Fox’s Bill O’Reilly condemned a new Massachusetts school policy protecting transgender students, suggesting that teachers should be allowed to out their transgender students to their families and fear mongering that “wise guys” might use the policy to infiltrate girls’ restrooms.
During the February 26 edition of The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly railed against a new directive for Massachusetts schools concerning the treatment of transgender students.
The directive – which is aimed at encouraging non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity – instructs school officials to acknowledge students by their preferred gender identity and respect transgender students’ privacy when discussing their gender identity with their parents.
O’Reilly called the directive “insane,” suggesting that “wise guys” would casually alter their gender identity in order to enter the locker rooms of the opposite sex. He went on to argue that that schools should be required to inform parents about their children’s “lifestyle” choices:
O’REILLY: This is truly madness, ladies and gentlemen. You’re telling me that a kid can go to a public school in Massachusetts, immediately upon entering the school take off the kid’s shirt and put on a dress, alright, go to the girls’ room when he’s a boy, and then change his name from John to Tiffany, and then after school, put the shirt back on, go home, and he’s still John.
O’REILLY: There’s a difference between a conversation and a lifestyle. That’s such a violation of parental rights by the state of Massachusetts. It’s off the chart violation.
O’REILLY: We don’t even want to get into the locker room situation here, okay? Because I know a lot of wise guys who would exploit this in a way that we’re not even going to talk about.
Considering O’Reilly’s history of wildly misinformed outrage when it comes to supporting transgender people –especially transgender youth – his meltdown over the MA directive isn’t surprising. But in his rush to condemn the new policy, he overlooked a few important facts about the directive and what it means to be transgender:
1. Gender Identity Is Innate And Largely Inflexible, Even In Young Children. As the MA directive explains, children who identify as transgender are typically responding to an “innate, largely inflexible” characteristic of their personality – not a random or casual “lifestyle” choice:
One’s gender identity is an innate, largely inflexible characteristic of each individual’s personality that is generally established by age four, although the age at which individuals come to understand and express their gender identity may vary based on each person’s social and familial social development. As a result, the person best situated to determine a student’s gender identity is that student himself or herself. [emphasis added]
This position is supported by experts at the American Psychological Association (APA).
In the cases of very young children, the MA directive states that the responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the child’s parents:
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.
2. Students Aren’t Allowed To Casually Change Their Gender Identity. The MA directive also establishes that schools should only accept the assertion of a student’s gender identity when there is “consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity”:
Consistent with the statutory standard, a school should accept a student’s assertion of his or her gender identity when there is “consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity, or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity.” [emphasis added]
Students may even be required to provide a letter from a parent or guardian verifying that the student is, in fact, transgender:
Confirmation of a student’s asserted gender identity may include a letter from a parent, health care provider, school staff member familiar with the student (a teacher, guidance counselor, or school psychologist, among others), or other family members or friends. A letter from a social worker, doctor, nurse practitioner, or other health care provider stating that a student is being provided medical care or treatment relating to her/his gender identity is one form of confirmation of an asserted gender identity. It is not, however, the exclusive form upon which the school or student may rely. [emphasis added]
In other words, a male student who decides to “put on a dress” and identify as a female for the day would not be covered by the directive.
3. Ignoring A Student’s Gender Identity Is A Bad Idea. Allowing schools to acknowledge the appropriate gender identity of transgender students is an important step in protecting transgender youth from a host of negative consequences. Studies show that unwelcoming environments do serious damage to transgender youth, and simply refusing to acknowledge transgender children has been discouraged by medical experts. Instead, the APA encourages schools to provide support to vulnerable LGBT youth. This is especially true considering the “extreme harassment” already faced by many transgender students.
4. It’s Dangerous To Inform Parents About Their Child’s Gender Identity Without The Child’s Consent. As the MA directive explains, allowing teachers to reveal their students’ transgender status to their parents without permission is a terrible idea:
Some transgender and gender nonconforming students are not openly so at home for reasons such as safety concerns or lack of acceptance. School personnel should speak with the student first before discussing a student’s gender nonconformity or transgender status with the student’s parent or guardian. For the same reasons, school personnel should discuss with the student how the school should refer to the student, e.g., appropriate pronoun use, in written communication to the student’s parent or guardian. [emphasis added]
Studies have shown that over half of all transgender people experience family rejection, with roughly 20 percent becoming the victims of domestic violence from a family member after coming out. Allowing teachers to “out” transgender students to their families without their permission puts those students at risk for rejection, abuse, and even homelessness. This family rejection also puts transgender students at greater risk of depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
5. Schools Are Allowed To Question A Student’s Gender Identity In Appropriate Circumstances. The MA directive also instructs school staff to question a student’s gender identity in the highly unlikely circumstance that a student claims to be transgender for inappropriate reasons, like “wise guys” trying to get into the girls’ locker room. According to the directive:
If a student’s gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior meets this standard, the only circumstance in which a school may question a student’s asserted gender identity is where school personnel have a credible basis for believing that the student’s gender-related identity is being asserted for some improper purpose.