The 11-page directive to the state's public schools was issued Feb. 15 and supposedly was released in light of a new state law -- passed by the legislature and signed by the governor -- that adds "gender identity" to the state's non-discrimination code. Traditional groups argued that the new law did not require such a wide-sweeping directive from the education department. Nevertheless, those groups said, the chain of events in Massachusetts demonstrates the repercussions of passing any law that adds gender identity to state non-discrimination policies.
The directive explicitly states it is aimed at children of all ages, including those in elementary school.
"In all cases," the directive states in laying out the new policy, "the principal should be clear with the student (and parent) that the student may access the restroom, locker room, and changing facility that corresponds to the student's gender identity."
School officials are only allowed to question the student if they believe the "student's gender-related identity is being asserted for some improper purpose." But in all cases, it is the student who decides his or her identity, and any uncomfortable feelings of other students are secondary, the document states.
"The responsibility for determining a student's gender identity rests with the student or, in the case of young students not yet able to advocate for themselves, with the parent," it states. "... Some students may feel uncomfortable with a transgender student using the same sex-segregated restroom, locker room or changing facility. This discomfort is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student."
Gender-neutral restrooms and changing facilities are encouraged, but a transgender student is not required to use them, the document states.
The document quotes state law in defining gender identity as "a person's gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior" is "associated with the person's physiology or assigned sex at birth."
Glenn Stanton, Focus on the Family's director of family formation studies, said the debate over gender identity and transgenderism is tied to the debate over gay marriage.
"Transgenderism is only part of what same-sex marriage is plowing the way for," Stanton told Baptist Press. "When gender 'doesn't matter' for marriage or parenting, it ironically becomes a much bigger issue in the agenda to rewrite the social script on what it means to be male and female. In saying it doesn't matter, we end up talking about it at every turn. And this is where we find ourselves, and will, increasingly so. It is important for Christians to understand how and why this matters. Both male and female, in their sex-distinction and uniqueness, are what singly image the nature and likeness of God in the world. Is there any wonder it is being attacked so viciously?"
Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said the new policy puts students -- particularly girls -- in harm's way.
"The School Commissioner's first duty is to protect all students, from kindergarten to grade 12, not endanger them," Mineau said in a statement. "The overriding issue with this new policy is that opening girls' bathrooms to boys is an invasion of privacy and a threat to all students' safety."
Many traditional practices will be impacted, such as requiring gender-based clothing for schools, proms and graduations, the document states.
"Schools should eliminate gendered policies and practices such as these. For example, one school that previously had blue graduation gowns for boys and white ones for girls switched to blue gowns for all graduates," it states. "The school also changed its gender-based dress code for the National Honor Society ceremony, which had required girls to wear dresses."
Sports teams, too, will see the effect. The directive specifically states that "where there are sex-segregated classes or athletic activities, including intramural and interscholastic athletics, all students must be allowed to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity."
The document gives two examples of elementary schoolchildren who identified as transgender. In one Massachusetts town, it says, "the parents of a pre-school-age biologically female child noted throughout the child's early years that their child identified as a boy. ... When it was time for the child to enter kindergarten, the child said to his parents, 'You have to tell them when I go to kindergarten that I'm a boy.'"
In another school, "a transgender second-grader socially transitioned from female to male. The principal informed the staff: For the remainder of this year, he will use Nurse Margaret's restroom, and toward the end of the year we will make future determinations of restroom use in consultation with his family."
Teachers who have their children line up for lunch or recess based on gender should reconsider, the document says. These teachers "may never have considered the educational value of non-gendered alternatives, such as having students line up in the order of their birthdays, or alphabetically by name, or in the order in which they are sitting."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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