BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — She helped him with his costume. Her classmates did, too. Stitch by stitch, the senior at Magic City Acceptance Academy helped her history teacher become a Mardi Gras queen. The occasion was a drag show fundraiser to help the school’s history quiz bowl team attend a competition in Washington, D.C. The fundraiser was a student idea, the school’s principal said, and was successful. The quiz bowl team will head to D.C. next week.
“It was a fun thing,” the senior at MCAA said, although it’s hard for her to remember it that way now. Because now, in the shadow of an Alabama election, she said that the fun event has been “weaponized” in a television advertisement by Tim James, a Republican candidate for governor. The advertisement, which incorrectly labels MCAA as “the first transgender public school in the South,” includes images of the fundraiser the senior had worked to make a success. The images showed staff and students, including the senior, their faces visible.
“I hope he’s ashamed”
The senior at MCAA, who CBS 42 has chosen not to identify by name, was one of the students visible in the ad. She said when she realized she was pictured, her heart sank.
“I didn’t process it immediately,” she said. “My initial reaction was to laugh because it’s such a ridiculous concept to attack a school that’s purpose is to avoid bullying people for something they can’t control.”
The senior, who identifies as queer, said Magic City Acceptance School is one of the best places she’s ever been. The public charter school, which labels itself as an LGBTQ-affirming learning environment, opened last year and serves students from all backgrounds. Transgender students make up less than 10% of the school’s student population, its principal said, and the majority of pupils at MCAA are not members of the LGBTQ community.
The senior wanted to attend MCAA because she’d been bullied at her previous school.
“I was facing a lot of ostracization, bullying, and just meanness directed at me and my friends,” she said. “I became desensitized to it because of how bad it was.”
One afternoon at her previous 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 this later,” she remembers them saying.
So when she heard about the opportunity to attend Magic City Acceptance Academy, she hopped on the opportunity. She hoped she’d be able to feel safe without needing to isolate herself.
She got that at MCAA.
“The first day I came here, I went home and cried because of how fantastic it was,” she said.
But now, the senior feels her school has been violated.
Since the release of Tim James’ gubernatorial ad, Magic City Acceptance Academy has increased security. The decision was a prudent one. On one occasion, a car drove by the school and its occupants yelled slurs at students outside the school. On another, a woman approached the school, filming its exterior, with a person waiting in a car nearby. When students noticed her, she ran away.
The senior was there for the second incident. She and her friends were eating lunch outside when the woman approached the school.
“While security was running after her, I pushed my friends to go inside,” she said. “It was a serious situation that could’ve ended in violence.”
She said before Tim James’ ad aired, she’d never felt unsafe at MCAA. Now, while she’s glad the school has increased security, she worried that “there’s still a threat of people coming around.” Her safe place has changed forever.
The senior said she wants the ad to be taken down.
“It’s misinformation, and it’s deplorable to act like being part of a minority group is some shameful thing,” she said. “It’s straight-up lying, and it’s embarrassing for him.”
She said that the advertisement stokes hatred and resentment and that she’s worried it could lead to violence against minorities.
“I hope to God it doesn’t turn violent,” she said, “but I am genuinely afraid that it will.”
At 18, this is the first election cycle in which the senior will be able to vote. She said she won’t be voting for Tim James, and he is unfit 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 puts any amount of effort into educating himself, and I hope he can learn to stop attacking people for the sole reason that they are different than him.”
A mother’s story
The senior’s mom is an attorney, Kimberly Fasking. Three of her children attend MCAA.
When she saw the ad, she was sickened.
“I was beyond livid,” Fasking said. “As bad as the ad was — endangering the students and the faculty and staff — they’re specifically targeting 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 puts himself out there as a Christian, but this is certainly not anything that I think Jesus would approve of. I don’t remember him taunting and mocking people. I don’t remember those stories in the Bible.”
Fasking reached out to the James campaign to demand they pull the ad. In response, the James campaign “obscured” Fasking’s daughter but has continued to run the ads.
In a statement released to media outlets regarding the original ad, Tim James’ campaign doubled down on its claims.
“The principal said that the TV ad scared the children,” the statement said. “What should scare mothers and fathers of these children is what the faculty is doing by presenting this ungodly display through the drag show to which the children were subjected.”
Asked for comment on Fasking’s demands regarding the ad, Elizabeth Jordan, communications director for James, 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’s response is a reflection of exactly who they are.
“They’re really excellent at being horribly hateful, disgusting people,” she said. “They want to play a semantic game about whether it was actually a cease and desist. Call it whatever you want. I sent them a letter demanding they stop using my child’s image in their hate ad.”
While they’ve obscured Fasking’s daughter’s image, the Tim James campaign has doubled down on their attacks. There’s now another video advertisement, titled “Exploitation,” and radio ads featuring MCAA.
Fasking hopes voters don’t fall for the ad when they head to the polls on May 24.
“Somebody with this much hate in his heart is not fit to lead the state of Alabama,” she said. “He doesn’t want these teachers around my children? I don’t want him around my children.”
In its response to questions about Fasking’s concerns, the James campaign said that if Fasking was “truly concerned about her child, she would remove her from the Magic City Acceptance Academy period.”
“My mom brought me to Magic City Acceptance Academy because she was concerned about me,” the senior said. “If they were concerned about children, they wouldn’t be attacking them. My mother is concerned about me. That’s why she’s keeping me in the school. To keep me safe from other people who, like the Tim James campaign, want me to stay quiet or just stop existing.”
The senior said she hopes that transgender people at MCAA and in Alabama are able to stay safe and stay strong through the turmoil the ad has brought about.
“A trans person is a person, and they deserve to be able to live happily and freely,” she said. “They shouldn’t let bigots and attackers of children force them to live inauthentically or live in fear.”