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A former assemblywoman from Jersey City, Joan Quigley is the president and CEO of North Hudson Community Action Corp. This was first published at nj.com.
If you had a child who longed to be another sex, do you think you’d know?
Good parents encourage their kids to talk, to share dreams for the future. Good parents are observant and think that they know what their kids are up to.
You’d think that only the most uninterested parents or grandparents wouldn’t realize their child needed to talk to someone about feelings. And if family members aren’t interested, would a letter from a school make them wake up?
Gender identity has taken center stage this year in school districts throughout New Jersey as the state wrestles with whether schools should notify parents if their children act in ways not consistent with their gender at birth.
There’s been flap at recent school board meetings about whether school administrators have the right or obligation to tell parents when children are asking to be called new names, dressing in another gender’s clothing styles, or acting in ways not consistent with their official gender identity.
Then, one New Jersey school district decided to require schools to notify parents if kids acted in what they viewed as non-conforming ways.
Some parents cheered. Either they couldn’t be bothered to notice what their own kids were doing and needed someone to point things out to them, or maybe they just assumed their babies were fine but worried that experimenting by other youngsters might contaminate their own families.
Other parents objected, saying schools shouldn’t squeal on students. Youngsters had a right to privacy and schools shouldn’t be meddling in family matters.
Of course, the issue then went to court and got lots of publicity.
Inevitably, culture warriors in other school districts saw opportunities, and now several districts have parents squabbling over whether Sally and Junior can switch roles in schools while hiding their changes from oblivious parents who need to be prodded by school administrators to pay attention.
Our Attorney General and the director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights filed emergency motions to prevent tattletale policies from being implemented while judges ponder. They say the policies could cause irreparable harm to transgender students. Of course, that’s the intent. To make students and parents get stricter about conforming to gender expectations. Some adults still believe gender identity is a conscious choice and parents can prevent youngsters from making that choice.
Some students do need a confidant, especially when they fear talking to a family member. Sometimes they find those willing listeners in teachers and school counselors. Ratting them out slams another door in their face, puts them at greater risk for emotional problems, even suicide, and can also cause violence at home.
The New Jersey Department of Education issued guidance to school districts a while ago regarding transgender students, protecting their privacy and their civil rights. It wasn’t wildly popular at the time of issuance but was generally accepted.
Then the Hanover school board adopted a policy stating school administrators must notify parents if children behave outside of gender “norms.” The AG stepped in, arguing notifications to parents about their child’s gender identity and sexual orientation violated New Jersey’s law against discrimination.
Policy supporters said they “don’t believe in keeping secrets from parents” and said notifications to parents are not “outing” such students.
The judge in that case ordered the school board to rewrite the rule in a way not discriminating against gay, transgender and nonbinary students. Another judge put another district’s policy on indefinite hold.
A recent poll said 81 percent of New Jersey parents want school boards to alert them to their kids’ gender preferences. In Colts Neck, where a notification battle is ongoing, one parent said, “Keeping parents in the dark is grossly irresponsible.”
Gender identity is not a school board’s business. It’s not anybody’s business really. It’s a matter some young people have to deal with, hopefully with wise counsel from a trusted, understanding adult.