A Leander karate school’s policy about not recognizing transgender students by the sex they identify with has exploded on social media this week after a transgender parent posted an argument she had with the owner on Facebook.
Scott Maczuga, the owner of Vortex Sports Academy in Leander, said he has received hundreds of Facebook comments opposing his policy, plus negative business reviews and some death threats.
One person called the business saying, “We are coming after you. … I hope you all (expletive) die,” in a phone call Maczuga shared.
Davina Jade Coulombe, who posted the argument, said she disagrees with Maczuga’s policy, which is to address students and parents with identifiers that reflect their sex at birth.
“I think it’s harmful and hurtful to a person, because now they are being invalidated,” Coulombe said. “What his policy is saying is, ‘We will let you come here, but we won’t let you be you.’”
Claire Bow, an attorney and a volunteer with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said Maczuga’s policy is not illegal but said she disagreed with it.
“This is just rank discrimination but not anything that can be addressed in the law,” she said.
Maczuga said he has been operating the academy for 11 years and has about 250 students. Eighty percent of the students are children, he said.
The controversy began Sept. 7 after Maczuga declined Coulombe’s offer to help teach a class because Coulombe, who had received a black belt from Vortex, had not been to the academy in years, Maczuga said. Also, Coulombe asks to be addressed as “ma’am,” Maczuga said, and “parents would have gone through the roof.”
Coulombe, a former professional wrestler, told the American-Statesman: “Telling me that the kids are just going to have to call me Mr. Coulombe? No, I’m not good with that.”
They later argued through text messages that Coulombe shared on Facebook including one in which Maczuga called Coulombe a “little (expletive)” and told him never to come near Vortex again. Maczuga also had Leander police issue a no trespassing warning against Coulombe.
Maczuga said this week that he said some unkind things in his text to Coulombe but that he has supported the lesbian, gay and bisexual community for years and had been the best man at a gay friend’s wedding. Maczuga said he came up with his transgender policy more than a year ago when an instructor in a class answered a student’s question by saying, “yes, ma’am,” and the student “rebuked the teacher,” saying they did not identify as either sex.
Maczuga said many upset parents later told him the issue of sexual identity was not something they wanted their children to hear about in class, prompting the transgender policy.
“We teach traditional values, and I have people come who want traditional values taught,” Maczuga said. He sent a message to parents Sept. 8, part of which said: “As a business, we needed to decide which side of the issue we were going to come down on.”
“Were we going to pander to the transgender children or serve the 99% that were there for their children to learn martial arts, traditional values and not have these social challenges exposed to their kids?” The message also said, “Even though we are under severe attack from this fringe group, we will not be bullied into allowing this group to change our position.”
Some parents interviewed this week supported Maczuga’s policy, while some opposed it.
Lola Hensel said she was thinking of sending her son to Maczuga’s school but had decided against it after learning about its transgender policy. She said the message that Maczuga sent parents minimized the support that transgender people had in the community by talking about them as a fringe group.
Hensel also said she didn’t see the issue of being transgender as a complex issue that children couldn’t handle: “You tell children a simple fact, and anyone who thinks kids can’t handle that aren’t giving them much credit.”
Julie Graham, whose two children attend the karate academy, said she thought Maczuga’s transgender policy was fair. The school is an environment that “has a lot of young children in it and needs to be G-rated,” she said. She said the transgender issue needs to be discussed in families and not at the school where children are there to learn about martial arts.