This is an open letter to Minnesota Department of Education's Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Mr. Wethington of SSTAC, and posted for the community at large.
I recently came across a draft of the gender identity toolkit and was concerned by a number of things in it.
First of all, I would like to thank you for the time you are putting into addressing this very real concern that affects the lives of individuals. Thank you for the detail included in the toolkit – it shows that a lot of thought went into legal requirements schools must consider and past recommendations from federal departments. I appreciate the goal of ensuring that students are feeling safe and supported.
Unfortunately, as a citizen of the United States, I have found the entire conversation around gender identity concerning and this toolkit does not seem to solve any of the underlying problems. Instead it takes one side of the discussion and forces a specific outcome on the entire community, without fostering open and honest discussion and helping us and our children learn how to get along with people with whom we disagree and people who disagree with us. The discussion and openness in this toolkit are one sided – they assume agreement with the presumed worldview and demand conformity of all participants at some level – at a level that conficts with many worldviews.
The entire discussion is not treated for what it is - a collision of worldviews. Instead of starting from where many, if not almost all worldviews agree (the golden rule) and acknowledging that the entire LGBTQ community has moral component under many, if not most, worldviews - the toolkit takes a heavy-handed approach by forcing one set of worldviews to rule over the rest. Instead of encouraging all students, teachers, staff, parents, and community members to "do unto others as they would have others do unto them", this toolkit takes the side of one set of worldviews that presume gender is not biologically determined and excludes all worldviews who teach gender is biologically determined – which I understand to be the majority of worldviews.
If the toolkit was all about helping administrators, teachers, students, families, and communities learn to talk through the issues and work through the individual concerns, emotions, and worldviews of those involved actually in these situations, I would’ve been supportive of it, even if the examples given leaned one specific way or the other. Instead, this toolkit oppresses and treats as suspect all students, teachers, parents, and community members who believe that there is a definition of right and wrong that conflicts with what is presumed in the toolkit.
Many worldviews assume the assignment of gender is set at birth by God, a higher power, or nature itself. While many vocal cultural icons may have tried to decide the matter for the country, the fact is that the issue is not so simple. As you are fully aware, President Obama's Administration’s letter on the issue was rescinded by President Trump. If our current and former presidents can't agree on how to deal with the issue – MDE taking sides and issuing specific recommendations in the toolkit from President Obama's now rescinded letter seems unwise and quite frankly seems like the easy way out of handling the situation. This is getting political, not actually solving the underlying problem.
While this is most likely the harder and more time consuming way, this is a great opportunity to instead lead by example and work with the entire community to foster the discussion and figure out how we as Minnesotans can all live together when our worldviews collide.
I, and I believe almost all Minnesotans would agree that we want all children to experience a safe, supportive, and welcoming school. Unfortunately, you have mistaken "welcoming" and "supportive" as being the same as "agreeing with". I can welcome you into my home, have dinner with you, and support you through your life struggles without EVER agreeing with you on details of morality that you are struggling through. I have neighbors whose life styles I believe in one part or another violate the God given moral law, but that doesn’t mean I treat them as less human.
You are messing with morality here. How can you tell students that it is “good” to force all students of one biological sex to sleep in the same room as a student who is a different biological sex when that student identifies as a different gender, but you have no foundation upon which to define “good” and “bad”. You have no basis from which to be able to claim that a student’s struggle with gender identity is a moral issue or not, yet you act as though you know its not. Many in our communities hold to worldviews that define a moral law for their adherents, but in this case, the loudest members of popular culture seem to be defining “good” and “bad” on a whim. Instead of figuring out how to deal with these situations, you are trying to define “good” and “bad” for all Minnesotans, regardless of what their worldview allows. Do you not understand that Muslims, Jews, Christians, and many other cultures in Minnesota don’t agree with your understanding of a moral law when it comes to transgender and gender non-conformity, but almost all have a concept of loving their neighbor and treating neighbors as they’d like to be treated? You can accomplish the same things this toolkit claims to try to do without forcing a morally reprehensible judgment on the majority of the worldviews in our communities.
This toolkit actually bullies those that disagree with it:
According to a definition of bullying I found on MDE’s website, bullying is “intimidating, threatening, abusive or harming conduct that is objectively offensive and 1) there is an actual or perceived imbalance of power; 2) the conduct is repeated or forms a pattern; or 3) materially and substantially interferes with a student’s educational opportunities or
performance or ability to participate.” Listen for a minute as I show you how the entire toolkit meets this definition on every level.
