The title quote from documentary filmmaker Rohan Spong, director of the highly-acclaimed documentary "T Is For Teacher," illuminates the overblown "moral panic" about transgender teachers now infecting the ENDA debate. It's reverberating especially hard in a few "moderate" Congressional offices.
My DC sources suggest that most Congressmembers are not that concerned about it. But in those offices where it is a concern, it is not a concern because of the children.
Most reasonable people realize that ENDA will not mean "trapping young children in classrooms in hundreds of schools districts to be schooled in sexual fetishes by drag queens," as the Traditional Values Coalition claims, that hate group found on the watch-list of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Let's discuss the facts. After the jump, an awesome trailer of Spong's fascinating documentary.
The hysterical, witch-hunting denunciations and hateful screeds of the Traditional Values Coalition are drawn straight from the pages of South Park, but they must not be discounted as ineffectual. Similar groups fed the "Satanic Ritual Abuse" moral panics of the 1980s, which led us to put people in jail for the most heinous crimes that never occurred. We like to think that we have evolved beyond the days of the Salem Witch trials, but our track record on that score is poor.
Today, because gays and lesbians are better known to the public as valued members of society, the prospect of a gay teacher raises no alarm. Because less is known about transgender people, ideologues are seizing on our fears about harm to children to spread panic about transgender teachers, just as they did about gay teachers in the 1970s and 1980s.
I have great compassion for those of you who are trying to understand this issue calmly and reasonably. These claims are calculated to cause alarm in parents who love their children and desire their safety. As a parent myself, I understand this completely. There is, however, no danger to children. Here are seven facts to consider in understanding the issue of transgender teachers.
1. Over two dozen states and over 100 cities in the US are covered by laws prohibiting gender identity discrimination in the workplace since 1979. There are also many other countries that have similar laws. The fears of hysterical ideologues about harm to children have not come to pass.
2. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers both support ENDA. These teacher associations are not out to put children in harm's way.
3. Under ENDA, employers retain the legal right to set the terms and conditions of employment. This allows workplaces to minimize impact on co-workers and customers, and schools have the same flexibility. There have been about a half-dozen or so teacher transitions in the last decade in our 20,000 school districts. In most of these situations, the schools have made appropriate arrangements for the transition to occur during the summer, so that a class will not be interrupted by a teacher's transition. Those teaching younger children can be reassigned to teach older children or transferred to a different school where appropriate. These schools, like any reasonable workplace, have also reached out to parents to explain about gender transition, since it is by nature a public event, with the majority of parents finding that this causes minimal disruption once they understand the situation.
4. Contrary to the claims of the Traditional Values Coalition, parents have appropriately been permitted to opt-out if they find that their child is having a particular problem. In the case of the Foxboro, California school system, for example, parents were allowed to take their children out of the classroom. The school system in Batavia, New York also allowed children to leave the classroom.
5. Parents can be and should be notified in advance. This was done in the case of the Batavia, New York school system. In the Foxboro, California case, unfortunately, school administrators did not do their research, and handled the issue very insensitively. They failed to inform parents of the situation and give them the facts in advance so they could understand the situation before being confronted with it. The school system incorrectly claimed that HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, required secrecy. HIPAA, as its name implies, is about health insurance. It covers only health care providers and health insurance plans. This information is on the government website about HIPAA and is easily verifiable. It does not cover employers, including school systems. The extremely poor judgment of the Foxboro, CA school system was not, in fact, mitigated by any law. Such poor judgment can occur with or without passage of ENDA, and is not a reason to oppose it.
6. As recently discussed in the pages of the New York Times, while there is a psychiatric diagnosis of "gender identity disorder," this does not signify mental illness that poses a danger to children. It is used solely to determine who is an appropriate candidate for medical and insurer assistance in gender transition. It is no more a signal of danger than psychiatric diagnosis of learning disorders or anxiety. In fact, two studies of transsexual parents have shown that their children do not suffer ill effects from their transsexuality. (1 - 2)
7. Teachers will be dressing and behaving in workplace-appropriate ways. They not be discussing their sex or their sexuality in the classroom. Gender transition takes place after years of serious consideration with the help of health professionals. The medical standards of care require candidates for sex reassignment to obtain signatures of two mental health professionals, who look to ensure their mental health and proper social functioning before giving those signatures. Furthermore, failure to dress and behave in a workplace-appropriate manner is, as for any worker, grounds for corrective action. Transgender workers can be and should be expected to keep confidential and inappropriate private details out of the workplace. This is also true in the school environment. Teachers will not be discussing their sex reassignment with children, any more than retail workers would at the local Best Buy or Walmart in the checkout line. As a consultant to many organizations with successful workplace transitions, such as Harvard University, Boeing and New York City, I can tell you that the panicky claims of the Traditional Values Coalition are simply not in accord with the reality of workplace transition.
If you are looking to understand more about the realities of gender transition in the workplace, and the policy tools and communication techniques appropriate to make such a transition successful, you may see my book on the subject: Transgender Workplace Diversity: Policy Tools, Training Issues and Communication Strategies for HR and Legal Professionals. You can preview it here. You can also read my blog on the subject.
Below is a video about "T Is For Teacher," a documentary by Rohan Spong about transgender teachers. It's been an official selection at several film festivals and received great reviews. As the director says, "the students by and large don't have a problem with a transgender school teacher; it's the parents."
As you watch this, ask yourself who and what are the Traditional Values Coalition really trying to protect here?