Transgender-supportive bill for students delayed by 'Christian values' protests

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
Yahoo Lifestyle

 

Protest erupted in February after the Trump administration announced it would no longer support protections for transgender students. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Protest erupted in February after the Trump administration announced it would no longer support protections for transgender students. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

After attempting to establish the most basic protections for transgender students across Nevada, the state’s Department of Education delayed the policy’s passage following a public hearing at which many parents reportedly objected, invoking “Christian beliefs” and “moral values.”

Nevada is just the latest state to propose or approve protections specifically for trans youth — California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Washington, D.C., Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine, and Delaware among them — that address a range of issues, from the right to choose one’s gender pronoun to the restroom that feels most appropriate.

The proposal in Nevada, which did not address bathroom usage, was a response to a 2017 anti-bullying law, effective as of July, requiring districts to establish policies for schools that address “the rights and needs of persons with diverse gender identities or expressions.” Each of the state’s 17 districts must either establish its own set of more expansive rules or adapt the general ones set in place by the state department of education, which were the subject of Tuesday’s meeting.

Student Kristina Hernandez, center, spoke out in favor of the proposal. (Photo: Elizabeth Brumley)
Student Kristina Hernandez, center, spoke out in favor of the proposal. (Photo: Elizabeth Brumley)

Those rules, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “would require districts to allow students to have their preferred name used during graduation and other ceremonies; would allow students to pick the cap and gown combination appropriate to their gender identity; and would generally require districts to take steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, bullying, and cyber-bullying of transgender students.”

That basic list, department policy maker Amber Reid tells Yahoo Lifestyle, was borne of a requirement “to identify needs that are best practice” for gender-diverse students in the state.

But the department of education delayed passage of the rules after a nearly three-hour public hearing in Las Vegas that packed a boardroom and an overflow room with vocally critical parents.

“They are now going to be bullied because of my Christian beliefs,” mother Sara Ramirez told the Las Vegas Journal-Review, seemingly in reference to her children. She was one of nearly 50 parents who said they opposed the inclusive rules, many invoking religion as their reason. A student who took the microphone noted, “A boy is a boy and a girl is a girl. It does not promote moral values, rather it corrupts them.”

A transgender student, Kristina Hernandez, spoke out as well. She said she had switched to homeschooling after being affected by anti-transgender violence at school and said she was in favor of the proposed policy. “I would urge you to remember that without policies, kids like me will continue to suffer in silence,” she said.

Reid believes that much of the fierce objection to the policy came out of confusion surrounding the substance of the proposal, due both to social media rumors that grew over the holiday weekend and the fact that Clark County School District, of Las Vegas, has simultaneously been crafting its own, more expansive policy. “There was some truly misleading information circulation,” she says.

Confusion aside, transgender youth advocate Jenn Burleton tells Yahoo Lifestyle, the public outrage and the resulting non-action by the department of education “reflects the success of the most conservative Christian extremists to continue to classify this as not a civil rights issue but as an issue of morality.”

Burleton, who is executive director of TransActive Gender Center, a national organization based in Portland, Ore., points out that the proposed protections “are basic rights.”

She goes on to explain her belief that people who are so vociferously anti-trans have a “vested interest” in “converting what is ignorant hate into something they want people to perceive as a moral failure” and by conveying “that transgender rights pose an imminent threat to non-trans students and society at large.”

State Superintendent Steve Canavero, who has sole discretion over whether or not to approve the regulations at this early stage (before they head to a legislative commission), told the crowd on Tuesday, “We heard you. We appreciate your voice. I also appreciate the manner in which folks expressed their beliefs. I think this should be an example of how we continue to move forward in this discussion.”

Reid adds that the department opted not to rush anything through because, she says, “We value the input of parents. That’s why the decision was made to not approve the terminology.”

Public schools across the country are continuing to devise local ways to protect the rights of transgender and gender-diverse youth, a proactive response to the Trump administration’s early 2017 announcement that it would no longer support the Obama-era position that Title IX includes protections for transgender students. In Delaware, for example, the department of education recently requested community comments on its proposal that would expand a local regulation to include “gender identity and expression” in its list of protected characteristics within school anti-discrimination policies.

“In state after state with good protections for transgender students, the worries [of those opposed to the protections] have proven to be unfounded. Schools can and do support transgender youth with no problems for their peers and classmates, and with much better outcomes for the trans students themselves,” noted Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, a national LGBTQ-youth support network, in a statement supporting Delaware’s move.

That state has also faced pushback on its proposal, from both parents and politicians who reportedly object to the idea of kids being able to self-identity their name and corresponding gender.

“It opens Pandora’s Box,” Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, said in a statement to the Delaware State News. “It has the potential to twist schools up in knots.”

But, Burleton stresses regarding protections about chosen names, pronouns, and other rights, “These are minimal, basic things — the right to be called by a name we choose,” she says. “If you take the word transgender out of there, this isn’t too much to ask.”

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