Yesterday, an email went out from a group called the “Arlington Parent Coalition” to every single staff member in the Arlington County Public school system complaining that the county is working on a new transgender and gender non-conforming student policy that they claim proposes “unquestioning affirmation of cross-gender transition for all children,” and asking Arlington Public Schools to slow down the policy change, to avoid “capitulation to political and cultural trends.” I literally had to read that several times to figure out that they think “unquestioning affirmation” is something BAD for children.
The Arlington Parent Coalition was created on March 2, 2019, after the picture book I Am Jazz–a book that helps explain gender identity to children–was first prevented from being read to a class at Patrick Henry Elementary, and then subsequently was read to an Ashlawn Elementary School classroom, making the headlines on Fox News.
Their website features a transphobic video from Abigail Shrier, of PragerU (a fake “university” created by some conservative talk show hosts), where she laments the government forcing people to “ignore biology and common sense.”
In their email, they complain that the policy is being formulated in consultation with LGBTQ+ policy and lobbying organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, and GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which works to end discrimination and bullying in schools based sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression). They cite “research” by the American College of Pediatricians (not a licensing organization as it’s meant to sound like, but rather a socially conservative advocacy group who advocates against the rights of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, and advocates for gay conversion therapy), and by conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation.
The new policy (as currently drafted) would state that every child has a right to be addressed by whatever name and pronoun corresponds to their gender identity; that access to facilities corresponding to their gender identity will be provided; and that they may participate in any extra-curricular activity consistent with their gender identity.
They suggest in their email some “important” questions that teachers and staff should ask the superintendent of schools.
- How will girls’ safety and well-being be protected when biological boys are permitted to use girls’ facilities? Can you believe we’re actually still talking about who goes in what bathroom?! Are we thinking that kids are “faking” their gender identity in order to sneak into a bathroom? This is such a ridiculous discussion and frankly, I’d be embarrassed to live anywhere that was still asking this.
- What protections exist for staff if classroom materials violate their conscience? Hey, nobody is forcing anyone to work for the public schools. I don’t really think school curriculum should ever be designed based on the individual conscience of any one particular teacher. School curriculum decisions are based on state and local guidelines, the school board, and the parents.
- Can staff refuse, on religious or philosophical grounds, to receive training without personal or professional consequences? I would sure hope not. First off, if you have philosophical grounds to think that transgender children should not be treated with respect and dignity, you shouldn’t be in a classroom. Suppose you philosophically believe in corporal punishment, does that mean you can ignore training on how to properly discipline students? Again, nobody is forcing anyone to work there–perhaps your philosophy is better suited for you to work at a religious school.
- When so many desirable programs are being cut for budgetary reasons, how is hiring a Chief Diversity Officer financially defensible? Wow. Alternatively, one might ask, when there are daily incidences of bullying, racial and xenophobic slurs and name calling that occurs in classrooms, hallways, buses, cafeterias, bathrooms, and playgrounds; when bullied children face depression, self-harm and sometimes suicide, how can we defend NOT having a Chief Diversity Officer?
I could go on for another 5,000 words about how angry this whole thing makes me. But I didn’t plan to spend my Mother’s Day fighting some intolerant transphobic group of conservative Arlington parents. But if you’re as angry as I am, please reach out to your school board members and/or the superintendent to let them know you support the development of a new inclusive policy.
Patrick Murphy, Superintendent