Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

"The Students By and Large Don't Have A Problem With A Transgender School Teacher; It's The Parents"

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | May 04, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics
Tags: Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, Rohan Spong, T Is For Teacher, transgender teachers

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.901_hi_boys.jpg

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?

Take a minute to write to your Representative again now about ENDA by clicking here.


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diddlygrl | May 4, 2010 10:23 AM

They are trying to protect a way of life that has never really been. The modern world scares the heck out of them and they are lashing out at anything and everything that doesn't fit their twisted vision of what America is.

I have dealt with people like this, it is best to tell them to talk to the hand for the rest of you isn't paying attention.

Thank-you for continuing to educate people Jillian. Understanding is the goal.

Thankfully, young people are willing to learn and not infected with religious bigotry.

Jillian, thank you for a thoughtful rundown on what should be the real talking points.

wow, awesome!

thanks so much for sharing this!

Carol :)

I wish that films such as this received wider distribution, so that more can see it. There seems to be nowhere I can see it, unless I luck out to live near one of it's screenings. Why is that? Netflix has an Indie Gay and Lesbian genre, would this not fit there at least? Can someone tell me how a film like this can get a wider audience?

Jillian, thank you for mentioning "T is for Teacher".... Spong's film should be on the front line of these issues being brought up around ENDA.

Two comments:
"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."

Teacher's unions have been very mixed on assisting trans teachers from being hassled and fired. They mostly do a good job with tenured teachers, but non-tenured, subs and school personnel are mostly ignored when it comes to these issues. And, increasingly, districts are relying on these types of employees more and more. Their support (and ENDA-like legislation for that matter) are very ineffective for helping the larger and larger numbers of freelance/contractor employees and that population is the future of the coming job market (including in elementary and secondary education).

Mentioning teacher's federations isn't very effective when dealing with those teetering on their ENDA support since teacher federations and unions are demonized by the right wing right up there with class action and TORT attorneys. What I think might make more of an impact is with organizations like the National PTA. I'm curious if they've made any study or taken a position on ENDA or these issues?

I have noticed that so often the religious zealots or closed minded fear/hate spreaders lately bring up the fact that GID is in the DSM4 and that children are being exposed to people with "serious mental illnesses" when Trans-teachers are in the classroom; however I am not hearing us return with the statement of "If you are claiming GID is an illness/disability (which the opposition is)then we as Trans-people should be covered under the CRA of 1964. It seems like these people that oppose ENDA want it both ways, they want to say we do not deserve protection because we are wrong for who we are, but then they claim we are ill (which is a protected class), which is it? IDK why people are not taking this up.

Jena, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not include illness as a protected category.

Because they are specifically excluded.

Americans with Disabilities Act Section 12211(b)(1)

Sec. 12211. Definitions

(b) Certain conditions

Under this chapter, the term "disability" shall not include

(1) transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders;

(2) compulsive gambling, kleptomania, or pyromania; or

(3) psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.

There is legal advice that because of the differences in the BSTc layer etc etc showing an anatomical cause, that transsexuality is not a "gender identity disorder not resulting from physical impairment". But it's excluded anyway, regardless of cause, in previous wording.
Until there is a challenge mounted in the courts, the situation is unclear, and would probably be decided differently in different jurisdictions.
Obviously Intersexed people have a better chance of being covered if they transition, but even that's not certain.

Zoe, I'm not sure that gender identity disorder could ever qualify as an ADA disability that invokes non-discrimination protections even if such language were removed. One's disability must result in impairment of a "major life activity," such as walking or other bodily functions. As far as any legal advice that transsexuality results from physical impairment, based on a few studies on a few subjects, it's not very sound in my opinion. I would want to see a lot more studies being available before trying that argument in a court.

For those of us in the US, I would forget the fancy arguments, and start making noise in Congress about ENDA, which is our best hope for any national protection.

IANAL - and you are. Maybe though you can show me where I'm wrong.

PRE-OP (emphasis added) transsexuals have inconsistent genitalia. This affects their sex life. This is a major life activity. There's also the whole DSM-IV-TR thing, soon to be DSM-5, which covers the "mental illness" aspect, and such illnesses are covered by ADA unless excluded. DSM-5 has a "cured by surgery" escape clause, but ADA also covers consequences of treatment etc.

Hence the argument would be that after transition, there is no impairment, and no difference from a cis-sexual situation. But during transition - "reasonable accommodations" have to be made.

I agree on concentration of effort; but I believe that we should "go over, under, through, and around" too. An amendment to the ADA may pass under the radar (as the last amendments did.. we should have snuck in there), and protect pre-ops should the worst come to the worst. While we're at it, go for Title VII amendment too. Make plans anyway, for 10 years time, after the 2-term GOP mess after Obama's 1-term.

rafa chaim-anshel | May 4, 2010 11:40 PM

thanks jill....

Thank You again Dr. Jillian T. Weiss! You must be one great Collage Professor! I sure do learn a lot from You!