By October, the MCAA community had adjusted to their new environment and their principal says it began to feel like a normal school. According to Moh, the school went remote briefly in January because of a COVID surge, and in-person learning returned in February.

As students returned to school following the period of remote learning, legislation targeting the LGBTQ community was spreading throughout the country, including in Alabama where two laws limiting transgender youth’s rights were eventually passed. In April, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill banning certain gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, and another mandating that students use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth sex.

MCAA did not shy away from these topics in its classrooms. Evelyn’s history teacher had his class watch a video on anti-trans legislation being passed, and then led a discussion after the viewing. Teachers and staff were checking in on students frequently. While teachers offered both educational and emotional support, Wilson noticed that these events were adding another level of anxiety for the students.

Moh says the bill making it a crime to provide puberty blockers, hormones, and medical procedures to transgender teens under 19 greatly affected their openly trans classmates.

“I had friends who didn’t come into school, friends that were late,” they say. “They were just destroyed, because they had been on the gender-affirming hormones for a while now. And because they can’t get those hormones, it will wreck their bodies because they’d been on it for so long. They will go through a very, very difficult transition to go back [to not having care].”

And then came the ad from Tim James.

“Everything he says in that ad is a complete lie, we’re not a trans school. We’re a school for any student who feels marginalized in their current setting in any way,” Wilson says. “It amounts to adult bullying because our kids are seeing these ads and seeing how they’re being described by an adult who’s running for the top office in Alabama. It’s just another level of discrimination and bigotry.”

After the ad ran, MCAA experienced security issues. There was an incident where a group drove by the campus and yelled slurs at the middle school students having an outdoor physical education class. Shortly after, a woman filmed some students eating lunch outside. When a security guard confronted her, she ran into a car being driven by a man and left; Moh’s mother was able to get the license plate number. The school had to hire a second security guard.

Teen Vogue reached out to James’s campaign about the ad and the school’s reaction to it. Despite repeated attempts, the campaign has not replied. In an emailed statement to the New York Times, James said the school’s existence is “an indication that the cultural war between common sense and crazy has come to Alabama.”

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