Colorful crayons and a symbol of a transgender
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The Bottom Line How Replacing Biological Sex with Gender Identity Harms Children

Originally published at National Review

“Gender identity” was once just a fringe concept of postmodern philosophy. Today, it’s regularly causing real-world harm to children and teenagers (particularly girls) across the country in sports, schools, and even youth camps.

One glaring example is what recently happened to fifth-grade girls at Weaver Elementary School in Los Alamitos, Ca. Without any warning to parents, two biological males were placed as counselors at Camp Pali in San Bernardino. The counselors spent three nights in the same cabins with the girls (these males instructed the girls to use they/them pronouns). When questioned about the controversial move, Emmi Teige, assistant director of Camp Pali, confirmed it. “Per California law, we place staff in cabins they identify with” was her justification.

One might think this shocking incident in California is an outlier. Yet in reality, it’s only the latest example of the new reality in K-12 public education. Gender identity is taking precedence over student well-being and safety across the nation. For example, in Loudoun Country, Va., a 15-year-old skirt-wearing male student who was allowed to select the school bathroom of his choosing sexually assaulted a female student. Transferred to another school, the boy sexually assaulted another girl. Adding insult to injury, not long after the incident, the National School Board Association labeled parents such as the father of one of these girls, who spoke out against transgender and other radical policies at school board meetings, “domestic terrorists.”

Parents are intentionally left in the dark about the harmful ideas on gender being peddled to their kids.

Keri D. Ingraham

The blatant promotion of transgenderism has infiltrated schools without parental consent and at the expense of academic learning. Gender-identity school policies and practices are becoming widespread. And curricula, books, videos, and activities promoting the transgender ideology are used with students as young as age five. It’s common, moreover, for these materials used with students to contain sexually explicit content.

One example of transgenderism indoctrination is the common use in lower-elementary-school classrooms of the Gender Unicorn and Genderbread Person. These resources employ an endearing character (unicorn or gingerbread man) to guide young children through self-selecting their gender identity, their gender expression, the gender they’re physically attracted to, and the gender they’re emotionally attracted to. Each option — even their “sex assigned at birth” — includes the following categories: women/men, feminine/masculine, and “other.”

Parents are intentionally left in the dark by school personnel about the sexual content taught. Often, parents only find out about the inappropriate content from their children, who are confused and distressed about what they have been taught at school. 

For example, the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) forbids teachers from communicating with parents concerning the claimed or coerced gender identity of their child starting in kindergarten unless the minor (as young as five years old) gives consent. In a total disregard for parental authority, school personnel are bound to secrecy concerning the acknowledged (and often dramatically celebrated) claimed gender identity of these boys and girls.

Furthermore, OSPI asserts that “a student’s age and grade level ‘should never be used to justify delaying or denying a student’s gender transition.’” The school culture has children questioning and discussing with one another what gender identity they plan to select. Consequently, one Washington State teacher shared that, of her students this year, six have changed their gender identity, and four others have “changed their appearance to resemble the opposite gender but have not announced it.” The intentional secrecy schools employ to circumvent parental awareness and authority is increasingly alarming.

This preoccupation with gender-identity indoctrination is, moreover, at odds with the reality of biological sex, and has several harmful long-term effects on children.

First, the crowding out of academic learning, which is already deficient, by inappropriate sexual classroom content is educational malpractice. It breeds confusion and insecurities, causing lifelong negative consequences, such as mental-health issues. In fact, a recent study indicates that the harm to children from being exposed to sexually explicit material and pornographic content can include poor “mental health, life satisfaction, sexual behavior and attitudes, and pornography-viewing patterns in adulthood.”

Second, this indoctrination fuels identity confusion in students, as it conflicts with their biological reality (think of the Gender Unicorn and Genderbread Person).

Third, bathroom self-selection, non-binary cabin counselors, and males in female locker rooms and on sports teams are not only violating the privacy of girls but also placing their safety at risk.

Fourth, promoting or providing access to gender-blocking hormones and body-change surgeries to children and teenagers adds irreversible damage, including sterilization, to the psychological and emotional abuse of children.

Finally, those states and districts that forbid the disclosure of gender-ideology discussions and that conduct a gender-“transition” plan without parent consent nor communication are not only damaging children but also driving a wedge between parents/legal guardians and their children. Schools label parents who do not affirm their child’s claim to be a gender other than their biological sex as unsupportive. School personnel then quickly and persistently claim that these children are in immediate danger by their “unsupportive” parents and at imminent risk of suicide. In California, for example, public schools have guided students through what to say to trigger child-protective services to remove their parents’ rights so that the minor can obtain hormones and body-change surgeries without parental consent and cost.

What can parents do about these gender identity practices, teachings, and deceitful policies? The first step is to get informed. Talk to your child and their friends, contact teachers, principals, curriculum directors, and district leaders.

The next step is to share what you hear and see with other parents. Inform the school board, state legislators, and others holding power about what is occurring. Let your voice be heard. Vote for school choice and candidates who support parental empowerment.

Parents should also demand educational transparency. Thanks to parents speaking up, bills requiring statewide curriculum transparency in K-12 public schools have been introduced in 19 states. These require public schools — which, after all, are funded by the taxpayers — to make publicly accessible a list of resources used in the classrooms. This move to enhance transparency recognizes that parents have a right to know ahead of time what content will be taught to their children, especially when it’s of a sexual nature. And parents must be given the option to opt their child out.

We need continued vigilance about what is being taught. While curriculum-accountability systems are critically important, they aren’t a foolproof safeguard against teachers using their classrooms (instruction time and beyond) to promote gender ideologies with their impressionable, captive audiences.

In many cases, gender-identity teaching is woven throughout the school day regardless of the subject — sometimes without using any formal teaching resources. For example, in Oregon, schools bypass the requirement to notify parents of gender identity and sexual-content teaching by only requiring parental communication and opt-out allowances for health classes while giving schools free rein to promote the ideas in other classes. 

Finally, many may choose to select an alternative learning environment for their students — as parents nationwide are doing. In Washington State, 39,000 children were pulled from public schools in the span of twelve months (between October 2019 and October 2020).

All of this leads to one crucial point: We need universal school choice, provided through public policy, now. Parents need to have the authority over how and what their children are taught. By placing funding with families — not the education system — all parents would be afforded educational options. It’s essential that parents are empowered to protect their children from political agendas and radical practices that are causing long-term harm. It’s an issue of defending parental rights and ensuring authentic accountability by schools entrusted with their children’s education.

Keri D. Ingraham

Senior Fellow and Director, American Center for Transforming Education
Dr. Keri D. Ingraham is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and Director of the Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education. She is also a Senior Fellow at Independent Women’s Forum. Dr. Ingraham has been a guest on Fox News multiple times. Her articles have been published by The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The Federalist, Real Clear Education, The Washington Times, National Review, The American Spectator, Washington Examiner, The Epoch Times, The Seattle Times, Puget Sound Business Journal, The Daily Signal, and a host of other media outlets. Fox News has featured her work. Prior to joining Discovery Institute, she spent nearly two decades leading within the field of education as a national consultant, requested conference speaker, head of school, virtual and hybrid academy director, administrator, classroom teacher, and athletic coach. She authored multiple chapters for the book, Sketching a New Conservative Education Agenda, published in 2022. In 2019, she was invited as a contributing author for the book, MindShift: Catalyzing Change in Christian Education and co-authored “From Gutenberg to 5G.” Dr. Ingraham was awarded the George W. Selig Doctoral Fellowship in 2013. The following year she received the “World Changer in the Field of Education” award from Regent University.
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