A California student felt it was important for his school to respect his gender identity after concerns were raised by his parents.Credit...Morgan Lieberman for the New York Times
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ForKatie JM Baker
For this article, Katie J.M. Baker interviewed more than 50 people, including parents and children, public school officials, medical professionals and advocates for LGBTQ organizations. and conservative interest groups.
Jessica Bradshaw found out her 15-year-old son was identified as transgender at school after seeing an assignment with an unknown name scrawled on it.
When asked his name, the teenager admitted that at his request, teachers and administrators at his Southern California school allowed him to use the men's room for six months and called him with male pronouns.
Woman. Bradshaw was confused: didn't the school need her permission, or at least tell her so?
It didn't work, a counselor later explained, because the student didn't want his parents to know about it. County and state policy has instructed the school to respect your wishes.
"There was never a word from anyone telling us that our daughter was our son on paper and in the classroom," Bradshaw said.
The Bradshaws were stunned to argue with the school over their right to hear and speak out about such an important development in their son's life, a dispute that shows how school districts have long been a battleground in cultural clashes over gender and sexuality are facing staggering new tensions over how to accommodate transgender children.
The Bradshaws have come to terms with their teenager's new gender identity, but not without concern, particularly after she asked for hormones and surgery to remove her breasts. Doctors had previously diagnosed her with autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. She struggled with loneliness during the pandemic, and it seemed to her parents she wasn't quite sure who she was after repeatedly changing her name and sexual orientation.
Faced with this complexity, Ms. Bradshaw said she resented the school making her feel like a bad parent because she wondered if educators were setting her teen, an underage, on a path for which the school was not qualified.
"It was like a stab in the back for the parents through the school system," he said. "It should have been a decision for us to make as a family."
The student, now 16, told the New York Times that his school gave him a space to be himself, which he otherwise lacked. She'd tried talking to her parents before, she said, but they didn't take it seriously, so she reached out to the school for help.
"I wish schools didn't have to hide this from parents or do it without parental permission, but it could be important," he said. “Schools are just trying to do whatever they can to ensure student safety and comfort. When you're trans, you feel like you're in danger all the time. Even though my parents agreed, I was still scared and that's why the school didn't tell them."
While the number of young people who identify as transgender in the United States remains small,almost doubledIn recent years, schools have come under pressure to meet the needs of these young people in a polarizing political environment where both sides warn that a misstep could result in irreparable damage.
The public school that Mrs. Bradshaw attends is one of many across the country that allow students to socially switch (change names, pronouns, or gender expressions) without parental consent. Districts have said they want parental involvement but must adhere to federal, and in some cases state, guidelines aimed at protecting students from discrimination and invasions of their privacy.
Schools cited research showing that inclusive politics benefits all students, which is why some education experts advocate itadvise schoolsUse students' favorite nouns and pronouns. The educators also said they feel compelled by their own morals to assert students' gender identities, particularly in cases where students do not feel safe about coming out.
More about schools and education in the USA.
- Transgender Youth:Educators face new tensions when it comes to telling parentswhen students change their name, pronouns, or gender expression at school.
- Free Meals:A pandemic-era federal program guaranteeing millions of students free school lunches has been phased out as food prices soar.Many families feel the need.
- Bate-papoGPT:OpenAI's new chatbot fuels fears that students are cheating on their assignments. But its potential as a teaching tool outweighs its risks,our columnist writes.
- In Florida:The state does not allow a new oneAdvanced Placement Course in African American Studiesoffered in their high schools, citing examples fromwhat he calls "awake indoctrination."
But dozens of parents whose children are making the social transition in school told the Times they felt abused by educators who seemed to think they, not the parents, know what is best for their children. They insisted that educators should not intervene without notifying parents unless there was evidence of physical abuse at home. Some didn't want their children to make the transition at all, others said they were open to it, but felt schools were moving the process too quickly and that they couldn't voice their concerns without being completely disfellowshipped or having their house shut to mark . "unsure."
Many supporters of the L.G.B.T.Q. Young people respond that parents should stop blaming schools and ask themselves why they don't believe in their children. They said it is more important than ever to ensure schools provide enough support for transgender students amid mounting legislation blocking their access to gender-affirming bathrooms, sports and childcare.
These disputes play out among the Republicansgather“Parental Rights”, a generic term for the choices parents can make about their children's education. Conservative right-wing groups have shown growthnumbervonlitigationagainst school districts, accusing them of failing to involve parents in their children's education and mental health care. Critics say groups like this have long worked to delegitimize public education and eradicate the rights of transgender people.
