As it becomes clearer every day, Americans are sharply divided on how best to handle questions of children and gender identity. For better or worse, however, American parents are currently allowed (and even encouraged) to raise their kids as the opposite gender, and reports suggest many are doing so. But should these parents have the right to force other parents in their community to raise their own kids to question their biological sex? Should they have the right to impose their own transgender ideology on other families?
This is the question at stake in a lawsuit filed last week by the parents of 8-year-old Nicole (Nikki) Brar against Heritage Oak Private School in Orange County, Calif., alleging that the school engaged in discriminatory action by refusing to adopt a transgender-affirming school policy, recognizing their son’s new female name, pronouns, school uniform, and use of the girls’ bathroom and locker room.
This appears to be one of the first cases where a private school has been sued over a transgender issue, as other similar legal fights are primarily taking place in public schools. Whether the state should or should not require public schools to open up girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, sports teams, and hotel rooms during travel is the main question right now in many states, such as Texas, where state legislators are debating the Texas Privacy Act. Sympathetic children have testified on both sides: including a boy who identified himself as a girl at age 3, and whose parents attest that, at age 7, Libby is now living “her authentic life” as a girl; and 10-year-old Shiloh, a young girl who testified on how uncomfortable she is having boys in her bathroom, after the school changed its policy without informing parents.
The major issue at stake in these legal and political battles is that of parental rights — but not in the way many might think.
Although parental rights are typically considered the parents’ ability to raise their child how they see fit, as Prof. Scott Yenor recently pointed out, these rights “are related to the age of consent, which states protect in order for children to give time and space to become mature, independent adults.” While Americans are still debating whether transgender ideology is harmful to children, the right of every other parent to raise their child without exposure to this ideology should not be up for debate.
However, in the case of these 7- and 8-year-old boys who insist that they are girls, the parents have decided to elevate the desires of their children, necessarily subverting the rights of every other parent and child. I say necessarily because it is impossible to fully “affirm” one child in his un-reality unless the entire community buys in.
In Orange County, the school stated that they were willing to work with the family, offering Nikki “use of the single-unit staff bathroom, specific options as to girl’s uniform clothing and girl’s hairstyle, as well as ceasing to use gender groupings in physical education activities.” These accommodations were not enough to fully affirm Nikki’s transition, however, so the parents sued the school anyway.
It is important never to lose compassion and charity for the young, confused children in these cases, as they must never be used as pawns in this debate, and we absolutely must assume that parents want what’s best for their children. Nevertheless, the parents’ argument that it is just and necessary to brush aside the concerns of every other parent at the school deserves some examination.
We are far beyond the activists who argued that LGBT rights were about individual freedoms and would have no effect on the rest of society. In accepting Nikki’s claim that he is a girl, Jaspret Brar and his wife Priya Shah — who is a professor of feminist, transgender, and queer theory — are practicing transgender-affirmation, the prominent treatment approach that Drs. Hruz, Mayer, and McHugh address in their recent study, “Growing Pains: Problems with Puberty Suppression in Treating Gender Dysphoria.”
UC Irvine, where Ms. Shah teaches, is home to one of the gender identity clinics described in the report, the UC Irvine Pediatric Gender Diversity Program. While “Growing Pains” points out the many medical issues with transgender-affirmation theory, these legal and policy cases being addressed in the schools bring to light the fact that in order to affirm a child in an un-reality, all of reality surrounding that child must transition as well.
Instead of helping a child’s mind conform to reality, his or her body, transgender-affirmation theory says that we should make the child’s body, beginning with social expression, conform to his or her mental state. As Libby’s mother Rachel stated, “It’s really hard as a parent to go through a transition with your child. When you have a transgender child, it’s not just the child that transitions, it’s the family and the community.”
The community must also transition. This means that if transgender-affirmation theory is going to be implemented — as the activists are lobbying hard for — the privacy rights of other children, parents, women, and sexual assault survivors will be overturned. Not to mention, the rights of parents to educate their children about sexuality at an age that is actually appropriate.
Heritage Oak Private Education is being sued on the grounds that it falsely claimed “to offer a program that educates the ‘whole child’ and give students ‘a sense of self-worth.’” While the best treatment for children who express gender dysphoria is far from settled science, we must allow schools, especially private institutions, to disagree about what helps a child reach healthy wholeness.
As The American Conservative‘s Rod Dreher recently noted, professional associations and the institutions that grant accreditation for schools are gearing up to push those who dissent from transgender-affirmation theory out of the public square. However, Dreher makes a grave mistake in encouraging conservatives to turn their focus away from politics. While most cultural institutions — the media, academia, and much of medicine — have grown hostile to those of us who have a different understanding of what it means to have health and wholeness, politics is the one realm in which we have a real chance to protect the 91 percent of children who attend public school and will likely never be privileged enough to even consider something like the Benedict Option.
Moreover, the need to bend every aspect of the community to transgender-affirmation ideology will not stop at the edges of a Benedict Option community. While building up a counter-culture in which we educate our children in true health and wholeness is at the center of the solution, we must actually begin to engage in politics while these policies are still up for debate. Unless we fight for the rights of children and parents today, there will be no space left in which to truly educate our children, as all of reality transitions into unreality.