As more transgender-identifying children enter our educational institutions, school officials have scrambled to provide accommodations for them, sometimes at the expense of other students’ rights, and sometimes against their parents’ wishes. The complications introduced are legion—ranging from opposite sex pronoun usage to highly controversial bathroom and locker room access.
One such school that has been affected is Township High School District 211, located in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. School officials had granted a natal male trans-identifying student’s request to be treated as a female in all areas (including bathroom usage and sports teams) but drew the line at access to the girls’ locker rooms. An attempt was made to balance the rights of the trans-identifying student (referred to as Student A) with those of the girls, by providing a separate changing facility, but it was deemed unacceptable.
The District offered to install—and in fact did install—a bank of lockers there, and to let Student A choose several female friends who would be comfortable changing alongside her. However, Student A told OCR that she felt this arrangement would “ostracize” her.
…The former Superintendent stated to OCR that she based her decision not only on Student A’s rights and needs, but on the privacy concerns of all students. The Superintendent told OCR that Student A explained that she wanted equal access to the girls’ locker rooms because “she wanted to be a girl like every other girl.”
But this male-bodied student was eventually given access to the girls’ locker rooms. Student A’s parents had filed a lawsuit and as a result, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights had become involved. The accommodation was made only after the school was threatened with the loss of millions in federal funding.
After the student filed a complaint, the Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights ruled Dist. 211 had discriminated against the student “on the basis of sex.”
Some attendees at the Sunday meeting noted the transgender student had been using female locker rooms already for two years without the school notifying students or parents.
…The school board changed its policies to allow Student A into the girls locker rooms, so long as the student changed behind newly installed “privacy curtains.”
Student A’s parents were able to achieve these new rights for their child, but it came with a cost. The natal girls in the locker room, many who feel uncomfortable changing within sight of a born male, had their right to privacy taken away. Six of these high school girls bravely spoke up during a school board meeting:
Those curtains, the six girls said, shield Student A from personal insecurities, but they leave the rest of them uncomfortably exposed.
“It is unfair to infringe upon the rights of others to accommodate one person,” the six girls, in a joint statement, told an audience of at least 500.
“Although we will never fully understand your personal struggle,” they said, addressing the transgender student, “please understand that we, too, all are experiencing personal struggles that need to be respected.”
Some parents, organized as “D211 Parents for Privacy,” are putting pressure on the school board and their legislators to try to regain the privacy lost to their children. On their Facebook page, their sensible plea is for a compromise for Student A that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others:
“We should be able to agree that accommodations can be made for those who need them due to rare situations they find themselves in so they can get through school without undue stress. That same principle should apply to EVERYONE.
Accommodations should NOT infringe on others if it can be helped and especially if the accommodation takes place in a private, intimate space where minor children are getting undressed!
It is called balancing your feelings with others. There is NO BALANCING of needs here. It is all ONE SIDED.”
Unfortunately, the situation in which these parents and their children have found themselves is becoming less rare. There has been a steady increase in the number of kids claiming to be transgender since the early 2000s.
The graph is from 4thwavenow’s post “Why are more girls than boys presenting to gender clinics?,” showing the relatively recent rise in the number of gender dysphoric adolescents–especially girls, but also boys. It’s an international trend. The BBC reported last week that there has been nearly a 1000% rise in the number of young people referred to gender clinics during the last six years, with a peak around age 16. I’ve also seen several anecdotal reports of multiple “trans kids” in one friend group, and the phenomenon was noted by a psychotherapist in this post. It’s clearly becoming more and more common for students to identify as transgender.
In response to the increasing numbers of trans-claiming students, the government has been pressuring schools to implement policies to safeguard these students’ rights. On December 1, 2014, the Department of Education released a memo declaring that gender identities are now protected under Title IX.
In one short paragraph of a 34-page memo released on Dec. 1, the Department of Education articulated a clear stance on gender identity, saying transgender students in public schools should be enrolled in single-sex classes that align with how they live their lives day-to-day.
“We’re thrilled,” says Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “It’s so critical to the health and well-being of those students, and it’s going to be so helpful to have that guidance in writing so that schools understand what their obligations are.”
The memo is explicit that federal law protects students’ decisions made in accordance with their gender identity. “Under Title IX,” it reads, a school “must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity in all aspects of the planning, implementation, enrollment, operation, and evaluation of single-sex classes.”
Yes, you read that correctly, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) was “thrilled.” If you’re like me, you wondered why an organization with Lesbian in the title would support the increased rights of so-called transgender youth. After a quick search, I found a Wikipedia article that revealed Shannon Minter, a “trans man,” is a civil rights attorney with an impressive track record of LGBT legal victories. Minter was even appointed by President Obama to a White House commission. Having Minter as the legal director for NCLR coincides with the organization’s aims to cover the entire LGBT, not just the L. “Achieving LGBT Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy and Public Education” are the goals of this non-profit, public interest law firm.