This toolkit, when read from some worldviews is very intimidating. If one has a worldview and religion that says God created each individual in his image and assigned them a gender at conception, then this toolkit can be read as intimidating (the entire thing reads as an indoctrination manual on how to cause the students to see gender as something people define for themselves not God – having your school attack your worldview and your religion is intimidating) – the way the toolkit starts by citing laws is intimidating because the toolkit never points out that the laws just address conduct – the law never was written to encourage individuals to accept what they believe to be morally wrong. The suggestions later on in the toolkit are designed to train the belief systems of all involved to accept and at least tacitly agree these issues are either a-moral or good.
This toolkit is threatening. On page 5-6, the whole topic is treated as if it is federally settled that this is a discrimination issue. It never explains where the law draws the line between behavior and belief. The law doesn’t require that I believe these things to be acceptable – instead it requires I treat my fellow humans with respect and dignity, but the toolkit immediately goes from the definition of discrimination to the pronouns and names to use of transgendered students. The way its structured, these are so close – the toolkit seems to suggest that calling a transgender student by their birth-sex pronoun instead of what they identify to is a discrimination issue. It’s actually not – if I believe God made someone to be a female, referring to the individual as she/her is a matter of truth in my worldview (a moral concept) and requiring I call the individual by male pronouns requires that I violate the truth (a moral concept of my worldview). By extension this seems to suggest my worldview, belief system, and religion are at odds with federal law and thereby I would feel threatened.
Because it is intimidating and threatening, the toolkit is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually abusive and since worry and angst experienced on a consistent basis can lead to real medical conditions like headaches, ulcers, sleep loss, etc - as I worry over what pronoun I should use to refer to my classmate who just started transitioning – this toolkit can cause harm.
Though you may not agree that your stance is offensive, you should be able to take a step back and understand that objectively speaking – this is a moral issue for a majority of people in this country and in our state and that the country and state are divided. As such, any coercion of children to violate the morale code taught by their family is objectively offensive because morality has always fallen to the family to teach in America, not a state funded organization.
1. There is an imbalance of power because this is a state government department toolkit that holds more power than any one individual.
2. The toolkit by intent is designed to create a pattern across the state and over time.
3. If a student is wrestling with their worldview and religion as it rubs against the recommendations in this toolkit, it almost certainly affects their ability to learn and if they feel as though they cannot freely exercise their religion by speaking truthfully, even when being loving, about the moral affront at hand, that will limit their educational opportunities and ability to participate as they are likely to be disciplined for not getting in line with the administration’s implementation of this toolkit’s recommendations. Additionally, since this is not something that falls into the realm of academics, the disagreement here between what a student is taught in their home and what is taught in school needlessly undermines the student’s faith in their teacher(s) to teach truth.
As far as locker rooms and overnight trips – MDE is out of line with these recommendations. MDE deciding that one student's inner gender identity supersedes the privacy and/or dignity concerns of even one student who identifies with their biological/birth assigned sex models only how to be a hypocrite. Many cultures, religions, and worldviews are heavily entrenched in keeping individuals of one gender separate from those of another in potentially sensitive settings. What our children, teachers, parents, families, schools, communities, state, and country learn by the actions of those implementing MDE’s toolkit is how to belittle, bully, and oppress one group of people when their worldviews clash with a newly protected group’s worldview. Helping the community discuss and work through the issue would teach them how to respect each other and get along with people with whom they disagree.
This is an issue of learning to get along with others – not an issue where MDE can start legislating morality on the whim of the current administrators. This has great potential to violate the free exercise of religion of numerous students, teachers, parents, administrators and community members. Please abandon the proposed toolkit and instead create a toolkit that helps us all learn how to get along, regardless of how we may disagree.
Not everyone will agree with a transgender, gender fluid, or gender non-conforming individual’s self-identity. This will be true for their entire life. Is it not more loving to them to teach them how to live with and get along with individuals they don’t agree with then to pad their world as if everyone will accept them? Isn’t it better to encourage individuals who are raised to believe gender is defined biologically to work through their worldviews and understand how to get along with their neighbor when they don’t agree with their neighbor? This is going to be a problem for everyone’s entire life. Isn’t it better to teach everyone to learn to respect and get along with everyone else, regardless of whether they agree on every moral issue?