But how schools should deal with gender identity bridges the gap between liberals and conservatives. Parents of all political persuasions were concerned about what schools know and don't know.
Woman. Bradshaw said he would not side with Republican lawmakers who are searchingBan LGBTQ rights, but he also felt that his school's politics left no room for nuance.
"It's almost impossible to have these discussions," Bradshaw said. "There is no forum for someone like me."
Other parents who describe themselves as liberals said they first registered as independents or voted for Republican candidates because of this issue. Although she did not sue, some hired lawyers affiliated with the largest religious rights organization to take action against her children's schools.
In November, Erica Anderson, a renowned clinical psychologist who has counseled hundreds of children on gender identity issues and who is also transgender, filed a lawsuitFriend of the Court Summaryin a parent-support lawsuit in Maryland, represented by a group of conservative attorneys. The parents argued that their county's policies violated their own decision-making authority.
Societal change, wrote Dr. Anderson, "is an important and potentially life-changing decision that requires parental involvement for many reasons."
She told the Times that she had to put aside her doubts about working with conservative lawyers. "I don't want to be erased as a transgender person and I don't want anyone's privilege or identity taken away," she said, "but in this case, I'm joining people who are willing to stand up for parenting." ”
The debate reflects how the interests of parents and their children don't always align, said Justin Driver, a Yale Law School professor who has written a book on constitutional conflict in public schools. "These cases underscore how these interests can diverge dramatically, even on basic identity issues."
"Not all children in this area have safe places at home"
Social transition policies vary widely between school districts. Some states likeCalifornia,New Jersey, SheMaryland, strongly advise schools not to post information about students' gender identity without their permission whileOthersOffer interpretation aids on anti-discrimination.
The Times interviewed more than 50 people, including parents and children, public school officials and L.G.T.B.Q. and conservative interest groups. In cases where parents have asked to remain anonymous to protect their children's privacy, The Times has gone to great lengths to back up their claims.
A mother in California shared messages sent by her teenage son's teacher through the school's website, urging the student to receive medical care, housing and legal advice without the parents' knowledge.
A lawsuit against a school district in Wisconsinincludedan image of a teacher's flyer posted at school that read, "If your parents don't accept your identity, I'm now your mom."
At schools in states like Michigan and New York, parents said teachers would use a student's new name in class, but the old one with them so they wouldn't notice the change.
A current national survey by the interest group GLSENfoundthat bullying and hostile school environments for L.G.B.T.Q. young people directly harmed their mental health and school performance and that school resources became less available to them. Some parents of transgender students said it is difficult to ensure a school will support them.
Jeff Walker, an Alabama parent who was aware of his teenage son's transition, said his blended experiences at different schools taught him how important it is for teachers to support transgender students, and even more so for those who whose parents do not. I want her. For the transition.
"Not all kids in this area have safe places at home," Walker said.
Some teachers have been fined for informing parents that their children's names and pronouns had changed at school. A Massachusetts father, Stephen Foote, said he only found out his 11-year-old son had done it after the boy's sixth-grade teacher, Bonnie Manchester, confided in him. Woman. Manchester was subsequently fired, in part for disclosing, according to her resignation letter, "confidential and sensitive information about a student's expressed gender identity against the student's will".
Mr. Foote sued the school district, accusing it of violating his rights as a parent. A district attorney said he disagreed with Foote's version of events. Woman. Manchester said they have no regrets about their actions.
"I lit something that was in the dark," Manchester said. "I was ready to lose my job"
Other teachers believe they have a moral responsibility to withhold such information.
"My job, which is a public service, is to protect children," said Olivia Garrison, a history teacher in Bakersfield, California, who is non-binary and has helped students socially transition through school without their parents' knowledge. "Sometimes they need the protection of their own parents."
One of Garrison's former students is Clementine Morales, a 19-year-old who came out as non-binary at school because she found it impossible at home.
"I had to look for father figures in people other than my parents," Mx said. said Moraes.
'a bit difficult to navigate'
There is a network of online support groups for 'skeptical' parents of transgender children, some with thousands of registered members. Critics have labeled the groups transphobic because some want to ban gender-affirming underage care, or have amplified the voices of people calling transgender advocates "preppers."
But members say these groups are some of the only places to ask questions and raise concerns.
One Saturday morning, just before Christmas, one of these support groups held a meeting in Westchester County, north of New York City. Twelve mothers and one father sat in a circle in a member's living room and talked about how they said their children's school left them behind.
One mother said her middle school son secretly switched names and pronouns without her knowledge, even though she worked as a teacher at the same school. Another mother shared how high school teachers held back her teenage daughter's social transition until graduation because they felt she wouldn't support her. The mother of a 14-year-old boy who had spent time in an inpatient treatment center said she sent the school a letter from the student psychiatrist setting out concerns the school had ignored.
