Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council in Washington, D.C, discusses a disturbing proposed regulation in Delaware that would allow students to self-identify not only their gender (male, female or other), but also their race, and to do so potentially without any involvement from their parents. [This proposal is similar to a new policy adopted in November 2017 in Portland, Maine.]
INTRODUCTION:Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Today we will be talking about a news story from the state of Delaware. Apparently, Delaware public school officials are considering a proposed regulation that would allow students to self-identify, not only their gender—whether they’re male, female, or other—but also their race, and to do so, potentially, without any involvement at all from their parents.
Our guest today is Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at our great friends, the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. He’s also the editor of FRC’s agenda-setting booklet, 25 Pro-Family Policy Goals for the Nation. Peter, welcome back to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you with us on the show again.
PETER SPRIGG: It’s great to be back with you.
JOHN RUSTIN: Peter, it’s always a pleasure to discuss these pressing issues with you, and as I’ve said, this one out of Delaware really kind of borders on what we might consider to be insanity. But considering the direction in which our culture is shifting, I guess it’s just kind of a natural progression. Tell us, Peter, if you would, about Regulation 225 that Delaware education officials are considering. What does this regulation propose?
PETER SPRIGG: This is a proposed non-discrimination regulation coming out of the state Department of Education in Delaware. And this forbids discrimination, based on a whole range of protected characteristics or categories, as is fairly typical with these things. But the thing that was quite startling and that drew attention, first from our friends at the Family Policy Council there in Delaware, and then from [columnist and commentator] Todd Starnes, made this sort of a national media story. It said that children, or all students enrolled in a Delaware public school, may self-identify gender or race. Now this idea of self-identifying gender, that’s radical enough! That’s the core of the transgender movement. But to make it even more absurd, Delaware’s regulation is adding race as something that a person can self-identify. So as Todd Starnes put it in a column, little white boys could begin to identify as a little black girl if they chose to.
JOHN RUSTIN: It’s really remarkable. You’ve already mentioned this Peter, but one of the most concerning issues here is the use of the term “protected characteristics.” Explain that for us, if you would. What does that encompass from a legal perspective? What does that really mean?
PETER SPRIGG: There are certain characteristics—such as race, national origin, sex, and religion are typical categories that are well established in law—in both the federal level and in various state laws. For example the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment, covered basically those two categories. But in recent years, we’ve seen the number of categories—protected characteristics—expand greatly. And so for example in the Delaware one, they have separate categories for sex, gender, gender identity, and gender expression. So there are four separate categories having to do with sort of being male or female. And no definitions are offered for any of these terms. So, it becomes a little bit ridiculous sometimes, especially when the characteristics are something purely subjective and self-identified, as we’re talking about here—basically, that you can choose to place yourself in one of these protected categories.
JOHN RUSTIN: And so this proposal would shift from what is traditionally known as characteristics that are based on “immutable characteristics” or things that do not change, or that are protected under the Constitution, such as religion, to completely subjective measures where a person may identify a certain way as far as sex or race, one day or one minute of one day, and the very next minute or the very next day decide that they’re someone else entirely. Another really concerning aspect of this proposal, Peter, is the explicit admission that parents should have no part at all in the decisions their children are making or the discussions their children are having with school administrators about these matters, which are quite significant matters to say the least. What, if any, legal recourse do parents have to protect their children, as well as their own legal rights, in these types of circumstances?
PETER SPRIGG: I think parents, first of all, need to assert their rights. And there’s kind of a, I would say, a chain of command, so to speak, through which you should go if you have concerns about this as a parent. And I discuss this in a pamphlet, which we publish at Family Research Council called, “A Parents Guide to the Transgender Movement in Education,” that’s available on our website at frc.org. But certainly if you have a concern with how a particular class’s teacher is addressing this issue, or a particular school, you can go to the teacher, to the principal and discuss it with them, explain your concerns. If you don’t get satisfaction there, you might have to bring it to the superintendent or to the local school board if you’ve not getting satisfaction from the administration. If you do bring it to the school board, then you may be at the point of making it a public issue rather than just a private discussion and it may help to form alliances with other like-minded parents who are concerned about the issue. And then if you really feel that you’re rights are bring violated and you’re not getting any satisfaction through appeals to their conscience, then it may come to the point of having to go to one of the legal advocacy groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, and they have, I think, at least a couple of occasions, filed suit on behalf of parents concerning these transgender issues.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for sharing that. And we’re a firm believer in that chain of command that you speak about as well: going to the teacher or the offending party initially and having a conversation with them, and then follow things up that chain of command if you don’t find resolution to the issue—a satisfactory resolution to those issues. And then, as you say, ultimately it may require legal intervention. But I think it’s so important that parents who find themselves in this unfortunate circumstance, do follow that chain of command because it’s the proper and appropriate way to approach it, and very often without going too far up that chain of command people are able to find resolution to those issues.
