When Students Change Gender Identity and Parents Don't Know (2023)

When Students Change Gender Identity and Parents Don't Know (1)

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Educators are facing new tensions over whether to inform parents when students are making social changes at school.

A California student felt it was important that his school respect his gender identity after his parents expressed reluctance.Credit...Morgan Lieberman para el New York Times

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VonKatie 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 groups. 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 teen admitted that six months ago, at his request, teachers and principals at his school in Southern California allowed him to use the men's room and called him masculine pronouns.

Women. Bradshaw was confused: didn't the school need her permission, or at least tell her?

No, a counselor later explained, because the student didn't want his parents to know. County and state policy have directed the school to respect his wishes.

"There was never a word from anyone to tell us that on paper and in the classroom, our daughter is our son," Ms. Bradshaw said.

The Bradshaws were surprised to have a dispute with the school over their right to know and assess such an important development in their children's lives, a dispute that shows how school districts have long been a cultural battleground for conflict over gender and Gender is Sexuality, are now facing new tensions over how to accommodate transgender children.

The Bradshaws accepted their teenage son's new gender identity, but not without concern, particularly after he requested hormones and surgery to remove her breasts. Doctors had already diagnosed him with autism spectrum, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, PTSD, and anxiety. He struggled with loneliness during the pandemic and it seemed to his parents that he didn't know exactly who he was because he had repeatedly changed his name and sexual orientation.

Faced with this complexity, Ms Bradshaw said she resented that the school made her feel like a bad parent because she wondered if educators were putting her underage teenager on a path that the school was not qualified to supervise. .

"It felt like a stab in the back for the school system," he said. "It should have been a decision we made as a family."

The student, now 16, told the New York Times that his school gave him a space to be himself, which he lacked. He had tried to tell his parents before, but they didn't take it seriously, so he turned 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 everything they can to ensure the safety and comfort of students. When you're trans, you feel like you're in danger all the time. Although my parents agreed, I was still afraid, so the school didn't tell them."

While the number of youth 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 polarized political environment where both sides warn that one misstep could cause irreparable damage.


When Students Change Gender Identity and Parents Don't Know (2)

The public school Ms. Bradshaw attends is one of many across the country that allows students to socially transform (change their names, pronouns, or gender expressions) without parental consent. Districts have said they want parental involvement, but must abide by federal and, in some cases, state guidelines designed to protect students from discrimination and invasions of their privacy.

Schools have pointed to research showing that inclusive policy benefits all students, which is why some education expertsadvise schoolsUse students' favorite nouns and pronouns. Educators also said they feel compelled by their own morality to affirm students' gender identities, particularly in cases where students do not feel safe leaving home.

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But dozens of parents whose children have socially transitioned through school told the Times that they felt slandered by educators who seemed to think that they, not the parents, knew what was best for their children. They insisted that educators should not intervene without notifying parents unless there was evidence of physical abuse in the home. While some did not want their children to change, others said they were open to it but felt that schools were moving too fast with the process and that they could not raise concerns without being completely isolated or labeling their homes. "insecure."

Many supporters of the L.G.B.T.Q. young people argue that parents should stop using schools as scapegoats and instead ask why they don't believe their children. They said it's more important than ever to make sure schools provide enough support for transgender students amid the emergence of laws that block access to gender-affirming bathrooms, sports and care.

These disputes unfold as Republicansgather“Parental rights”, a generic term for the decisions that parents make about the education of their children. Right-wing conservative groups showed an increaseNumberVoncourt actionagainst 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 the way schools must deal with gender identity cuts across the divide between liberals and conservatives. Parents of all political persuasions were concerned about what schools know and don't know.

Women. Bradshaw said she will not side with Republican lawmakers seeking to do so.ban LGBTQ alright, but he also felt that his school's policy left no room for nuance.

"It's almost impossible to have these discussions," Frau said. Bradshaw. "There is no forum for someone like me."

Other self-proclaimed liberal parents 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 fight their 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 lawsuit.amicus kurzin a parental 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.

Social change, Dr. Anderson wrote, "is an important and potentially transformative decision that requires parental involvement for a number of reasons."

He told the Times that he needed to put aside his concerns about working with conservative lawyers. "I don't want to be erased as a transgender person and I don't want anyone's privileges or identity to be taken away from me," he said, "but in this case, I join the people who are willing to defend the parents." ."

The debate reflects how the interests of parents and children don't always align, said Justin Driver, a Yale Law School professor who has written a book on constitutional conflicts in public schools. "These cases underscore how these interests can diverge dramatically, even on fundamental questions of identity."


“Not all children in this area have safe places at home”

Social transition policies vary widely among school districts. Some states likeCalifornia,New Jersey, zMaryland, we strongly encourage schools not to release information about students' gender identity without their permission whileOthersOffer anti-discrimination guidelines that are open to interpretation.

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, encouraging the student to seek medical care, housing and legal advice without the knowledge of the parents.

A lawsuit against a school district in Wisconsinincludinga photo of a teacher's flier posted at the school that read, "If your parents don't accept your identity, I'm your mom now."

At schools in states like Michigan and New York, parents said teachers would use a student's new name in class, but carry the old one so they wouldn't know about the change.

But other states, likeFlorida,AlabamamiVirginia, passed sweeping legislation or issued guidelines that prohibit schools from withholding gender identity information from parents.

A recent national survey by the advocacy group GLSENfoundthat bullying and hostile school environments for L.G.B.T.Q. youth directly damaged their mental health and school performance, and school resources became less available to them. Some parents of transgender students said it's hard to make sure a school is supportive of them.

