Last week, I had the great honor of hosting Tyson Langhofer of Alliance Defending Freedom for an online event called “Standing on the Front Lines.” It was an opportunity for educators to get answers to their legal questions about serving as Christians in our public schools.
Of course, we addressed common questions like “Can I wear a cross necklace?” or “Do I have to teach evolution?” However, Tyson and I agreed that the issue dominating all others is the transgender issue. (Watch our conversation as part of the upcoming—and free—Rise Up Summit.)
This controversy is difficult to even talk about because of the loaded language involved. Honestly, I avoid even using the term “transgender,” because I don’t believe gender is something that can be “transed.” To speak of those suffering in this way, I more often use “gender-confused.” Though this term is more accurate, my heart still rebels against it somewhat—I want to be compassionate and I understand the offense it carries to those who truly believe that they are transgender. However, while we must always speak in love, deceiving someone about their condition is not true compassion.
Opponents may argue that gender can, in fact, be “transed” because it is distinct from biological sex. How do they define “gender”? Online definitions use fungible words like “complex,” “broadly defined,” “continuum,” and “socially constructed.” A short summary of these definitions could be: “How I feel about my sex.” And even in cases where that definition lacks sufficient complexity, nonetheless, in their view “gender” is still defined by how one feels.
Okay, fair enough. As a biblically-informed Christian, I can accept that some people may have different feelings than most others about their biology. However, after divorcing gender from sex, transgender ideology then leaves sex on the ash heap of irrelevance—demanding that all laws, policies, and social customs be based instead on gender.
But should “gender” trump biology?
No. Even transgenderism’s self-contradicting practices affirm the critical importance of biology, as Joshua Pauling points out in Public Discourse:
If gender identity is totally independent of one’s biological sex, why rush to change one’s body to align with a subjective internal identity? And furthermore, if one’s gender identity is really so free and unbounded, why is it so uncreatively bound up with old gender stereotypes? If a girl likes rough-and-tumble games and hopes to work with her hands, why do people think she really is a boy? Why does she then have to change her appearance to look like a boy based on gender stereotypes if the stereotypes are based on a faulty binary? When Bruce Jenner said “call me Caitlyn,” why was the big photo shoot reminiscent of a pin-up model session perpetuating further objectification of women? For a movement that claims to move beyond the binary, it seems quite intent on doubling down on gender stereotypes and seems unavoidably tied to the stubborn reality that gender is physically embodied in a person.
When transgender proponents believe they win the debate by claiming that gender and sex are distinct concepts, I would not expend energy arguing otherwise. Rather, I might reply, “Sure, individuals may feel a whole variety of ways about their transitory ‘gender,’ but unchanging sex is what really matters, and is the only distinction capable of governing our laws and policies in a coherent manner.” (To get equipped on these issues, check out christianeducators.org/gender.)
Speaking of (hopefully) winning debates, teachers and parents pushing back against transgender policies are winning in court.
Just last Thursday, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Escondido Union School District from keeping parents in the dark about transitioning their kids. Teachers Elizabeth Mirabelli and Lori Ann West sued, arguing that these policies require them to lie to parents and violate their religious liberties. While the final ruling awaits, this decision likely reflects the eventual outcome, which becomes obvious when you read the judge’s ruling:
The school’s policy is a trifecta of harm: it harms the child who needs parental guidance and possibly mental health intervention to determine if the incongruence is organic or whether it is the result of bullying, peer pressure, or a fleeting impulse. It harms the parents by depriving them of the long recognized Fourteenth Amendment right to care, guide, and make healthcare decisions for their children. And finally, it harms plaintiffs who are compelled to violate the parent’s rights by forcing plaintiffs to conceal information they feel is critical for the welfare of their students—violating plaintiffs’ religious beliefs.
I don’t think a judge who writes about the “trifecta of harm” in a preliminary ruling is going to decide all three harms don’t matter in the end. I’m not an attorney, but I would advise Escondido Union to negotiate a settlement before they lose in court. But they may be caught in a legal bind—the California attorney general is suing one district (with five others in his sights) that won’t hide gender transitions from parents. If they don’t settle, they lose in court. If they do settle and change their policy, they may get sued by the state.
The Escondido case is not an outlier. Kansas middle school teacher Pamela Ricard won a $95,000 settlement last year in a very similar lawsuit. Note the strong language from the judge in this case as well:
Whether the District likes it or not, that constitutional right includes the right of a parent to have an opinion and to have a say in what a minor child is called and by what pronouns they are referred.
The tide seems to be turning in parents’ favor as well. Just last month, Jessica Konen, a mom in California, won a $100,000 judgment against her school district when they secretly gender-transitioned her daughter. Also, I am very interested to learn the outcome of this case in Virginia, in which mom Michele Blair alleges that a high school intentionally concealed her daughter’s gender transition and related mental health crisis. According to the suit, her daughter then ran away and was sex-trafficked. Doesn’t that break your heart?
Is your school or district implementing or considering these policies? Point them toward the language used by these federal judges to suggest that they are placing your district in legal jeopardy.
These legal victories, though small, remind me that God is a God of deliverance. What if these heroic educators—Elizabeth Mirabelli, Lori Ann West, and Pamela Ricard—had simply said, “Things are getting too difficult, maybe it’s time to retire.” Rather, like Esther, they responded as if they had been placed in the public schools “for such a time as this.”
Why has God placed you in your school? Even if it’s not to win a lawsuit, maybe it’s to advise a Christian club, pray with a colleague, or expose students to the culture of the kingdom in your classroom.
So let’s not be stuck in fear. We serve a God who intervenes and delivers. And even when He doesn’t intervene just like we ask, He is always redeeming our circumstances and directing our paths in ways that we would never be smart enough to script out on our own. He is worthy of our trust.
P.S. See You at the Pole is coming up on Wednesday, September 27! In my conversation with Tyson Langhofer at ADF, I asked him directly if teachers could actively participate in religious activities at SYATP. His answer? If it’s before contract time, there is no restriction on your participation. You have the same rights as any other member of the community…so go pray!
David Schmus is the Executive Director of Christian Educators.
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