The Trans-Parent Core of Gender Identity in Schools | Opinion

If you thought it would just be about biological boys in girls' bathrooms, you were naïve. If you think it's primarily about biological boys playing girls' sports, you're still not getting it. The core of the debate over gender identity in schools is this: Should school staff have the power to rename and re-sex children without parental notification or consent?

With virtually no public discussion or debate, the default answer to this question is rapidly becoming, "yes." Due partly to the effects of an Obama-era federal "Dear Colleague" letter, partly due to the efforts of the LGBTQIA+ lobby, and partly due to the pervasive influence of teachers' unions, so-called "gender support plans" have become de rigueur in American public schools. These plans require staff and students to conform to a child's requests for "social transition"—typically entailing a new name, new pronouns, bathroom access, and locker room access. These plans then leave it up to the student to determine whether his or her parents are clued in. Teachers can thus be required to call Harry "Sally" in school and punish students who don't refer to Harry as "her," even as they call Harry "Harry" when talking to parents about his grades.

A recent report by Parents Defending Education, a parental rights watchdog nonprofit, found that nearly 6,000 schools have these policies on the books. But it must be stressed that this study was non-exhaustive, and thus almost certainly dramatically understates the true extent of the policies' proliferation. Entire states, such as California, have adopted secret social transition requirements, and countless school districts have adopted these policies sub rosa. What's more, reading between the lines of its proposed Title IX regulation, the Biden administration appears intent on finishing what the Obama administration started: Every school district taking federal funds will be pressured to implement secret social transition.

Why? The dubious rationale of the LGBTQIA+ lobby is: If we don't "socially affirm" kids, they will kill themselves. And if we clue parents in, we'd be putting these children in potentially grave danger.

Critics point out that there is actually no reliable, externally valid evidence whatsoever to support the LGBTQIA+ lobby's "affirm or kids will die" narrative. The critics also point out that if school officials have any genuine reason to believe that a child is in danger or at risk for abuse, they are mandated to report that to the authorities.

Critics also point to the authority of Dr. Hillary Cass, the doctor who conducted the devastating review of the U.K.'s Tavistock gender clinic, which was shut down for its overly aggressive and dangerous approach to treating childhood gender dysphoria through puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. Cass pointed out that "social affirmation" and "social transition" are not neutral acts. These acts should, rather, be understood as experimental medical interventions, which increase the likelihood of persistence of gender dysphoric feelings and therefore increase the odds that a child will seek and receive puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.

Taking a break from handing out red
Taking a break from handing out red envelopes and candy in a cultural celebration of the Lunar New Year, Principal Alice Hom talks with schoolteacher Sau Sheung Lau at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on February 02, 2022 in New York City. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

While a recent Project Veritas video showed teachers promoting puberty blockers as an excellent way for students to buy themselves time to figure themselves out, the medical evidence behind these off-label treatments is not encouraging. Potential side effects include loss of bone density, loss of IQ, mood disorders, seizures, permanent inability to have an orgasm, and sterility. There is good reason that several European countries have banned this course of treatment outside of carefully controlled research studies. "Social affirmation" therefore forms the first link in what Manhattan Institute Fellow Leor Sapir has called the "school-to-clinic pipeline," or what Heritage Foundation Fellow Jay Richards has labeled the "school-to-sterilization pipeline."

But schools are not merely implementing an experimental medical intervention without parental consent (something that they don't have the authority to do with even a proven, low-risk medical intervention such as Tylenol). They are also formally endorsing a metaphysical catechism: that there is a gendered soul, separate and apart from a physical body, and which properly compels the moral deference of others. Put more simply: that men can become women and you're a bigot if you don't nod along approvingly.

According to this catechism, most Americans are bigots. Secret "social transition," therefore, also drives a profound moral wedge between non-dysphoric children and their parents, whom school officials indirectly invite children to view as "transphobes."

What can be done? There is a simple, elegant, and sure-to-be overwhelmingly popular solution at hand: State legislatures could adopt "Given Name Acts." As per the design of model legislation produced by The Heritage Foundation, Given Name Acts would simply require school staff to refer to children by the names or pronouns provided on their birth certificates—unless they receive an explicit written request from a parent asking for another name or pronoun to be used. If Harry's parents want Harry to be called Sally at school, then the parents can affirmatively ask and the school can accommodate. But no matter what, the school and the parents will be on the same page. The child will not be encouraged by school policy to live a double life, going by Sally at school and Harry at home.

This is not a 50-50 political wedge issue. It's not even a 90-10 split. It doesn't matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat—if you're a parent, you're sure to be unsettled by the idea that the school could rename and re-sex your child without your notification or consent. No one aside from the LGBTQIA+ lobby and its core partisan allies within the Democratic Party activist base earnestly supports secret social transition. Unfortunately, ideology and politics being what it is, there is probably no hope of "Given Name Acts" passing in blue states. But there's no reason they should not pass in every red state, as soon as legislators realize that the core of the debate about gender identity in schools isn't about bathrooms or sports. Rather, it is: Who has the power to name a child?

Max Eden is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.