Fox News' Gretchen Carlson criticized a Nebraska school district's efforts to accommodate transgender and gender non-conforming students, accusing the district of pushing a “political agenda” while downplaying the problem of gender-based harassment and bullying in schools.
The Lincoln Public Schools district in Nebraska has been targeted by conservative media outlets following a report that teachers had been given educational materials with recommendations for better accommodating transgender and gender non-conforming students. Those materials included a handout encouraging teachers to stop gender-based bullying and avoid using gendered expressions like “ladies and gentlemen” to refer to students. Instead the handout suggested teachers could use gender-neutral phrases like “readers,” “campers,” or nicknames like “purple penguins.”
During the October 9 edition of The Real Story, Carlson invited Fox News contributors Alan Colmes and Tony Sayegh to criticize the school district, falsely accusing the school district of “banning” gendered language:
CARLSON: Don't kids have enough to worry about right now? Now we're going to confuse them even more - right before puberty, by the way - to not call each other what the majority of the population really is, and that would be boys and girls. Once again, this is pandering to outrageous over correction of a society addicted to making sure we take care of the .001 of the population instead of the masses. I want to be very clear: I am not against transgender people or transgender kids in any way, but to make an entire population start calling each other “purple penguins” because maybe one child in the entire school system will turn out to be transgender is crazy.
Carlson's claim that Lincoln Public Schools had “banned” the use of gender language is false. As the Lincoln Journal Star reported on October 1, the handouts “were not meant as rules staff had to follow, but as suggestions for how teachers can make students feel comfortable.” The recommendations also do not call for spending “taxpayer dollars to promote... political agendas,” as Carlson suggested.
The school's recommendations aren't particularly controversial. A 2010 GLSEN study found that a majority of teachers feel comfortable addressing gender stereotypes in the classroom, and over eight in ten teachers agree that school personnel have an obligation to ensure supportive learning environments for gender non-conforming students.
That study also highlighted the need for gender-neutral classroom practices, finding that a third of students had heard students making negative remarks related to gender stereotypes. Transgender and gender non-conforming students face high rates of intolerance and bullying in school, negatively impacting their academic performance and mental health.
Carlson may claim that she isn't “against transgender people or transgender kids in any way,” but her negative reaction to the mere suggestion that teachers should try to be considerate of gender non-conforming students tells a different story.