Children’s books about gender identity prompt right-wing media freakout over trans-inclusive education

Children’s books about gender identity prompt right-wing media freakout over trans-inclusive education

››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

Right-wing media figures have attacked a California elementary school teacher for reading two children’s books about gender identity to her kindergarten classroom after a transgender student brought one in to share. Despite the unique challenges for transgender students in schools, including increased risk of violence and a lack of resources, conservative figures highlighted “frightened” parents and asserted that “schools have become indoctrination grounds for the LGBT agenda.”


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

California teacher with trans student in her classroom uses two children’s books about gender identity to teach inclusivity

Sacramento Bee: California elementary school teacher read two children’s books about gender identity after trans student wanted to share one, sparking “a flurry of vitriol.” A California elementary school teacher read the children’s books I am Jazz and Red: A Crayon’s Story to her kindergarten class after a transgender student brought the first in to share, The Sacramento Bee reported on August 25. According to the report, both books “are geared to children ages 4 to 8.” Conservative media and anti-LGBTQ groups “quoted parents who said the school threw a coming-out party that culminated with a boy coming out of the bathroom in girl’s clothing,” but “school officials say there was no such reveal” and “the child had been transitioning slowly during the school year and had already been wearing girl’s clothes.” From the report:

A book about a transgender child read during story time in a kindergarten classroom in Rocklin has divided a school along ideological lines and sparked a flurry of vitriol on social media and conservative web sites.

The children’s book “I am Jazz” was brought to Rocklin Academy Gateway School on June 7 by a transgender student who wanted to share it with classmates during story time. “I am Jazz” is the story of a real-life transgender girl named Jazz Jennings.

[...]

Later that same day, the Rocklin teacher selected and read “Red: A Crayon’s story,” a book about a crayon struggling with an identity crisis, according to a letter from the public charter school, which is part of the Rocklin Academy Family of Schools. The books are geared to children ages 4 to 8.

Upset parents called the school and met with administrators. They protested at a June board meeting. Two families pulled their kids from the school. The issue has become so heated that the district hired a public relations firm to help handle the fallout.

Social media posts have shown heated opposition to the story-time choice. Stories on local news stations, conservative web sites and press releases from family values organizations quoted parents who said the school threw a coming-out party that culminated with a boy coming out of the bathroom in girl’s clothing.

School officials say there was no such reveal. The child had been transitioning slowly during the school year and had already been wearing girl’s clothes, said Jillayne Antoon, who was principal at the school and has since been promoted to director of growth and community engagement for the Rocklin Academy Family of Schools. [The Sacramento Bee, 8/25/17]

Right-wing media fearmonger about trans-inclusive education

Fox’s Martha MacCallum hosts anonymous “upset” mothers to criticize the school and misgenders transgender child. Fox’s Martha MacCallum hosted two anonymous “upset” mothers on her show to criticize the elementary school for its transgender-inclusive lesson. MacCallum said the women were “so fearful about retribution in their community for not being OK with this that they have asked us to disguise their faces and their names.” She continued, saying to her guest, “I can't believe we live in a world where not being OK with this has put you in such a difficult situation that you can't show your face. I think that says a world about what we’re talking about here.” Later in the segment, MacCallum misgendered the transgender kindergarten student involved. From the August 28 edition of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum:

MARTHA MACCALLUM: It's quite a story. A California community has been thrust into the national spotlight after a teacher taught her kindergartners a lesson about being transgender because one of the young students was transitioning. The lesson upset some parents, who say that they really would've appreciated a little heads-up that this was going to happen in the classroom and that it left their children upset, some of them, and confused about all of this because they are 5 years old. For her part, the teacher says that she meant no harm.

[...]

MACCALLUM: So this has caused a sharp divide within this community. My next guests have children at this school, and they’re so fearful about retribution in their community for not being OK with this that they have asked us to disguise their faces and their names. So for the purpose of this interview, we will call them Mary Ann and Susan. So Mary Ann and Susan, welcome. I can't believe we live in a world where not being OK with this has put you in such a difficult situation that you can't show your face. I think that says a world about what we’re talking about here.

[...]

MACCALLUM: ​Mary Ann, your daughter made the grave mistake, you say, of calling this child -- and nobody wishes any ill on this poor child and what they're going through -- but she called him by the wrong name, right? And got in trouble?

MARY ANN: Yes, that is correct. She saw the child on the playground, and she said hi to the name that she -- they had gone to school together the entire last year, and he had had one name for kindergarten. And then he was reintroduced at the end of the school year by a new name, a girl name. And she is -- though she’s not in his class this year, they saw each other on the playground and she ran up and said hi to him by the name she knows him as. [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 8/28/17]

National Review: “Parental rights are under fire once again.” National Review’s Alexandra Desanctis wrote an August 29 piece titled “Forcing Transgender Ideology on Kindergartens” in which she asserted that “parental rights are under fire once again.” Desanctis repeatedly misgendered the transgender kindergartener involved and attacked the teacher for the lesson, saying that teacher was “effectively proclaiming that she knows better and that her own judgment takes precedence over that of parents.” She concluded that “the Left” is insisting, “increasingly, on indoctrinating young people into a left-wing view of gender and sexuality” and that parents “should beware.” From the post:

Parental rights are under fire once again, this time at a Sacramento-area charter school. A kindergarten teacher at Rocklin Academy Gateway recently staged a “transition ceremony” for a gender-dysphoric student in her class, introducing him to other students as a boy before he changed into a dress and announced his new, female name.

