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‘We need to take a stand’: Outagamie County Board censures supervisor over transphobic remarks

Over two-thirds voted that they disagreed with Tim Hermes' comments

Trans-rights activists in the audience applaud the Outagamie County Board for voting to censure Supervisor Tim Hermes
Trans-rights activists in the audience applaud the Outagamie County Board for voting to censure Supervisor Tim Hermes Tuesday, June 6, 2023. The censure was in response to remarks Hermes made last month. Joe Schulz/WPR

The Outagamie County Board sent a message Tuesday evening that it does not support comments Supervisor Tim Hermes made about the transgender community last month.

The board voted 21-8 to censure Hermes, with some supervisors alleging Hermes has a track record of making derogatory comments toward transgender people throughout his time in office. The censure came in the wake of protests from trans-rights activists who have called for Hermes’ resignation.

At the May 9 county board meeting, Hermes said men were pretending to be women to use bathrooms or changing rooms with young girls before saying, “I find that disgusting,” according to a transcript in the meeting packet.

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Hermes doubled down on those comments Tuesday night when defending himself regarding censure, and offered no apology to the transgender community.

“I did not call anybody disgusting. The disgusting word, that is situational,” he said. “When you have biological men going into a girl’s changing room, a woman’s bathroom — and all the worry, and concern and fears that people have surrounding that — that is what I find disgusting.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, there’s no evidence that transgender people using bathrooms that align with their gender identity leads to violence or undermines safety. The LGBTQ+ advocacy group said such claims are “contrived” and “not a real concern based on habits of actual predators.” And, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, transgender people are over four times more likely than their cisgender counterparts to be victims of violent crime.

“He has repeatedly shown no remorse for his actions,” Supervisor Steve Thiede said of Hermes’ remarks. “This is a pattern. We have all seen it. This is going to continue. We need to take a stand that we don’t agree with what he’s done or said.”

A censure does not remove Hermes from office. It’s essentially a public declaration that the board disapproves of Hermes’ May 9 statements.

“The Outagamie County Board finds the conduct of Supervisor Hermes to be damaging to the good reputation of Outagamie County, to be disrespectful and insensitive to members of our community, and to be inconsistent with the mission of Outagamie County, its employees, officers and the majority of the County Board of Supervisors,” the censure resolution reads.

Public comments differ on censure

The meeting saw over an hour of public comment from those in favor and opposed to censuring Hermes.

Among those opposed were Dean Neubert, vice chair of the Republican Party of Outagamie County, along with a contingent of people from the greater Milwaukee area. The Milwaukee-area group included Matt Trewhella, pastor and co-founder of the anti-abortion group Missionaries to the Preborn, who signed onto a letter in the 1990s saying killing doctors providing abortions was “justifiable” homicide.

The Outagamie County Board room is packed Tuesday
The Outagamie County Board room is packed Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Both those who support and oppose Supervisor Tim Hermes’ censure attended the meeting. Joe Schulz/WPR

Those arguing against censure equated it to censoring someone for exercising their freedom of speech. Others, including Trewhella, used religious arguments.

“You have a duty, board, to do right in the sight of Christ,” Trewhella said.

Those in favor of censure said Hermes’ comments could incite violence toward transgender individuals, saying he has the right to free speech but must live with the consequences.

“No one is saying that the supervisor doesn’t have the right to free speech,” said Appleton resident Helen Boyd. “What we are saying is that the speech puts lives in danger in this community and goes against what we believe to be an inclusive community.”

While more than two-thirds of the Outagamie County Board voted to censure Hermes, the decision was not unanimous.

“Just because some in this body and community found that what was said offensive is not reason to put forth a resolution for censure,” said Supervisor Chad Cooke.

Board chair: Hermes has shown ‘a pattern’ of ‘offensive behavior’

Outagamie County Board Chair Jeff Nooyen said the Wisconsin Counties Association sponsored a regional diversity seminar in Appleton that Hermes attended last August.

During a presentation at the event, Hermes began badgering presenters to the point where they told Hermes they would no longer be taking questions from him, Nooyen said.

“Supervisor Hermes’ reaction was filled with profanity and vulgarity. I ended up sending emails of apology to 25 attendees of that seminar,” Nooyen said. “This is just a pattern of negative and disrespectful and offensive behavior that’s got to stop.”

Supervisor Debbie Vander Heiden said she was in attendance last August, during which Hermes made “an obscene suggestion” toward the transgender community. County Board Vice Chair Dan Gabrielson said he was also in attendance.

“What should have been a casual presentation about diversity in communities throughout the state quickly turned into shouting at the presenter, swearing and door slamming,” he said. “The audience was shocked and, frankly, afraid. It was not a good reflection on Outagamie County.”

Outagamie County Board Supervisor Tim Hermes defends his past conduct
Outagamie County Board Supervisor Tim Hermes defends his past conduct during a debate about whether to censure him Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Joe Schulz/WPR

Hermes said his frustration at the August event was in response to people saying there are “too many old white men in power.”

“To me, that is sexist and racist, so I told ‘em what I thought and I did leave,” he said.

According to the Appleton Post-Crescent, Hermes also made derogatory comments toward the transgender community at a February County Board meeting, reportedly saying he equated pronouns and gender ideology to the “sexualization of our children.”

“That was just over a simple appointment to the library board, and he said offensive things,” Nooyen said of Hermes’ February comments.

Supervisor Karen Lawrence said the board has dealt with Hermes’ “theatrics” month-in and month-out, and if he wasn’t bringing up transgender people, “it was something else.”

“If we don’t vote to censure him, he is just going to keep going with it,” Lawrence said. “It is out of line, and it is unprofessional. If that continues, I will be gone.”