Tuesday, August 15, 2023

PA: In Central Bucks, Students May Have To Certify Gender

The Central Bucks School District board keeps looking for the bottom.

The wealthy, white, Philly suburban district has been an example of how far off the rails a right wing batch of culture warriors can drag a district. By December of 2021 they were already the subject of a New York Times story demonstrating how a board could get wrapped up in arguments about masks and culture war issues while the day to day needs of the district went unaddressed.

They instituted a book banning policy, aided by the Independence Law Firm, the legal arm of the christianist nationalist Pennsylvania Family Institute ("Our goal is for Pennsylvania to be a place where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive, and life is cherished.") Both the ACLU and the U.S. Department of Education came after the district for creating a hostile environment for LGBTQ students-- so they hired a noted anti-LGBTQ lawyer to do an internal investigation; the resulting report might not have been entirely forthcoming (but it was expensive).

They banned pride flags. They suspended a teacher who defended LGBTQ students. They implemented a policy that required the school to out LGBTQ students with a "gender identification procedure". No name changes without a note from home. 

They created such an atmosphere of hostility distrust that last June, some graduating seniors requested that the superintendent and board president not give them their diplomas, asking instead to receive their sheepskin from a board member who actually values equality, diversity and inclusion. This summer, the board rewarded its superintendent's loyalty to their right wing agenda by making him the second-highest paid superintendent in the state (the district has 17,000 students). 

Now the board is considering, again, a gender id policy (apparently also written for them by the ILC). This transgender athlete policy restricts athletes to the sport designated for their gender at birth. Like most such policies it's really only aimed at trans women, and argues that it's "safer" this way. Parents/guardians can designate the student's sex for school records, but if "the Superintendent or Athletic Director has reasonable cause to believe that the student's sex is other than designated" then the parents will have to produce a birth certificate "certifying the student's sex to the Superintendent or Athletic Director."

Heaven only knows what "reasonable cause" is likely to mean in practice, but I have a hard time imagining any such circumstance that wouldn't be a hammer blow to a tween or teen girl's ego. "Sorry dear, but the superintendent of schools thinks you're too ugly and awkward to be a real girl, so we have to take some paperwork in." The most likely scenario is, of course, one we've already seen -- "That so-called girl just beat my daughter in the 500 meter again-- I want that kid's gender certified right now!"

There are other possible scenario, but I can't think of any good way to tell a teen that she has to prove she's really a female at a point in her life when she's naturally wrestling with identity and self. Teenagers already have a million issues that play out just in getting dressed for school; sure, let's just add "Does this make me look too much like another gender" to the list.

There are policies and laws like this popping up all over, and they are all bad, all oppressive to LGBTQ students and to straight ones as well. Governor DeWine of Ohio, of all people, had the right idea when he vetoed an anti-trans law a year ago:

The welfare of those young people needs to be absolutely most important to this issue, whether that young person is transgender or not.

But the Central Bucks board has been putting their own agenda ahead of students for a while now. Will they hit the bottom any time soon, or will the voters of Central Bucks finally start voting with children in mind?

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