OUTAGAMIE COUNTY, Wis. (WFRV) – It was a wild night at a board meeting in Outagamie County on Tuesday night.
Dozens of people attended because they were upset about what they saw as disparaging comments previously made by supervisor Tim Hermes regarding the transgender community. The group took exception to a board rule disallowing public comment on topics not on the agenda. There were no agenda items related to Hermes comments but one of the attendees, Jay Gibbs, still attempted to make a public comment.
Sheriff deputies escorted Gibbs out of the meeting.
“Former Representative John Lewis once said to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble,” said Gibbs.
When the group began chanting, chair board Jeff Nooyen paused the meeting for about 45 minutes. Supervisors eventually voted to move up the closed session in the agenda so they could resume in closed session and do the open session later in the night when things calmed down.
“I hope they see concerned community members making their voices heard,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs and others in the group protested outside the county building before the meeting. They clashed with about a half dozen people who arrived with signs expressing their beliefs that there are only two genders.
“He’s spreading a lot of harmful rhetoric that isn’t accurate about trans people or being trans and that’s just more damaging to society to spread false information,” said Jonnie Urban.
“What he’s (Hermes) trying to say is there are two genders, the science XX and XY we got it all in biology,” said Edward Perkins. “(Hermes) is being maligned.”
Outagamie County corporation counsel Kyle Sargent said during the meeting that supervisors can vote to verbally censure Hermes. A supervisor would have to sponsor a resolution, it would have to go through committee, and then it would need to get voted on by the whole board. It would pass with a majority vote.
Nooyen said he’s directing county staff to develop a code of conduct as well.
County supervisor Steve Thiede said he would sponsor a resolution to verbally censure Hermes for his comments.
Many in attendance said they were hoping that the county board could vote to remove Hermes from his position and were frustrated that action couldn’t be taken on Tuesday night.
A Local Five News reporter approached supervisor Hermes before the meeting began. In a brief conversation, Hermes refused to do an on-camera interview but did say that the believes he did nothing wrong and that he won’t be bullied into resigning.
Local Five News contacted Hermes via email, text message, phone call, and through Facebook messenger prior to the meeting but he didn’t respond to our requests for comment.
According to multiple people in attendance at a county board meeting on May 9, Hermes made several comments regarding transgender individuals and which bathrooms they should use. According to people at the meeting, Hermes also expressed concerns that men may dress up as women to assault women in female restrooms.
“I think he could have used a better choice of words when he was speaking but I don’t think he should be removed from office,” said Perkins. “I would say wait a minute.”
“Yes he has a right to free speech, but his speech also incites violence against trans people so that no longer makes it protected speech,” said Urban.
Hermes made the comments after a presentation from Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Director (EDI) Major Cooper. Cooper told Local Five News in a phone conversation that his presentation had nothing to do with bathroom options for transgender individuals.
“I am appalled by the comments that Supervisor Hermes made and that he continues to defend,” said Outagamie County supervisor Sara MacDonald. “Major Cooper, the EDI officer in Outagamie County, responded to Supervisor Hermes’ questions and comments with professionalism. After the meeting, it was noted by several county board members along with members of the public that this is a prime example of why it is important that Outagamie County continue to have an EDI officer.”
A study from the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California Los Angeles, found no evidence that places with inclusive bathrooms for transgender individuals had increased cases of criminal activity.
Cooper said that Hermes’ comments were hurtful, but that he understands that supervisors have a right to express their opinions.