One objection that has been made a number of times to my criticisms of transgenderism is that, if someone want to change from their birth sex to the opposite, what harm does that do to me? Why should I worry if, to borrow from Jefferson, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg? That is true, and from that perspective I care as little about the issue as I do about what my neighbors may or may not be doing in their bedrooms after dark. That is part of what living in a free country means. What I do care about, however, is how the issue is being used to transform the public square, in particular to undermine parental and women's rights.
A case in point: Last week, I noticed that my local school district had included a proposed transgender student policy in the minutes of its recent board meeting. While it is obvious that the issues raised by transgenderism and gender non-conformity are being pressed so strongly by the power-brokers that all school districts will have to address them, it struck me that the document may be well-intentioned but contains within it conceptual confusions. These confusions then provide the foundation upon which far-reaching policies are being built which will erode parental rights, grant sweeping powers to the school, and in the long run (and almost as collateral damage) wreak significant damage upon women's sports. Here is the text of the letter I sent to the school board in response:
March 31, 2016
To the Springfield Schoolboard,
I am writing as a resident of Springfield Township regarding the proposed policy for Springfield Township School District on transgender and gender non-conforming youth.
While the issues it raises are clearly pressing, and while the welfare of all students, regardless of identity, has to be a priority, the proposed policy is conceptually incoherent. On the one hand, it asserts that a student’s asserted gender identity has to be accepted, and must not be questioned or disregarded by staff. Moreover, the only exception is if staff have a “credible basis” for believing the student is “improperly” asserting a gender identity, vague and undefined terms that are open to abuse. Yet, the policy also claims that a student’s transgender status may constitute confidential medical information that should not be disclosed to parents or others, suggesting it is a medical condition. Which is it?
Further, is the school really saying that it has the right, duty, and indeed the competence to hide a child’s identity from its parents? This is a breathtaking assertion of authority—to claim that the school has a greater right relative to a child’s identity than the parents who have raised him or her. It also creates a dangerous precedent: so long as the school district in its infinite wisdom decides that something is part of a child’s core identity, it grants to itself the right to exclude parents. This is remarkably open-ended and adversarial, pitting the school district against parents and scarcely conducive to cultivating co-operative school-parent relationships which are surely to be desired in a rounded education.
In addition, the policy provides that students are entitled to access to the locker rooms and restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. This is unworkable. If gender identity is a subjective, psychological identity, and if no criteria for assessing such claims are objectively established in the policy itself, I cannot see how the school can enforce this. On what grounds does the troublemaker get distinguished from the genuine case? How can safety be guaranteed under such a vague policy? And I also wonder why the child who is distressed at a student of the opposite sex using the restroom should be the one effectively forced to use the single user restroom. What this does, in effect, is place the moral burden—and, in the current climate, the risk of being accused of bigotry and ostracized—upon those merely with concerns about personal modesty.
Under this policy, students must be allowed to participate in PE classes, intramural sports, and (to the extent consistent with PIAA regulations) interscholastic athletics consistent with their asserted gender identity. This approach is clearly going to have a detrimental effect on girls’/women’s competitions and in the long run will put those women who are born such and identify as such at a permanent competitive disadvantage (as indicated by the recent incoherent attempt to produce fair and consistent regulations for transgender Olympic competition while safeguarding competitiveness). My son, for example, ran track for the University of Pennsylvania where he was a moderately good middle distance runner. Were he to identify as a woman, he would currently hold the world mile record. This is a policy which is really very detrimental to women and the future of women’s sports.
In short, the proposed policy is remarkably one-sided and dangerously vague at key points. It appears to be focused exclusively on satisfying the desires of gender non-conforming students, without any effort to balance those desires with the legitimate and reasonable concerns of anyone else, whether they be parents, fellow students, or competing athletes. Springfield can and must do better.
Carl R Trueman
Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.