Most said they identified as liberal and that the living room was an unusual and safe place to express their fears. Some parents didn't believe their teens were actually transgender. Others thought it was too early to know for sure. Most said their children had mental health issues such as bipolar disorder or autism.
Here you might ask: What if your kids were overly influenced by their classmates to ask about hormone treatments and surgery? What if teachers encouraged students to view their families as unsafe? And were the defenders of the right his only benevolent audience?
"It was so difficult to find my way around because on the one hand I'm dealing with my extremely liberal values of individuality, freedom, expression, sexuality and want to support all of that," said one mother through tears. "At the same time, I'm afraid of medicalization. I'm worried about long-term health. I'm afraid my son will change his mind."
While other dads nodded in agreement, the single dad in the room said, "It's politically odd to be a very liberal Democrat and to find yourself in bed with the governor of Texas. Should I listen to Tucker Carlson?
“We were always available”
Since 2020, parents have been represented by right-wing conservative groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organizationlong storySupporting cases dealing with gay and transgender rights.
Three parents, all self-proclaimed liberals, told The Times that advocacy groups linked them to an Alliance-affiliated rights group called the Child and Parental Rights Campaign, which was founded in 2019 with the aim of advocating for children and parents against "gender identity". ideology."Disclosure Forms for Nonprofit Organizations. Your President has spokenat conferencesabout the "existential threat to our culture" posed by the "transgender movement".
So far, however, parents who have sued conservative Republicans like Wendell and Maria Perez have filed a lawsuit against their children's school district with the help of the Florida Campaign for the Rights of the Child and Parents. They allege that it was only after their son made two suicide attempts that the school told them that a staff member had counseled their 12-year-old son for months about "gender confusion".
Earlier this year, Perez said, they were notified by the school that their son is lagging behind academically. Why was that different? "We were always available," he says. "I don't know why they decided to hide it from us."
Mr. Pérez said that although he was Catholic and opposed his son's transition on religious grounds, he respected the rights of families who disagreed with him because he believed parents should decide on these matters.
A county official said he investigated the matter and found the allegations in the lawsuit to be "completely false." In court documents, the county said it never forced a sixth grader to speak to a counselor or to hide parent meetings.
The courts ruled that under the Fourteenth Amendment, parents can make medical and mental health decisions for their children, as well as otherwise direct their upbringing and education, unless they are abusive or inappropriate. But advocates for the schools have argued that parents' rights are not absolute. Under the Biden administration, the Department of Educationsayingthat discrimination against students based on their gender identity violates federal policy, although their guidelines do not specifically address parental rights.
Also the American Civil Liberties UnionStreitthat it is unconstitutional for public schools to disclose a student's gender identity to others. Angry parents could send their children to a private school or homeschool them, an A.C.L.U. said. Attorney, Jon Davidson, who is a co-attorney for a school district that wassued by parentsnot Wisconsin.
"Parents do not have the constitutional right to tell schools how to create the ideal learning environment for students," he said.
This was the same point made by Todd Gazda, who was superintendent in Massachusetts at the time, during a tense school board meeting that took place before he and his district were ousted by Mr. Foote, the 11-year-old's father. alt, who said he learned about his son's new gender identity through a teacher who was later fired.
"For many of our students, school is the only place of safety," Gazda said during the meeting, "and that safety evaporates when they leave the confines of our buildings." Concerns about parental rights, he added, are in reality " Fantasy and prejudice against LGBTQ people. individuals".
The judges dismissed many of the lawsuits. In December, a federal judge dismissed Foote's case, writing that asserting a student's gender identity was not necessarily a medical procedure or even a test of social transition, but "simply bestows on the person the basic level of respect that is required in a civil society." is generally expected. ”
However, the judge acknowledged that "it is disturbing" that school administrators could "actively withhold information from parents about something important about their children."
In January Mr. Foote appealed.
Bradshaw's son, the Southern California mother, said she sympathizes with parents who have a hard time accepting that their children are transgender. But he also expressed his frustration.
"When parents say they need time or patience, it can seem like some sort of excuse for them to keep confusing you," she said. "It looks like they're grieving for someone who isn't dead and it makes you feel like you're not good enough."
His mother reiterated that she loves her son regardless of his gender, but expressed her own frustration.
"The school tells me that I have to jump on the bandwagon and support myself fully," Bradshaw said. "There is so much and so far that I am ready to go now and I hope that as a parent that is my decision."
Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.
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