PETER SPRIGG I do want to add though, to reinforce the concern you raised in your question, that in this Delaware regulation, Regulation 225, it talks about, if a child wishes to self-identify as a different gender or race, it talks about getting permission from the parents. But there’s a long paragraph about that, saying that the school should consult with the child about how supportive the parent is. So it’s kind of a Catch 22, because it uses the word “permission” but basically the policy—here’s how I would boil down this language—they will not ask for the parents’ permission if there is any chance that the parent will not grant permission. So it’s really not… it’s written in a way that it appears to respect the parents, but it actually does exactly the opposite. It defers to the child and if the child says, “Oh my parents will kill me. My parents will be angry with me. My parents don’t accept this. They wouldn’t accept it.” then the school would not tell the parents. And that’s just outrageous because the parents are the ones who ultimately have both the legal and moral responsibility for the upbringing of their children.
JOHN RUSTIN: From the perspective of one who works in our nation’s capital and who kind of has a bird’s eye view of issues like this nationally, what connection, if any, do you see between these latest developments in Delaware and the bathroom privacy debates that have been taking place in states like North Carolina and Texas, and also at the national level in current presidential and former presidential administrationd, in recent months and recent years?
PETER SPRIGG: Of course, there is a direct connection. The transgender movement has just exploded in recent years. Certainly, we’ve seen both positive and negative development. Last year, the Obama Administration had issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to every school district in the country, basically ordering them to adopt this radical pro-transgender policy nationwide under implicit threat, at least, of losing federal funds. Well, the new administration, the Trump Administration, reversed that, has withdrawn that “Dear Colleague” letter, and so that is positive news. It means that school districts around the country can no longer appeal to the threat of federal funding being withdrawn as their excuse for adopting these radical policies. Unfortunately, the fact that the federal government is not coercing them to do it doesn’t mean that a lot of state and individual school districts won’t go ahead and do it anyway out of their own sense of political correctness. Now you mention the bathrooms. The bathrooms have become a flashpoint. The bathrooms are hardly the only concern about the transgender movement, but they’re certainly a flashpoint. Especially when we’re talking about school children. These are not going to be people who have had gender reassignment surgery—at least so far, it’s not given to minors! And so, you’re talking about males, who have all of the male genitals, being given the right to appear fully nude in the locker room and showers of our schools. And a lot of people are rightly outraged at that. Now the Delaware regulation is actually not as extreme as some other policies—not as extreme as the Obama policy would have been—because it doesn’t sort of foreclose the possibility of some sort of special accommodation being given. However, this is an issue that is clearly a concern all across the country, and we saw this especially in North Carolina.
JOHN RUSTIN: Peter, how should we as Christians respond when we encounter students, and young people in general, who may feel confused about who they are, and how can we prepare ourselves and our children to reach out with authenticity and just a genuine love and compassion to these individuals, as opposed to engaging in a conflicting way that may end up doing more harm than good?
PETER SPRIGG: I think you raise a very important point. And I was able to visit a few weeks ago with some physicians who actually have been speaking out on this, who are quite expert on the medical issues, and one of them said something that I think is important. They said, “We must understand that the pain these people experience is real.” There’s no question that someone whose experiencing gender dysphoria is in pain and they deserve our compassion. But our compassion should not be affirming a fiction, or even encouraging them to adopt an identity that is fundamentally at odds with their natural reality of who they are. That’s not compassionate to do that. But certainly, we should treat someone kindly, without any sort of cruelty or mockery. So I think it is a delicate balance. We should treat everyone with kindness, but at the same time we have to speak the truth in love.
JOHN RUSTIN: Peter, I know that you and the Family Research Council have produced some very helpful resources for individuals who may encounter these issues. You mentioned earlier in our conversation a pamphlet. I want to give you another opportunity to let our listeners know where they can go to avail themselves of these really valuable and informative resources that you have.
PETER SPRIGG: Yes, if you go to our website at frc.org, for Family Research Council, and probably just put in the search engine the word “transgender” at our website and it’ll come up with, as well as our other publications, other more general publications on the transgender movement and so forth.
JOHN RUSTIN: Peter Sprigg, thank you so much for your time today and for this very informative conversation and the great resources that you and the Family Research Council have pulled together for folks across the country to understand these issues better, and how they can reach out in love and compassion, but also in truth, to individuals who are facing these confusing situations, whether individually or in their schools or in their communities. So, we’re really grateful for you all, for your partnership, and for all that you do for the betterment of families across our nation.
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