A Local Battleground over Gender-Inclusivity Education in Public Schools
A chance for civic engagement Thursday evening, December 8, 6-7PM
Among the latest Republican culture war strategies, thanks to Christopher Rufo and Steve Bannon, is to assail school boards over supposed threats to children posed by gender-inclusivity. Many of those motivated to attend school board meetings and protest against gender-inclusivity seem most concerned that making children aware of gender non-conformity and teaching acceptance of those differences among people might lure their completely binary children to try out a gender non-conforming “lifestyle”. Often the concern is rooted in religious conviction that gender is strictly determined by sex assigned at birth and that any deviation from that assignment is sinful, a choice or a sign of mental illness, and ought not to be legal, much less tolerated and taught in schools.
In contrast, those in favor of teaching gender inclusivity on an age appropriate basis generally consider gender non-conformity to be pre-determined, innate. Gender non-conformity is something to be acknowledged, accepted, and accommodated as a part of the range of normal humanity, rather than suppressed and criticized as a “lifestyle choice.” Families with members who have suffered the stress of rejection and opprobrium on account of gender non-conformity know the consequences first hand. (See Violence Large and Small–and the Social Milieu That Nurtures It.)
An inherent fault of our democracy is that an energized vocal minority, the “squeaky wheel”, can have an outsize effect. The folks who argue that children should not be taught gender-inclusivity, that past prejudices are just fine and need no revision are such a vocal minority.
If you can spare an hour this evening, Thursday evening between 6 and 7, whether or not you are geographically part of the Central Valley School District, consider attending the gathering advertised below. You will not be alone in your opinions. Petra Hoy, a dedicated Central Valley activist will be there with other policy defenders.
This is one facet of a nationally stoked controversy that pops up again and again in the context of the public schools. It behooves us to support the schools in moving forward instead of being dragged back into the prejudices and misconceptions of the past. To paraphrase a famous quote, “All that is required for reactionary, hurtful views to prevail is for good people to do nothing.”
If you want to see samples from the CVSD School Board meeting on November 14 that set the stage for this “Let’s Talk About It” meeting tonight, check out this Zoom video. It is very long. Public testimony on gender inclusivity starts at about 48:00. Be sure to watch Dr. Pam Kohlmeier’s testimony beginning at 1:02:05 and one particularly egregious bit of testimony at 1:32:28.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. For more background, here is the Guest Opinion of Dr. Kohlmeier that appeared in the Spokesman November 27.
Pam Kohlmeier, MD, JD, FACEP
By Pam Kohlmeier, MD, JD, FACEP
I presented most of the following message to the Central Valley School Board meeting earlier this month. My words seek to remind each of us of the why behind gender inclusive policies and procedures in our schools. My comments are deeply personal. They involve one of my adult children, Katie Thew, who identified as transgender and nonbinary and who recently died by suicide.
According to the Trevor Project, in the past year more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered attempting suicide. What’s more is that 42% of nonbinary individuals and over half of transgender males actually attempt suicide in their lifetimes. These are frightening statistics.
While Katie had other contributing factors, being transgender and nonbinary raised Katie’s risk of suicide astronomically. Like many transgender youths, Katie outwardly appeared to be thriving throughout the course of their primary and secondary education but in reality, was experiencing trauma in school. Months before Katie died, Katie described three deeply rooted scars that were caused by events in school between fourth and 12th grades in Spokane County. I share these scars to raise awareness, and in no way to shame or blame. Katie’s scars were forming unbeknownst to their parents while attending a great school with loving friends and teachers. But even in a seemingly nurturing environment, harm was done.
Scar 1: Bathroom experiences were deeply traumatic. Beginning in about fifth grade, Katie would limit their fluid intake to try to prevent using a school restroom during the day. Yes, the entire school day. Why? Going into a girl’s bathroom was expected, but Katie did not feel like a girl – ever. Katie was born female but felt like a boy and frankly looked like a boy, with a sporty haircut and boys clothing, so much so that Katie was once redirected by an adult away from a girls bathroom at school based on that boyish appearance. This, too, was traumatic. As a result, Katie didn’t feel comfortable using any bathroom at school for years.
Scar 2: Katie endured trauma related to dress codes. Dress codes involving special events, where students were expected to look nice, were especially distressing. Comments that girls should wear X and boys should wear Y caused trauma. It offered no validation of what would be appropriate or beautiful for a gender nonconforming student. This code seemingly forced the nonbinary students to pick one identity or the other. At Katie’s promotional ceremony into middle school, Katie’s biological sex dictated that a dress was expected. I was able to negotiate for a unique in-between option, but this, too, caused trauma: because it had to be lobbied for, because once again they were different from their peers.
Scar 3: Katie endured trauma related to pronoun usage. Katie experimented once with a new pronoun at school. Of note, the incident involved a teacher who was one of Katie’s favorites. Regardless, the teacher at that time was unfortunately ill-informed about gender nonconforming pronoun usage. Katie asked one of their classmates, and dear friend, to refer to Katie by a gender nonconforming pronoun. The friend complied. But, as a result, the friend was sent to the principal’s office. While it is likely Katie’s teacher thought her actions were helping to protect Katie, she wasn’t. Instead, the teacher was merely demonstrating a lack of education on gender nonconforming pronoun usage. Katie’s experience demonstrates that even the best educators need more education on gender inclusive pronoun usage. Here, Katie was vulnerable, felt badly following the incident, and quickly reverted to using the pronoun “she” again – even though it did not fit their identity.
Again, the above incidents could have occurred in any school with any teacher in our community. The scars created at school impacted my child, but they could involve your child, or a friend of your child who may be struggling to survive. I urge school board officials, in all districts, to prioritize saving lives. While gender-inclusive policies may at times seem burdensome, such burdens pale in comparison to the burden of losing a child.
Pam Kohlmeier is dually licensed as a physician and an attorney and has resided in Spokane since 2005. Kohlmeier served as an emergency physician and lecturer for a Master of Public Health program prior to becoming an attorney.