Photo: public domain
This time of year children embody the sounds of freedom as they enjoy the summer vacation they’ve longed for. Yet in a matter of weeks, those sounds will change, as will the season. When children return to school parents anticipate not only the groans but also the excitement of the changes that lay ahead: new teachers & friends, schedules, and of course, the dreaded homework. What should never be a part of that process is gender-affirming care.
According to a 2021 special series of articles to mark Pride Month, NPR (National Public Radio) journalist Laurel Wamsley reported that equity and acceptance for the trans community largely rests on understanding the language. “These issues can involve words and ideas and identities that are new to some,” she writes, in the brief article preceding a glossary created in partnership with GLAAD, the National Center for Transgender Equality, The Human Rights Campaign, The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, and the APA . Glossaries like this are exactly the type of resources that can innocently filter themselves K-12 classrooms this fall, impacting teacher perception and classroom dynamics. Likely shared by both sides of this conversation is the uncertainty of how gender-affirming care, as it has been called, will impact the social-emotional development of children. What is not in question are the physical implications to gender affirmation, which can result in everything from hormone therapies to surgical procedures that alter the physical in order to affirm the mental. This life changing “care” is too considerable a process that parents be kept in the dark or blindsided by what has become a national obsession with pronouns.
Instead of inserting themselves onto the gender affirmation bandwagon, teachers can literally fill their days with plain old reading, writing, and arithmetic. With national student performance falling significantly behind other countries by 2018, one can only imagine the additional decline that took place after 18 months of virtual learning during the corona crisis that kept kids from direct instruction. The United States ranked 38th in math and 24th in science globally, according to the 2018 Business Insider article, even though opinion survey respondents rated the nation number one (World Population Review). Similar to gender identity, which is defined as one's own internal sense of self and gender, whether that is man, woman, neither or both, perception can be in direct contradiction with physical and statistical evidence. The innate dangers of gender affirming practices in the classroom foster contradictions that are proven to have devastating consequences for children and their families.
Case in point, more than 50% of trans and nonbinary youth in the US seriously considered suicide in the last year, according to an expose by The Guardian in 2022. It reports, “The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention, on Thursday released state-level data from nearly 34,000 queer and trans youth ages 13 to 24, showing alarmingly high rates of suicide attempts, depression and anxiety across liberal and conservative regions.” Dysphoria, the psychological distress that results from an incongruence (difference) between one's sex assigned at birth and one's gender identity, in other words “self-belief,” can cause long-term mental and emotional anxiety, dejection, and suffering. These conditions reach far beyond pronouns; it is a disjustice to children for teachers, the bulk of whom have had not any suicide prevention training, to affirm or deny gender based on circumstantial expression.
By and large, parents send their children to school with the expectation that academic rigor will be the focus of their child’s formal education. However, it has appeared increasingly important for certain organizations that social-emotional learning (SEL) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) be as fundamental to education as academics are. In other words, identity-based experiences, including gender affirmation, may be in the works for your child this upcoming school year. According to Committee for Children (cfchildren.org), a well-funded forty year old global nonprofit advocacy organization whose mission origin fought against the sexual abuse of children has ironically evolved to include LBGTQ activism in the form of policy lobbying and redefining common language to fit a social justice agenda. Here’s an example from cfchildren’s own website: An anti-bullying campaign which discloses sexual minorities as being twice as likely to be at-risk for bullying or cyberbullying as heterosexual students. The inherent problem with this campaign is the intentional misuse of the word minority to describe an irrelevant dataset which is manipulated in order to further the SEL/DEI conversation which brings a boatload of baggage to the classroom which teachers must sort through: ‘intentional misuse’ because sexuality should not be a determining factor for anything related to children, especially not school; ‘irrelevant’ because minority status based on the scientific evidence found in one of two possibilities is easily rectified through logistics, not social justice campaigning; and ‘inherent problem’ because these practices can initiate or promote the same contradictions and confusions that deny true identity and foster mental illness.
It is not only futile but just as emotionally dangerous for society to deny mental health services to those who struggle with identity, gender or otherwise. Science has proven that there can be legitimate disconnects between the mind and body. However, when it comes to our children, the school house is not the place where these conversations should be had. We risk changing the trajectory of a generation by affirming what may well be a by-product of puberty, escapism, or other construct aside from the mental illness (gender dysphoria) that can lead to a trans lifestyle.
Misusing, manipulating, and redefining language is not exclusive to this issue. Racial injustice throughout our post-slavery history, especially under Jim Crow laws and Black Codes, was perpetrated through both lobbying efforts and redefining language. Systematic Deception, a 2021 documentary giving center stage to the practices and policies of the Democratic Party, documented how language and marketing changed public perception, resulting in a 70 year political trend. Implementing gender-affirming practices in K-12 settings will undoubtedly span a far greater path creating widespread damage to the psyche of a generation of children.
Photo: Kaz Fantone for NPR
World Population Review. “Education Rankings by Country 2023.” World Population Review, 2023, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/education-rankings-by-country. Accessed 19 June 2023.