In accord with the NCLR’s mission to promote transgender equality in schools, it joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Gender Spectrum, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National Education Association (NEA) to create a set of guidelines for schools. In August of 2015, NCLR issued a press release announcing the publication of “Schools In Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools.”
Schools are increasingly being called upon to include and support transgender students. Recognizing that this can seem daunting or overwhelming, Schools in Transition offers practical guidance and field-tested tips to parents, educators, administrators, and community members on planning and supporting a transgender student through a transition at school. The guide is geared toward the needs of all students, kindergarten through twelfth grade, and incorporates recommendations that will allow schools to tailor those plans to the particular circumstances of the student and school. The authors include statements, recommendations, and resources which are based on data, research and best practices that have been tested in this field, as well as narratives of real experiences from students and educators.
So, “Schools In Transition” is a guide to help “schools understand what their obligations are” to transgender students. In fact, schools need so much guidance that this publication is a whopping 68 pages long. Bear with me, there is a lot of information to get through.
Who are the lead authors? Asaf Orr, Esq. (Transgender Youth Project Staff Attorney for NCLR) and Joel Baum, M.S. (Senior Director, Professional Development and Family Services for Gender Spectrum).
Before I get into the details of “Schools In Transition,” I’ll warn you that sprinkled throughout the guidelines is trans activist lingo. Terms like “cisgender,” “gender-expansive,” “assigned at birth,” “wrong puberty,” and “authentic selves” are used liberally and unabashedly. There is neither acknowledgement that students could be confused about their gender identity, nor any mention that most gender dysphoric children desist. It is assumed that once children declare themselves trans, it is a fact and they must be accommodated, even against parents’ wishes, if necessary. (There is actually an entire section devoted to “Unsupportive Parents” in Chapter 5.)
Hang on as I take you on a quick trip through all six chapters (and appendices) of “Schools In Transition.” I will share various nuggets of wisdom from the authors that I deem especially troubling. But I urge you to read the guidelines yourself. The authors thoroughly address all of the complications that trans students introduce into schools.
Don’t ever doubt children who think they are transgender. Period.
The expression of transgender identity, or any other form of gender-expansive behavior, is a healthy, appropriate and typical aspect of human development. A gender-expansive student should never be asked, encouraged or required to affirm a gender identity or to express their gender in a manner that is not consistent with their self-identification or expression. Any such attempts or requests are unethical and will likely cause significant emotional harm. It is irrelevant whether a person’s objection to a student’s identity or expression is based on sincerely held religious beliefs or the belief that the student lacks capacity or ability to assert their gender identity or expression (e.g., due to age, developmental disability or intellectual disability).
If you don’t affirm their transgender self diagnosis, it will likely lead to suicide.
The consequences of not affirming a child’s gender identity can be severe, and it can interfere with their ability to develop and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. In the school context, that distress will also hinder a transgender student’s focus in class and ability to learn. The longer a transgender youth is not affirmed, the more significant and long-lasting the negative consequences can become, including loss of interest in school, heightened risk for alcohol and drug use, poor mental health and suicide.
It is best to socially transition children who think they are the opposite sex.
With the goal of preventing or alleviating the distress that transgender youth often experience, typically referred to as Gender Dysphoria,3 healthcare providers recommend that the child “socially transition” and live consistently with their gender identity. That includes dressing, interacting with peers and using names and pronouns in a manner consistent with their identified gender. For most transgender youth, social transition provides tremendous and immediate relief, allowing them to flourish socially, emotionally and academically.
This chapter deals with bullying of “gender-expansive” youth. I agree that no child should be harassed due to how they present or act. And, actually, I strongly support this statement:
No child should be prevented from pursuing their passions simply based on others’ perceptions of their gender. By sending a message that certain pursuits are off-limits simply because of a person’s gender, we lose access to an incredible source of human potential.
Staff, students and parents may need to be trained to accept a student’s authentic self.
A student’s desire to undergo a gender transition at school is borne out of a deep need to be their authentic self. The urgency and timing of the gender transition must be carefully balanced. Ideally, the student is not currently experiencing an unmanageably high level of distress at school, which will allow the student, school and family (if appropriate) to work together as a team to establish the most positive scenario in which the transition can take place. This process could include training for staff, students and parents and a carefully laid out plan for the student’s authentic identity to be shared with the school community.
If anyone has a problem accepting children as transgender, it’s probably because they are uninformed.
It is important to keep in mind that many negative reactions boil down to a lack of knowledge or familiarity with the idea of transgender people, particularly transgender youth. While a public transition might make others (including you) feel uncomfortable, that discomfort does not outweigh the student’s need to be safe and supported.
