that he is not fit to be governor.
She has a message for James.
“I hope he’s ashamed of himself,” she said. “I hope he can learn from this experience. I hope he does everything he can to educate himself and I hope he can learn to stop attacking people just because they are different from him.
A mother’s story
The elderly person’s mother is a lawyer, Kimberly Fasking. Three of his children attend the MCAA.
When she saw the ad, she was sickened.
“I was beyond livid,” Fasking said. “As bad as the publicity is – endangering students, faculty and staff – it specifically targets my child.”
Like her daughter, she said the ad should be taken down.
“It’s disgusting and it’s ignorant and it’s hateful,” Fasking said. “Mr. James comes off as a Christian, but that’s definitely not something I think Jesus would approve of. I don’t remember him taunting and making fun of people. I don’t remember those stories in the Bible.
Fasking contacted the James campaign to demand that they remove the ad. In response, the James campaign “obfuscated” Fasking’s daughter but continued to run the ads.
In a statement released to the media regarding the original ad, Tim James’ campaign doubled down on its claims.
“The principal said the TV commercial scared the children,” the statement read. “What should scare the mothers and fathers of these children is what the faculty is doing by presenting this ungodly display through the drag show the children have been subjected to.”
Asked about Fasking’s inquiries regarding the announcement, Elizabeth Jordan, James’ communications director, sent a 1,000-word response including a list of questions for Fasking, which can be read in full below.
Kimberly Fasking said the campaign response reflects exactly who they are.
“They’re really great at being horribly hateful, disgusting people,” she said. “They want to play a semantic game to find out if it was in fact a ceasefire. Call it what you want. I sent them a letter asking them to stop using my child’s image in their hate advertising.
While they obscured the image of Fasking’s daughter, Tim James’ campaign doubled down on its attacks. There is now another video ad, titled “Exploitation”, and radio ads featuring the MCAA.
Fasking hopes voters won’t fall for it when they go to the polls on May 24.
“Someone with that much hate in their heart is not fit to run the state of Alabama,” she said. “He doesn’t want these teachers around my children?” I don’t want him with my children.
In its response to questions about Fasking’s concerns, the James campaign said that if Fasking was “really concerned about her child, they would remove her from the Magic City Acceptance Academy period.”
“My mom brought me to Magic City Acceptance Academy because she was worried about me,” the eldest said. “If they were concerned about the children, they wouldn’t attack them. My mother is worried about me. That’s why she keeps me in school. To protect me from other people who, like the Tim James campaign, want me to shut up or stop existing.
The senior said she hopes trans people in the MCAA and Alabama will be able to stay safe and stay strong despite the turmoil caused by the announcement.
“A trans person is a person, and they deserve to be able to live happily and freely,” she said. “They shouldn’t let fanatics and child molesters force them to live authentically or live in fear.”
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