[Article first appeared at First Things, Jan 20, 2017]
Gender ideology seemed a ridiculous and improbable threat when I first considered its claims of male brains trapped in female bodies, but its rapid ascendancy in law and public opinion has made the term “transgender” a household word. While some were scoffing at Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair, I was engaged in a battle over the meaning of sex and gender at my children’s school. Katherine Kersten’s December contribution to First Things, “Transgender Conformity,” was, in part, my own story: I was a parent at Nova Classical Academy.
Nova, a highly rated public charter school with a classical curriculum, had educated six of my seven children over the years. Nova wasn’t without its problems, but those problems paled in comparison with the bizarre clash that ensued last year. A kindergartener had arrived—or more correctly his parents, Dave and Hannah Edwards, had arrived—carrying the pink-and-blue banner of transgender activism. Claiming that their son was “gender non-conforming” (six months later they declared him to be a transgender girl), the Edwardses demanded that the school make special provisions for his “needs” that required infusing everyone else’s child with their peculiar version of reality. They closely followed the playbook for activist parents of transgender children disseminated by the Human Rights Campaign and other trans advocacy groups. Easily found in a Google search, these groups instruct parents of “gender variant” children to present their child’s transition as an impending bullying emergency to school officials. From the classroom reading of My Princess Boy, a book meant to normalize “gender expansive” behavior, to the adoption of a “gender inclusion” policy, parents and administrators at Nova were told that the Edwardses’ demands had to be met as quickly as possible.
Ultimately, all these demands led to the same end: “Gender identity,” rather than biology, had to be the sole determinant of whether one was male or female. With sexual difference erased from all policy and practice at Nova, I had to face the prospect of my children sharing locker rooms with the opposite sex, learning bogus theories in science class about gender existing on a spectrum, and being punished for violations of “preferred” pronoun use. Up to this point, Nova had always taken its time in selecting curricula, at times writing its own textbooks. Now, unsubstantiated claims of bullying were used to pressure committees to approve materials and policies that were anti-scientific and that supplanted parental authority. This didn’t sound like the school I had signed up for—this was ideological indoctrination.
Though this ideology may seem above the understanding of young children, it sinks in quickly when your child’s classmate transitions to the opposite sex. Nova saw some kindergarteners leave mid-year, troubled by their classmate’s rapid metamorphosis. Stephanie Davies Arai, a UK-based communication specialist who has worked with parents for over eighteen years, says that at around four to five years of age, children begin to classify and categorize everything around them. Most importantly, children of this age will categorize their sex and that of others. This process in young children is inevitably undermined by the dualistic tenets of gender ideology. “By teaching [students] that this ‘gender identity’ is their ‘authentic self,’ disassociated from the body, we are actively training children into a state of ‘gender dysphoria’ as the normal,” Davies Arai states on her blog, Transgender Trend. The Edwardses had succeeded in creating a Brave New World in the kindergarten classroom.
Without sympathy for our views amongst school officials, Nova parents organized to amplify our voice. Collectively, we were able to withstand the school’s administrators, its lawyer, and a good portion of the parent community calling us bigots in the media, censoring our comments to the school board, and accusing us of creating a “hostile environment.” We collected hundreds of signatures from the school community on a petition opposing mixed-sex bathrooms; we hosted a talk at Nova on the harms of transgenderism; and we sent a letter to the school board with a long list of students who wouldn’t be permitted to use a mixed-sex bathroom. Most importantly, we supported each other in prayer and solidarity, forming new friendships that, then and now, serve as an ark in troubled times.
Despite our efforts, Nova eventually adopted a comprehensive gender inclusion policy that eradicated sex-specific facilities and activities, enforced preferred pronouns, and equated disagreement with bullying. In response, many families (including my own) left the school, disenchanted with the administration’s capitulation to the gender activists and their post-truth politics. Interestingly, the Edwardses also left, filing a still-unresolved Human Rights complaint on their way out. Though the school still hobbles along doing its best to teach the Western canon, it’s been critically wounded and is sure to be one of many institutions gutted by such ruthless activism.
With the Obama “bathroom mandate” under injunction and the Grimm case pending at the Supreme Court, don’t think that activists have hit the pause button. Gender activism moves fast, is well-funded, and directs a significant amount of resources at public schools. The tragic consequences of this ideology are all around us—teen girls getting mastectomies, minors put at risk of being sterilized by synthetic hormones, and a gag on scientific inquiry—but who will dare say the Emperor has no clothes? With public schools fast becoming incubators of gender ideology, parents need to cast off their fears of entering the fray, speak out, and, most importantly, teach their children that their sex is a beautiful, biological reality.