The ‘Brave New World’ in Our Schools
Whether it’s kindergarten lessons on “gender identity,” or boys identifying as girls given full access to female locker rooms—families face a new and bewildering form of sexual activism in their schools. How can Christian students and parents respond?
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). 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. (At the time, the previous White House administration’s re-interpretation of that civil rights law, Title IX, was being used in these types of investigations. However, that re-interpretation had never been upheld by a court or voted on by Congress. Get more details on that here. Also, see 2017 update on Title IX actions below.) 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 on Dec. 7, 2015, 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—especially as federal “civil rights” watchdogs make it clear that they’ll target schools who don’t succumb to “gender identity” activism and demands.
‘Girls’ Rights Matter’
For instance, in Missouri, a 17-year-old-boy 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, his 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 announced they were adding “gender inclusive” bathrooms in what seemed to be an attempt to make all parties happy—but apparently, any boy identifying as a girl was still free to choose the facility of their preference. Meanwhile, high schools in Utah and Colorado have 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.)
These controversies aren’t just limited to high schools. For instance, 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—on Friday, April 28— is a free-speech event and website for Christian teens in public high schools and colleges. The annual initiative (now celebrating its 6th year!) 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.
Tools for being proactive—talk to your school and your kids: Focus’ free guide for parents, Responding to Gender-Confusing Messages in Schools, also equips parents to respond to the confusing messages about gender that children may encounter in the culture and at school. It helps parents explain God’s design to their children in a compassionate manner. The guide also provides tips for responding to different scenarios at school that many parents have already encountered at the elementary and high school levels.
Another helpful resource for talking to school officials and representatives about what the law really says is Alliance Defending Freedom’s 6 Myths About Allowing Transgender Students to Use Restrooms of the Opposite Sex.
Update: On Feb. 22, the new leaders of the nation’s Departments of Education and Justice took a big step toward restoring parental rights, student privacy, and local control: They rescinded federal directives (issued in the form of “Dear Colleague” letters from the previous administration) that essentially forced schools to allow boys identifying as girls, and vice versa, access to public school locker rooms and bathrooms. “This is an issue best solved at the state and local level. Schools, communities, and families can find – in many cases have found – solutions that protect all students,” stated the new guidance. Not long afterward, on March 6, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not decide the Virginia school-bathroom case—and vacated a lower court ruling that had cleared the way for a lawsuit against the school (because it was not allowing the student to use the boys’ bathroom). While these developments mark a key step back from having D.C. agency mandates (without any congressional vote) dictate local school policies, new court cases could likely resurface using different legal arguments.