Parents, pronouns and a place for all in an increasingly diverse world

By: - Wednesday February 22, 2023 5:40 am

Parents, pronouns and a place for all in an increasingly diverse world

By: - 5:40 am

Getty Images

Getty Images

My oldest granddaughter recently married a non-binary person, meaning “they” reject being labeled either male or female. I have used the wrong pronoun a few times because their caring nature feels feminine to me — which I acknowledge is old-fashioned thinking.

I will get the pronouns right because it is callous to misgender someone or question their preferences, especially if you care about them. Even if it doesn’t easily compute for you.

Yet the Kentucky Senate last week passed SB 150, which would prohibit any requirements that school staff and students use other students’ preferred names or pronouns — voiding the guidance issued by state education officials last year.

“The terms ‘he’ and ‘she’ communicate fixed facts about a person, and teachers should not be forced to violate their consciences regarding what they know to be true or not true,” said sponsor Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville.

This narrow thinking is part of a national parental-rights crusade unfairly attacking educators. The movement has roots in the pandemic chaos, which raised fears about loss of control. Yes, so much in the country is changing, as always. This time, we grandparents and parents are not the ones causing the upheaval.

So, activists and politicians encourage parents to micromanage schools: censoring library books; restricting classrooms discussions on race and gender; discriminating against transgender girls in sports, which Kentucky did last year.

Gender diversity is nothing new. It is just more openly discussed because the children today’s parents reared are more accepting of others’ differences. And after a childhood traumatized by mass-shootings, the pandemic and hostile social media, they are concerned about their own mental health. They declare who they are and hope for acceptance.

Rejection, however, endangers them. The 2022 national survey by The Trevor Project, which studies LGBTQ youth, found that nearly one in five transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in the past year because of bullying. Fewer than one in three of these youth found their home life supportive.

Now, just imagine connecting daily with scores of young people dealing with relationships, sexuality, identity, home life and the general stress of growing up. And your job is to create a safe place where they can get an education, build character and envision a future.

It’s not sound strategy to make them feel insecure or rejected because of who they say they are at any moment in time. Educators should work with parents to help students learn and grow. But teachers shouldn’t feel obligated to report to parents which name a student is using this month.

For one thing, teachers don’t know if there is family discord, whether the student could be in danger. Teachers are not hired to be social workers, family counselors or potential witnesses in divorce or custody cases. And they are not obligated to reflect the view of a parent who refuses to see or accept what is happening with their child.

Teachers have never had it easy, but the pandemic also presented serious challenges with remote learning and trying to reduce the spread of the virus. What began as protests about the handling of the pandemic morphed into attacks on teachers, including extreme allegations of sexual grooming. Such vitriol, which lessened as schools reopened and parents returned to work, is still considered a factor in a nationwide teacher shortage.

As of last month, Kentucky had 1,500 teacher vacancies with a high 20-percent turnover rate. Also, the average state teacher pay, when adjusted for inflation, dropped for the seventh year in a row. Yet, some speakers at a recent House Education Committee hearing said teachers were leaving the classroom to reject policies on student pronouns.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass responded: “The people who are making pronouns and transgender issues and ‘woke’ issues a priority in our education are politicians.”

The best result would be for those demanding parental rights to accept a middle ground.

Allow educators to create safe learning environments for all students — regardless of identity. Then, parents spend more time talking to their own children about how they see themselves and their place in an increasingly diverse world.

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Vanessa Gallman
Vanessa Gallman

Vanessa Gallman, a Kentucky Lantern freelance columnist, worked for more than two decades as editorial page editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader. She was also a local government editor for The Washington Post and a national correspondent for Knight-Ridder Inc.