Gender Confusion in Our Schools
Images of their school were splashed across television screens for weeks. Many of the parents and students faced accusations of discriminating and being “inhumane.” Their school incurred not-so-subtle threats of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds. What was the issue that threw this suburb of Chicago—Palatine, Illinois—headfirst into a national media frenzy?
It all began with demands for the school to allow a boy, who was identifying as a girl, full access into female locker rooms. At first the school tried to accommodate the student as much as possible— allowing access to female bathrooms and addressing the student with a female name and pronouns, as well as granting the right to play on a female sports team. But school officials drew the line when it came to allowing unrestricted access to female locker rooms, especially after a community outcry to protect young girls’ physical privacy.
‘Parents with a Mission’
“We are just parents with a mission to protect our children’s rights and privacy,” said Jessica Miller, the mother of a teen girl in the district, during a board meeting addressing the topic. “Our girls are feeling helpless, but they refuse to speak up because they fear retaliation.”
But school officials were hearing other voices as well, some of which seemed to wield a bigger stick— like the federal government officials from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), who were part of the Obama administration at the time. After subjecting the school district to a long investigation, OCR officials announced that the school had violated an education civil rights law by not allowing the student full access to the girls’ locker rooms—implying that the district’s federal funding was in jeopardy. (The Obama administration’s re-interpretation of that civil rights law was later reversed by the Trump administration. Read more about that here.) After months of unrelenting pressure, the school district backed down from its original stance and reached an agreement with federal officials to give the student access to the girls’ locker rooms. (Even after school officials tried to reach a compromise by requesting that the student use privacy curtains or a bathroom stall in the locker room, it still incurred charges of “blatant discrimination” by groups like the ACLU.)
Again, the community was in an uproar. During an emergency school-board meeting, teenage girls pleaded for understanding in front of some 500 people. They asked the audience to understand why they were uncomfortable undressing in the same area with a boy who identifies as a girl. One student explained that peers who expressed discomfort with the arrangement were “being bullied and labeled as insensitive and inhumane.” She emphasized “the need to respect all of the students’ right to privacy,” according to school board documents.
“Please understand that we too, all are experiencing personal struggles that need to be respected,” said a student, who gave a joint statement on behalf of six girls, some as young as 15 and 16 years old. Sadly, the experience of students in Palatine, Illinois, is not an isolated event. Similar scenarios are playing out across the nation.
‘Girls’ Rights Matter’
For instance, in Missouri, a 17-year-old-student identifying as transgender was given access to the high-school girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms. The student previously lived as a gay male, but as an upperclassman in high school, began identifying as a transgender, according to news reports. Not surprisingly, the student’s presence in the locker room spurred concerns from female students and their parents, some of whom publicly argued that “girls’ rights matter” too.
A school board meeting was held on the topic. But nothing changed, leaving many of the girls feeling that their perspective was being ignored. “Some girls already have insecurity problems getting dressed in front of other girls as it is, much less having to get dressed in front of a boy,” explained a 17-year-old girl to reporters. So the students made their voice heard the only way they felt was left—on a Monday, more than 150 students walked out of class and stood in front the school building for two hours to express their discomfort with the arrangement. The standoff quickly thrust the small community of 2,900 near St. Louis into the national spotlight. Later, school officials adopted a policy that on a case-by-case basis the principal may accommodate students requesting greater privacy by offering access to a single stall restroom or access to a unisex bathroom.
New Local Controversies
Meanwhile, K-12 school districts are continuing to surprise parents by introducing new “gender identity” guidelines that affect even the youngest students. In July 2016, parents in Fairfax County, a Virginia suburb just outside the nation’s capital, protested that they were “cut out” of the process when their school board adopted guidelines addressing transgender issues, including bathroom and locker room policies. The school board “released regulations with no parental input—nothing from the taxpayers—so I’m really upset,” a mother told reporters. “It’s a free-for-all.”
High schools in Utah and Colorado also unveiled “gender inclusive” bathroom signs. (See the “all gender restrooms” sign featured in the Park City High School in Utah at top of story.)
Recently, a high school boy changing clothes for his P.E. class “suddenly realized there was a member of the opposite sex changing with him,” according to a lawsuit. When he brought up the incident to school officials, he was told to “to ‘tolerate’ it and make it as ‘natural’ as he possibly can.” Apparently, a female student who identifies as male was given access to the boys’ locker room.
These controversies aren’t just limited to high schools. For instance, parents expressed dismay after learning that a large North Carolina school district planned to introduce elementary-age kids to a book about a boy who likes to wear dresses. The school decided to use a less controversial book after receiving criticism.
And the year before that incident, parents of elementary-age kids attending a charter school in Minnesota (Nova Classical Academy) received a disturbing email from their principal. The email notified them that their children “will listen to various books that celebrate differences” including the book, My Princess Boy.
The book features a little boy who likes to wear dresses. “His dad tells my Princess Boy how pretty he looks in a dress. His dad holds his hand and tells him to twirl!” says one page of the book.
The school’s actions were spurred by the fact that an elementary-age “gender-nonconforming” child was attending the school. But concerned parents—some whose children were as young as 5 and 6 years old—were also asking about their right to determine when, how and if their young kids were going to be exposed to complex topics regarding sexual identity.
One mom described how her child was already making concerning statements: “She said, ‘Mom, I think you can choose if you want to be a boy or a girl’” (reported in a Daily Signal article).
Another mom talked to the Daily Signal about the future impact on kids if the opposite sex were later allowed to go into female bathrooms at the school: “If we start to desensitize our children at a young age that it’s fine—and right now, I’m not worried that something bad is going to happen to her in her elementary school, but that she would get used to this. And eventually she could get put in a situation where she could be in harm’s way, because she’s innocently in the bathroom with someone who intends to cause harm.”
As a result of the parental pushback the school later dropped My Princess Boy from its lessons, but continued efforts to implement a “gender inclusive” policy.
What You Can Do
So how can Christian families respond to these complex situations in their schools, especially when local controversies often involve students who are genuinely struggling with their identity? How can parents and students take a stand for children’s privacy and safety—while at the same time demonstrating the love of Christ to hurting people around them? Here are tools that can help:
For Students …
Sponsored by Focus on the Family, Day of Dialogue is a free-speech event and website for Christian teens in public high schools and colleges. The annual initiative empowers students to speak their values in a loving, Christ-centered manner. It empowers them to have a place at the table to share their biblical perspective— especially when topics like marriage, sexuality and “gender identity” are being discussed at school.
The website features several teen-friendly articles, such as “Why Male and Female Matter”, that equip students to proactively think through their biblical worldview on gender and sexuality issues. Students will also find interactive free-speech tools, such as the Conversation Cards, that enable them to have a place at the table in expressing a Christian viewpoint on hot-button issues in their schools. To participate, students can sign up for the free resources.
For general information about public restrooms and keeping your family safe, read Focus’ Public Restrooms–Your Privacy and Your Safety series.