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Mental Health, the Ambiguity of ‘Gender’ and Protecting Families and Children

Parents are pleading with judges to stop schools from keeping secrets about children, desperate cries signaling that our culture has lost hold of the meaning of “family.” Some state lawmakers are stepping in to help as concerned parents find themselves out-lawyered by the K-12 bureaucracy. 

According to Education Week, families in six states have filed lawsuits against district schools when officials abide by policies stating that parents do not have to be informed when a child arrives at school and wants to “assume” a different “gender,” a slippery concept that eludes an agreed-upon definition. Families in Wisconsin, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine have challenged policies that allow school personnel to socially affirm young children who are confused about their sex and, in some cases, leave parents out of the discussion.

None of the suits have been successful yet — one reason state lawmakers should move quickly to reaffirm parents as their child’s primary caregivers. 

Some state officials are helping by considering what is known as the “Given Name Act,” a policy proposal that says K-12 educators must address a child by the name and pronouns that correspond with his or her birth certificate unless teachers receive express permission from parents. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently signed such a proposal, and lawmakers in Florida, North Dakota, Kentucky and Utah have adopted similar policies. 

By requiring educators to abide by parent’s wishes, policymakers include families in vital discussions concerning their minor-aged children. In a recent debate with an associate professor from Colorado, my opponent claimed that policies restricting the teaching about “gender,” policies that often also call for withholding information from parents about their child, we “deny [transgender individuals’] presence” and thereby “deny their humanity.” 

Yet telling a child’s parents that he or she is struggling in school with emotional or mental health issues is not denying the presence of anyone. Requiring this communication between teachers and families is, in fact, recognizing very serious issues. 

Research released earlier this year on individuals who were confused about their sex and assumed a “transgender” lifestyle found that these individuals were three to six times more likely to also have been diagnosed as autistic. The mainstream media, including the New York Times, is admitting that a significant number of young people who go to a gender clinic to seek medical interventions such as hormone therapies and puberty blockers are also struggling with anxiety, depression, eating disorders or attention-deficit disorders.

Young people need help with these diagnoses—and adults need to recognize that treating mental health issues may help far more than a social affirmation of a young person’s confusion about his or her sex. Notably, research cited by former President Barack Obama’s administration finds that when people undergo sexual reassignment surgery, these procedures do not improve their mental health struggles. Some patients actually had more anxiety after surgery.

Focusing on a child’s mental health, then, and practicing watchful waiting as young people forge their way through puberty, is doing more to recognize a child’s humanity than any attempt at “gender affirmation.”

In some instances, some school officials are going to great lengths to spread radical ideas about so-called gender. A Pennsylvania school recently paid more than $1,000 for elementary and high school teachers to receive gender training from the Gender and Sexuality Development Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. School officials then affirmed a kindergarten student’s attempt to assume a different gender, “exactly the sort of gender radicalism that deserves to be investigated by lawmakers,” according to Do No Harm, an advocacy and litigation organization that raises awareness about the harm to patients of all ages from radical racial or gender ideas when applied to medicine.

When school officials hide information about children from their parents, this interferes with crucial family functions. As families take the issue to court, lawmakers should find ways to support them.

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