You might recall the nationwide controversy spurred earlier this year by the “purple penguins,” a reference that appeared in training materials given to educators in a Nebraska school district. (You can read about it here and here.)
It all began when parents in the Lincoln Public School system learned that, during a “gender inclusiveness” training for middle-school teachers, materials were distributed to educators encouraging them to avoid “gendered expressions,” such as “boys & girls.”
Instead, the handout recommended addressing children with phrases like “all of the ‘purple penguins’” or “hey campers.” But in the end, the controversy wasn’t so much about the odd penguin terminology, as it was about whether parents were being respected and given the right to weigh in on what their children were going to be taught at school, especially regarding sensitive subjects about sexuality and gender.
Where did the infamous “purple penguin” handout come from? It was created by an advocacy group called Gender Spectrum, which specializes in prepping schools to address “gender expansive” and transgender issues. Entitled “12 easy steps on the way to gender inclusiveness,” the handout also encouraged educators to have “visual images reinforcing gender inclusion” such as “pictures of people who don’t fit gender norms, signs that ‘strike out’ sayings like ‘All Boys …’ or ‘All Girls… ‘ or ‘All Genders Welcome’ door hangers.”
“When you find it necessary to reference gender, say ‘Boy, girl, both or neither,’ ” instructed the handout. “When asked why, use this as a teachable moment.”
Another handout featured at the same training displayed a visual image called the “Genderbread Person.”
“Gender isn’t binary,” explains the Genderbread Person infographic. “It’s not either/or. In many cases it’s both/and. A bit of this, a dash of that. This tasty little guide is meant to be an appetizer for gender understanding.”
Among other messages, themes commonly promoted are:
While many of these lessons correctly point out that bullying others who appear different or don’t meet societal expectations is wrong, unfortunately, they also often cross the line from bullying-prevention into sexualized and politicized lessons, as well as promotion of transgenderism. And that’s what many of the parents in the Lincoln, Nebraska district were concerned about.
“We cannot strip away one part of a child’s identity to build another one up,” said Courtney Criswell, a mother of three, during a local school board meeting. “Make no mistake, that is exactly what these materials promote. It creates unnecessary confusion for the majority of students.”
While the experiences of parents like Courtney are without a doubt disturbing, many readers might still feel that they are mostly isolated cases After all, how do these situations impact families living elsewhere?
But the reality is—especially due to recent federal government actions—the door is opening wider for materials like the “Genderbread Person” or the “purple penguin” handouts to make an appearance at a school near you.
First of all, U.S. Department of Education officials sent memos to school districts nationwide that basically reinterpreted civil-rights laws to fit their own purposes. For instance, one of those memos asserted that Title IX—originally created to prevent discrimination against women in the education environment –now includes special protection for “gender identity.” The administration made this assertion even though no congressional action has been taken to change the law. Neither has any court ruling re-interpreted it, and “gender identity” does not even appear in the text of Title IX.
(Interestingly, some Lincoln, Nebraska, school officials cited these recent government announcements about Title IX to justify the controversial “purple penguin” training.)
In practice, this new interpretation means that if federal officials decide a local school isn’t doing enough to respect “gender identity,” it could be threatened with loss of federal funding.
Consider what happened to the Downey Unified School District in California. After the Education Department’s “Office of Civil Rights” investigated the school based on a discrimination complaint filed under Title IX, the school had to comply with a “resolution agreement.” The “agreement,” clearly spells out that, among other things, the school must:
- Engage a “consultant with expertise in child adolescent gender identity, including discrimination against transgender and nonconforming youth.”
- Then based on the consultant’s advice, “conduct mandatory training on issues related to gender nonconformance” and
- “in consultation with the Consultant(s) … incorporate age-appropriate instruction into its curriculum and activities for all students on gender identity…”
So in short, the federal government has now set up a mechanism—based on complaints filed under its own interpretation of civil-rights law—that allow it to micromanage curriculum, teacher training and school policies on gender and sexuality issues, regardless of what local parents, educators or state officials might think about it.
Of course, it doesn’t take too much imagination to conclude that the required “consultant” will likely end up being a group like Gender Spectrum.
What You Can Do:
1) Be proactive, not reactive: Don’t make the mistake of waiting for something bad to happen before you begin communicating with school officials in your area. The fact is, it’s much more difficult to get inappropriate materials out of a school once they’ve been introduced, than it is to offer helpful perspective and resources beforehand.
One tool that will equip parents and concerned citizens is Focus on the Family’s free, downloadable “Empowering Parents” guide, which not only provides tips on red flags that might indicate reasons for concern about what’s influencing your local schools, but also provides access to resources you can offer your school officials.
2) Model truth and grace. Discuss as a family the fact that individuals who are struggling with their gender identity, like all of us, are desperately in need of God’s truth and need to know the love and compassion of Christ. At the same time, parents have a right and responsibility to protect their children’s innocence and physical privacy.
3) Be prepared. Know your rights as parents to inquire about curriculum and parental rights policies. Below are a few resources that can help equip you to do that–in addition to providing you with suggestions on how best to communicate your concerns in a loving, yet confident manner.
The Parents’ Bill of Rights provides a quick overview of how schools should be respecting your family’s rights—and what to do about it if they are not.
The “Equipping Parents to Respond to Gender-Confusing Messages in Schools” guide provides tips and talking points for navigating these issues in your community–in addition to helping your child better grasp the truth of God’s loving design for humanity.
4) Most importantly, remember that you are not alone, and you are not powerless. National groups like Focus on the Family and Alliance Defending Freedom—a legal ministry that has defended many Christian parents and students—have worked together to provide these well-researched and practical resources, designed to come alongside parents and empower them to protect their children—as well as to express their concerns to school officials in a winsome and Christ-centered manner.
Watch: What does “gender identity” involve and how should Christians respond?
Read: Answering Parents’ Questions on Gender Confusion