Jeff Walker, an Alabama father who was aware of his adolescent transition, said he learned through his mixed experiences at different schools how important it is for teachers to accept transgender students, and even more so for those whose parents don't. they want them. For the transition.

"Not all children in this area have safe places at home," Walker said.

Some teachers have been fined for informing parents that their children had changed names and pronouns at school. A Massachusetts father, Stephen Foote, said he only found out his 11-year-old daughter had done it after being confided in by the boy's sixth-grade teacher, Bonnie Manchester. Women. Manchester was later fired, in part for disclosing "sensitive and confidential information about a student's expressed gender identity against the student's will," according to her dismissal letter.

Mister. Foote sued the school district, accusing it of violating her rights as a parent. A district attorney said he disagreed with Foote's version of events. Women. Manchester said that she does not regret her actions.

"I turned on something that was in the dark," Manchester said. "I was about 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 make social transitions in school without the knowledge of His parents. "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 it seemed impossible to do so at home.

"I had to look for paternity figures in people other than my parents," Mx said. Moraes said.


"Somewhat difficult to navigate"

There is a network of internet 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 child care, or have amplified the voices of people who call transgender advocates "clippers."

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, sitting in a circle in a member's living room, talked about how they said they had been kicked out of their children's schools.

A mother said her high school son had secretly changed his name and pronoun without her knowledge, even though she had worked as a teacher at the same school. Another mother shared how high school teachers withheld her teenage daughter's social transition from her until her graduation because they felt she would not support them. The mother of a 14-year-old boy who had spent time in an inpatient therapy unit said she sent the school a letter from the psychiatry student in which she laid out concerns the school had ignored.

Most said they identified as liberal and that the living room was a rare and safe place to express their fears. Some parents did not believe that their adolescent children were truly transgender. Others thought it was too soon 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 children had been too influenced by their classmates to ask about hormone treatments and surgery? What if teachers encouraged students to see their families as unsafe? And were supporters of the right his only sympathetic audience?

"It's been a really difficult thing to navigate because, on the one hand, I'm coming up against my extremely liberal values ​​of individuality, freedom, expression, sexuality and I want to support all of those things," one mother said through tears. . “At the same time, I am afraid of medicalization. I am concerned about long-term health. I'm afraid my son will change his mind."

As other parents nodded in agreement, the only parent in the room said, "It's politically weird to be a very liberal Democrat and get pushed into bed with the governor of Texas. Should I listen to Tucker Carlson?


“We were always available”

Since 2020, at least 11 lawsuits have been filed against school districts alleging that these policies violate parental rights, by parents protected by conservative rights groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization with along storyto support cases seeking gay and transgender rights.

Three parents, all self-proclaimed liberals, told The Times that advocacy groups linked them with an alliance-affiliated rights group called the Child and Parental Rights Campaign, which was founded in 2019 to defend children and parents against the "gender identity ideology". ".", be it soDisclosure Forms for Non-Profit Organizations. Your president has spokenin conferencesabout the "existential threat to our culture" posed by the "transgender movement."

So far, though, parents who have sued the skinny Republican include Wendell and Maria Perez, who filed a lawsuit against their son's school district with the help of the Florida Campaign for Parents and Children's Rights. They allege it was only after their son made two suicide attempts that the school told them a staff member had counseled their 12-year-old son for months about "gender confusion."

Earlier in the year, Perez said, the school informed her that her son was falling behind in school. Why was it different? "We were always available," she says. "I don't know why they decided to keep it from us."

Mister. Pérez said that although he is a Catholic who opposes his son's transition for religious reasons, he respects the rights of families who disagree with him because he believes that it is the parents who decide such 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 the sixth-grader to talk to a counselor or hide parent meetings.

The courts ruled that, under the Fourteenth Amendment, parents can make mental health and medical decisions for their children, as well as direct their upbringing and education, unless they are abusive or inappropriate. But school advocates have argued that parental rights are not absolute. Under the Biden administration, the Department of EducationIt isthat discrimination against students based on gender identity violates federal policy, although its guidelines do not specifically address parental rights.


Also the American Civil Liberties Unionargumentthat it is unconstitutional for public schools to reveal a student's gender identity to others. Angry parents may send their children to private schools or homeschool them, an ACLU said. The attorney, Jon Davidson, who is a co-counsel for a school district that wassued by parentsnot Wisconsin.

"Parents do not have the constitutional right to tell schools how to create the optimal learning environment for students," he said.

This was the same point made by Todd Gazda, who was a superintendent in Massachusetts at the time, during a tense school board meeting that took place before he and his district of Mr. Foote, the father of the 11-year-old boy, They said they had one. Teacher who was later fired found out about his son's new gender identity.

"For many of our students, school is the only safe place," Gazda said during the meeting, "and that safety evaporates when they leave the confines of our buildings." In reality, concerns about parental rights, she added, are thinly veiled. “intolerance and prejudice against L.G.B.T.Q. individuals".

The judges dismissed many of the claims. In December, a federal judge fired Mr. Foote, who writes that affirming a student's gender identity is not necessarily a medical intervention or even a social transition test, but "simply gives a person the basic level of Respect required in a general civil society is expected.

However, the judge acknowledged that "it is concerning" that school administrators can "actively withhold information from parents about something important about their children."

In January Mr. Foote appealed.

The son of Mrs. Bradshaw, the mother from Southern California, said he 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 an excuse to keep confusing them," she said. "It sounds 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 gender, but expressed her own frustration.

“The school tells me that I have to jump on the bandwagon and fully support myself,” Ms. 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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