Students get to decide where they go and what they do based on gender identity. If anyone has a problem accepting this, they should try to be more open-minded.
Another crucial element in supporting a transitioning student is giving them access to sex-separated facilities, activities or programs based on the student’s gender identity. Restrooms, locker rooms, health and physical education classes, competitive athletics, overnight field trips, homecoming court and prom are just some of the explicitly gendered spaces that tend to be the most controversial because they require us to re-examine our beliefs about who belongs in those spaces.
Concerning bathroom usage, a transgender student’s comfort level has a higher priority than a non-transgender student’s comfort level.
Any student who feels uncomfortable sharing facilities with a transgender student should be allowed to use another more private facility like the bathroom in the nurse’s office, but a transgender student should never be forced to use alternative facilities to make other students comfortable.
Teachers, are you planning an overnight field trip? Gender identity determines the sleeping arrangements. And the school cannot disclose to roommates or parents if a student’s gender identity and sex do not match.
A transgender student’s comfort level with sleeping arrangements will largely dictate the manner in which related issues are addressed. If students are to be separated based on gender, then the transgender student should be allowed to room with peers that match their gender identity. As with any other students, the school should try to pair the transgender student with peers with whom the student feels comfortable. In some cases, a transgender student may want a room with fewer roommates or another alternative suggested by the student or their family. The school should honor these requests whenever possible and make adjustments to prevent the student from being marginalized because of those alternative arrangements. Regardless of whether those roommates know about the student’s gender identity, the school has an obligation to maintain the student’s privacy and cannot disclose or require disclosure of the student’s transgender status to the other students or their parents.
Don’t believe that trans girls could have an advantage over natal girls on competitive sports teams. Seriously, don’t think about it. Stop.
Even in states whose athletic associations do not have a written policy or rule on this topic, schools and districts should allow transgender students to compete on athletic teams based on gender identity. Unfortunately, schools often erroneously believe that a transgender student, particularly a transgender girl, will have a competitive advantage over the other players and therefore should not be allowed to compete on the team that matches their gender identity. Concerns regarding competitive advantage are unfounded and often grounded in sex stereotypes about the differences and abilities of males versus females.11”
Focusing on the perceived differences between males and females too often obscures the fact that there is great variation among cisgender males and among cisgender females. Moreover, the very small numbers of transgender student-athletes who have benefitted from transgender-inclusive eligibility rules have integrated well within the size and skill level of their teammates, such that there has not been any concern with competitive advantage. Thus, while a transgender girl may have been assigned male at birth, she still falls within the wide range of athletic abilities of her female peers.
Similarly, the participation of transgender student-athletes does not compromise their safety or that of other student-athletes. The safety rules of each sport are designed to protect players of all sizes and skill levels and adequately neutralize any concerns regarding the safety of transgender and cisgender student-athletes.
Schools should affirm and accept students as transgender even if it goes against their parent(s)’ wishes.
In these situations, the transgender student will often seek out an administrator or educator for support. Whenever a transgender student initiates this process, the educator or administrator should ask whether the student’s family is accepting in order to avoid inadvertently putting the student at risk of greater harm by discussing with the student’s family. Based on that information, the school and student should determine how to proceed through the collaborative process of figuring out how the school can support the student and balance the student’s need to be affirmed at school with the reality that the student does not have that support at home.
Unsupportive parents might need to be educated by the school on how best to support their child. To sway them, school officials may need to remind them about the high rate of suicide.
Addressing the student’s needs at school provides a great short-term solution; but where possible, the goal should be to support the student’s family in accepting their child’s gender identity and seek opportunities to foster a better relationship between the student and their family. A parent’s initial negative reaction to indications that their child might be transgender is likely based on inaccurate or incomplete information about gender identity or out of fear for what this will mean for their child’s future. Such reactions often come from a place of love and protection, and are not intended to harm their child — rejection can be a misguided attempt at protection. Learning that transgender youth experience these behaviors as rejection, and that these behaviors can have serious consequences for their children, often helps families change their behaviors.
Schools can assist the process of family acceptance in a myriad of ways, including arranging a safe space for the student to disclose their gender identity to their parents, providing counseling services for the whole family or connecting them to local resources or other parents of transgender or gender-expansive youth. As part of this effort, it is important to educate the student’s family members about the serious consequences of refusing to affirm their child’s gender identity. Sharing observations from school personnel that highlight the effects rejection has had on the student may also help encourage parents to begin moving toward acceptance.
When all else fails, school officials may need to testify against unsupportive parents in court. Parents, unlike educators, can be biased about their student’s needs.
If the parents are unable to resolve the dispute amicably, it is possible that an educator or school administrator may be called to testify in court.
