Opinion: Schools should drop obsession with gender identity

Let’s make a deal. American parents stop harassing schools over library books that deal sympathetically with differences in sexual orientation. And America’s schools stop withholding information about a student’s preference from the parents.

First, the ugly clashes over offerings at school libraries. Parents should understand that reading a wide range of viewpoints improves critical thinking. A book about a child whose parents are both female doesn’t turn the reader gay. Ask a child psychologist about that.

The sons and daughters of lesbian parents I’ve known all turned out heterosexual. Not a scientific sampling, I know, but if the school library contains a book that makes the offspring of gay parents feel OK about their home life — and other kids respect them — where’s the harm?

Furthermore, parents should be grateful that their kids are reading books. Those who fear their children might be exposed to damaging influences would best take their mobile phones away. Go after TikTok and leave school librarians alone.

Now the second part of the deal. Schools should drop the idea that if students declare a sexual identity different from the one they were born with, they should not tell the parents. An example would be hiding information from parents that their son Jack wants to be called Sue in class.

This reflects the current obsession with LGBTQ issues. The initials stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (or questioning). These are individuals who are attracted to people of the same sex or both sexes, or their gender identity does not align with the sex assigned to them at birth.

It is withholding information about the last category, children who identify with a gender other than the one they were born with, that has a lot of parents up in arms. And they’re not all the expected groups — social conservatives, evangelicals and tradition-oriented immigrants. They include Democrats and gay people.

I asked a father who is quite liberal and has close gay friends how he feels about schools hiding the declared gender identity from parents.

“They have every obligation to tell me,” he said, anger in his voice. “They’ll tell me if he’s picking his nose in the class. He’s a minor, and that’s a major event.” This is information that helps a parent be a parent.

Sonja Shaw, head of a school board in Chino Valley, California, complained to The Economist that boys who identified as girls were allowed in her daughters’ locker room. Hers became the first school district in California to require that schools not keep a child’s gender identity secret from their parents. Hundreds of school districts do.

There is, of course, pushback to changing the rules. Kristi Hirst, a parent and former teacher, characterized school board debates in places like Chino as fearmongering. “Teachers do not have nefarious intentions to keep secrets,” she said. That may be true, but good intentions don’t always equal wise policies.

The thinking is that parents might beat up on kids who veer from their presumed gender. Or that such information could be used as ammunition in custody cases. That could happen, but abuse of children or holding up gender identity as evidence of bad parenting is a matter for law enforcement and the courts. And having to navigate different identities in class and the family dinner table can be highly stressful to the child as well.

The broad coalition objecting to these policies suggests agreement that time spent on LGBTQ concerns is taking time away from such essential subjects as math, reading and history. Rather than simply treating these issues with delicacy, many schools seem to be obsessing on them. These parents have a point.

— Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist with Creators.


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