On Monday night the Pascack Valley Board of Education voted six to one in favor of a policy that will allow male students identifying as female to use the women’s restroom and locker room. It’s been called a policy that will eliminate discrimination of transgender students, one that will comply with anti-bullying laws and something that is necessary to address a serious issue. What issue is that exactly? Is this a problem so rampant among school children that it requires a policy that will change the nature of gender specific teams, restrooms and locker rooms?
According to a study conducted by the Williams Institute from the University of California School of Law, fewer than .3% of the population are included in the category of transgender. Although not an insignificant number, it’s still less than one transgender student for every 300 students on average. This statistic is also very low compared to other serious problems impacting large numbers of kids. According to some studies, nearly 1 in 5 teens will have serious suicidal thoughts and more than 1 in 4 kids from 8th to 12th grade will use illicit drugs. These numbers provide some perspective on other priority areas where you could argue the resources of school board and school staff might be better focused. Having said that, if you’re a parent of a transgender teen it’s understandable that you’d want and expect help from the school for your struggling teen. In the case of Pascack Valley High Schools, there were several transgender students from the school at the board meeting, so there are certainly real faces to go with the statistics. The question is whether this new policy is helpful, or harmful to the very people intended to help. In today’s world, policy makers often focus on one thought to justify action, ”if we can help just one kid”. So let’s look at the potential collateral damage of focusing a policy on that “one kid”.
The new policy establishes guidelines for student’s gender to be defined as the gender they identify with instead of their biological gender for the purpose of using of locker rooms, rest rooms and signing up for gender specific sports teams. Supporters for the policy say that this helps transgender students overcome discrimination. Opposition to the policy cites parental rights and privacy rights of other students.
From my perspective there are three troubling issues that arise from a blanket policy such as this leaving it up to a minor student’s desire to identify.
- Parents are Excluded: The first is that the policy does not involve school contact with parents. So a 14 year old male student could decide to identify as a girl and immediately have access to the girls locker room. Teenagers are typically unable and legally not entitled to make even smaller decisions about their own bodies without a parent or guardian signing off, but they should be empowered to change genders without a parent?
- Privacy of all other Students Ignored: The second issue is a privacy concern among those young students not wanting to participate in a gender neutral locker room. There are reasons for gender specific locker rooms after all and they been upheld in recent court rulings. According to Tamara Laine who covered this for Chasing News, the other students may ‘opt-out’ and use an alternative private restroom if they’re not comfortable. Why not have the policy focused on enabling a transgender student to use the private bathrooms to change, like a teachers lounge or nurse’s office instead of imposing a new policy on the entire school?
- Adolescent Identity Confusion: The third issue is that many students who are confused at a young age because they are going through adolescence may need the guidance offered by mothers and fathers during the difficulty of their teen years. Most confused students are not necessarily transgender, they may in fact just be confused about their identity as is normal for teenagers.
One leading voice of opposition is New Jersey Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi who took to Facebook to outline two of the key reasons for her opposition including parents and privacy.
First, there are no parental rights whatsoever in this policy. By way of example, in our schools, a parent has to provide numerous doctors notes, permission slips, etc. for their child to use an asthma inhaler, but in the event the same child decides he or she may be a different gender, the school has drafted this policy to ensure a parent is not involved or even notified. Indeed, the policy (which was drafted without the input of pediatrician groups or child psychologists) is drafted to enable a minor child to merely declare that he or she wants to be recognized as a different gender and all must recognize the child’s assertion without parental notification or input. As written, the school presumes it knows what is best for that child and a parent does not.
Second, this policy purposely ignores privacy concerns of all other students. There are no real “opt out” provisions. In the age of anti-bullying legislation what could this mean? While bathrooms generally have stalls which provide everyone with a level of privacy, locker rooms do not. If a 14 year old child is uncomfortable getting undressed next to another child who is still biologically a member of the opposite sex, what option does the non-transgender child have? If they tell the school they feel uncomfortable, will an accommodation be made for this child or in a worst case scenario could this child be written up for discriminating against a fellow student and/or bullying?
Another driving issue with regard to policies like this is the fact that the policy discounts the suffering of kids who are actually going through a true gender identity crisis. There is a well documented condition that potentially leads to several mental issues plaguing some people called Gender Dysphoria.
People who have gender dysphoria feel strongly that they are not the gender they physically appear to be.
For example, a person who has a penis and all other physical traits of a male might feel instead that he is actually a female. That person would have an intense desire to have a female body and to be accepted by others as a female. Or, someone with the physical characteristics of a female would feel her true identity is male.
Feeling that your body does not reflect your true gender can cause severe distress, anxiety, and depression. “Dysphoria” is a feeling of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and restlessness. With gender dysphoria, the discomfort with your male or female body can be so intense that it can interfere with the way you function in normal life, for instance at school or work or during social activities.
Gender dysphoria used to be called “gender identity disorder.” But the mismatch between body and internal sense of gender is not a mental illness. Instead, what need to be addressed are the stress, anxiety, and depression that go along with it.
This is a serious crisis facing someone who is still developing and clearly society needs to do everything possible to help these kids as we would anyone struggling at a young age. The main problem with the policy is that is doesn’t address dysphoria as a problem and instead embraces it as a legitimate choice for a minor without any parental guidance or input. The presumption with this essentially ‘gender-neutral policy’ implemented in the name of anti-discrimination is that:
- The teens understand the gravity of the decision and are capable of making a life altering decision as an adolescent, AND;
- That the right decision is to embrace the rejection of the gender the person is born without consideration that the person may not be actually have gender dysphoria.
Who speaks for the students who are struggling with the mental condition who want help accepting their birth-assigned gender? Is this really a decision that should be made by minor without parental input? The idea that the school board knows best at the expense of parental involvement is troubling at best. Many New Jersey parents don’t trust the school with implementing standardized testing let alone gender assignment. And why the focus on everyone else instead of focusing on the student suffering with a gender identity crisis?
Wouldn’t it be far simpler, less disruptive and less of an infringement on the student body to allow special private access to a restroom or locker room for the individual struggling with gender identity? Speaking to one mom this morning on the radio I learned that even families with direct involvement can see how schools can go too far. She explained that her transgender son went to school in Monroe, NJ and the school was so over-accommodating that they were ahead of her in changing pronouns and activities of her then son. Even as a mom of a transgender teen, she believed that it was too much, too fast and the conversation should have included her from the outset.
Common sense seems lost in the debate that is clouded with political correctness and ‘tolerance to a fault.’ Tolerance in this case may actually serve as false encouragement for adolescents to make a life altering decision. These same kids are far from being capable of driving a car, taking medicine responsibly or even making good food choices, let alone changing their gender. This transformation, if encouraged instead of addressed by society, may have a long lasting, irreparable and negative psychological impact on a mind that has barely begun to develop.
Shame on the adults who hide behind tolerance at the expense of a generation of kids who clearly need help and guidance. For those kids genuinely struggling with gender identity, I hope they and their parents get the help and support that they need. That support and tolerance can be achieved without coming at the expense of altering a gender specific school environment that works well to accommodate the vast and overwhelming majority of students and families.