School officials interact with the student on a daily basis and focus on supporting the student’s growth and development, which gives school personnel unique insight into the student’s needs without the biases parents can or are perceived to have. Sharing the school’s experiences with the student before and after the student began identifying as transgender can help highlight to the judge the importance of affirming the student’s gender identity. Describing the academic, social or emotional changes that school personnel observed will strengthen the testimony and give the judge a fuller understanding of the child’s needs and what would be in that that child’s best interests.
This chapter focuses on ways to get legal protections for transgender students. Just utilize Title IX, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and state anti-discrimination laws.
Appendix A (Puberty and Medical Transition):
The benefits of binders outweigh the risks.
At the onset of puberty, gender dysphoria can become incapacitating for transgender youth as their body begins to develop secondary sex characteristics that are inconsistent with their gender identity. These inconsistencies are also visible to peers. Transgender youth often take special precautions to hide their developing bodies with the hope of presenting to the outside world a body that is consistent with their gender identity. For example, a youth who identifies as male may use clothing and materials to flatten the contours of his chest. Those materials can be tight, constricting and uncomfortable; however, the dysphoria caused by not taking those additional precautions far outweighs the drawbacks.
Appendix B (Gender & Pronouns):
To reduce gender dysphoria, use incorrect grammar.
Appendix C (Talking Points):
I won’t reproduce all four pages here, but Appendix C includes talking points developed by Gender Spectrum to address concerns about teaching gender and supporting trans students.
- So who decides if a student is transgender? What is to prevent a boy coming to school one day and simply declaring that he is a girl and changing in the girl’s locker room?
- Why should my child learn about gender at school?
- Isn’t my child too young to be learning about gender?
- If you’re talking about gender aren’t you discussing reproduction and sexuality?
- Ideas about gender diversity go against the values we are instilling in my child at home. Are you trying to teach my child to reject these values?
- Won’t my child get confused if we speak about more than two gender options?
- Won’t discussing gender encourage my child to be transgender?
Administrators at US public schools–without consultation with parents or the rest of the citizenry–have enlisted the aid of a well known trans-activist organization to set policy. San Francisco Bay Area-based Gender Spectrum provides “consultation, training and events designed to help families, educators, professionals, and organizations understand and address the concepts of gender identity and expression.” Put another way, they are really big into educating people who may have doubts about gender identity.
I admit that the information on their site makes my head spin. On the one hand, I am in total agreement that society’s rigid definitions of gender are harmful. And, likewise, I believe that it “is detrimental to those who do not fit neatly into these categories.” On the other hand, I cannot grasp how rejecting sex role stereotypes would lead a person to believe they are transgender. Their website is full of this kind of faulty reasoning.
Well, let’s get back to Schools In Transition. We are close to the finish line.
Appendix D (Gender Support Plan & Gender Transition Plan):
Gender Spectrum is also the brains behind creating official-looking, convenient, ready-to-print forms. Included is a Gender Support Plan form and a Gender Transition Plan form.
Appendix E (Assessing Transgender Students for Special Education):
Make sure that anyone evaluating a transgender student keeps affirming and accepting their gender identity. Educate them if necessary.
Determining whether a student qualifies for an IEP or Section 504 Plan typically involves an assessment. To ensure the assessment provides accurate results, the assessment must be conducted in a manner that affirms the student’s gender identity. Beyond referring to the student by their chosen name and pronouns, the assessor should become familiar with the literature on transgender youth. Having experience working with transgender youth can also help lead to a more accurate assessment of a transgender student’s needs. Lastly, the assessor must not recommend any supports, services or accommodations that are intended to change a student’s gender identity or otherwise shame them for who they are.
Overall, I am quite amazed at the amount of information crammed into “Schools In Transition.” It seems designed to help schools navigate through ALL of the trans-induced complications. Schools under the threat of losing federal funding may feel they have no choice but to embrace these guidelines. Especially since the National Education Association (yes, the organization representing three million teachers) is a co-author and is promoting it as an “extremely valuable resource.”
“NEA is proud to be a co-author of Schools in Transition, a first-of-its kind guide to supporting transgender students in K-12 schools,” added NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “This publication is an extremely valuable resource for the three million NEA members who work tirelessly to assure that their schools and classrooms are safe and welcoming for all students. And it will be a lifesaver for the increasing number of transgender students who are living as their authentic selves. Only when every school provides an inclusive, respectful environment can every student achieve their full potential.”
If there are any teachers out there reading this, I hope you are also skeptical about “Schools In Transition.” Many of you know your students quite well and realize that children can sometimes be confused. By “affirming” every student’s gender identity (because it is sanctioned by your schools’ policies), you may actually be causing them harm and setting them on the path to socially and medically transition with all of its attendant risks. If you share doubts and agree that this type of “support” could be detrimental, please raise questions with your school administrators. There are many concerned parents who need your help.