Students were instructed to use that new name going forward. The teacher also gave a lesson about transgenderism to the entire class, using two books not included in the school’s curriculum — I Am Jazz and Red: A Crayon’s Story, both children’s books meant to affirm the idea that transgender identities should be accepted as reality.

And it didn’t stop there — Fox News reports that a first-grader at Rocklin Academy was subsequently sent to the principal’s office for “misgendering” a different classmate, calling him by his given name because she didn’t know that he now identifies as a girl. According to Karen England of Capitol Resource Institute, the school investigated to determine whether the student had bullied her classmate.

[...]

But this isn’t a question of whether the books were “age appropriate” or whether the school should “protect” its students. The question is whether parents have the right to reserve discussion of sensitive topics about sexuality with their own children to the time and the manner they believe is best for their children and their family.

This Rocklin Academy teacher blatantly ignored those parental rights, effectively proclaiming that she knows better and that her own judgment takes precedence over that of parents. Even aside from the substance of this issue, schools should never assert their judgment over that of parents or keep parents in the dark about what their children are being taught.

[...]

Incidents such as these are bound to multiply as the Left becomes bolder, insisting not only on “proper” pronoun usage in every public forum, but also, increasingly, on indoctrinating young people into a left-wing view of gender and sexuality. Students and parents at Rocklin Academy learned the hard way. Parents everywhere else should beware. [National Review, 8/29/17]

Breitbart: “Parents frightened: Kindergartners ‘crying, shaking’ over transgender book teacher read.” An August 24 post on Breitbart.com said parents were “frightened after a teacher read her class a book about transgenderism without notifying them” and quoted a parent saying that her daughter was “crying and shaking so afraid she could turn into a boy.” The post called the transgender kindergartner a “gender-confused child” and said that parents had “expressed betrayal that they were not notified ahead of time” about the teacher’s trans-inclusive lesson. The article continued that LGBTQ advocates were attempting “to undermine the science-based civic understanding that there are two biological sexes – male and female” -- by accepting transgender people. From the post:

Parents of kindergartners attending a California charter school are frightened after a teacher read her class a book about transgenderism without notifying them.
“My daughter came home crying and shaking so afraid she could turn into a boy,” one parent of a kindergartner at Rocklin Academy said.

“These parents feel betrayed by the school district that they were not notified,” Karen England of the Capitol Resource Institute said at a school board meeting this week, the local CBS affiliate reports. “The kindergartners came home very confused, about whether or not you can pick your gender, whether or not they really were a boy or a girl.”

According to the news report, the book was given to the teacher by a gender-confused child. Parents asserted the same kindergartner “also changed clothes and was revealed as her true gender” during class.

Parents expressed betrayal that they were not notified ahead of time that the kindergarten teacher read two books about transgenderism to her students, including I Am Jazz, which were reportedly given to her by the kindergartner who is in the midst of gender transition. The book was co-authored by Jazz Jennings, a teen who was born a boy but was allowed to transition to a girl.

[...]

The forced gender ideology that LGBT groups advocate claims that biological sex is subordinate to self-declared “gender” and attempts to undermine the science-based civic understanding that there are two biological sexes – male and female. [Breitbart, 8/24/17]

FoxNews.com contributor Todd Starnes: This “is an example of how schools have become indoctrination grounds for the LGBT agenda. … We’ve got to stand up to these activist bullies.” A FoxNews.com column by anti-LGBTQ pundit Todd Starnes urged parents to “stand up to these activist bullies” for the transgender-inclusive lesson, saying that it was “an example of how schools have become indoctrination grounds for the LGBT agenda.” From the August 25 post:

A first grader at a California charter school was sent to the principal’s office this week after she accidentally “misgendered” a classmate in what’s being called a “pronoun mishap.”

The incident occurred at Rocklin Academy, a school roiled by controversy after a kindergarten teacher led an in-class discussion on transgenderism that included a “gender reveal” for a little boy who was transitioning to a little girl.

For kindergartners.  

Parents were furious because they were not informed in advance and were not given the chance to opt their five-year-olds from the classroom transgender activity. However, school leaders informed moms and dads – they were not allowed to opt-out – and the state did not require them to notify parents.

[...]

What’s happening at Rocklin Academy is an example of how schools have become indoctrination grounds for the LGBT agenda.

And the only way to stop the indoctrination is for moms and dads to take a stand.

It may be unpleasant and it may be uncomfortable, but we’ve got to stand up to these activist bullies. [FoxNews.com, 8/25/17; Media Matters, 4/6/12]

PJ Media: “Stand Up to the School’s Transgender Agenda NOW.” Right-wing website PJ Media posted an open letter calling on parents to “stand up to the school’s transgender agenda now.” The letter said that “things will only get worse” and that parents should “move out of [their] community” if they feel it is necessary to protect their children from being turned into “mind-numbed robots who nod affirmatively in the face of lies.” The letter characterized being taught about gender identity as the same as “teaching your children to lie and be proud of it.” From the August 26 letter (emphasis original):

Dear Parents,

You're on the front lines of a battle we are all going to lose if you don't stand up now. Recently your kindergartners came home traumatized and afraid they would be magically turned into the opposite sex because their teacher held a "transition ceremony" for their classmate without notifying you. I watched the news reports and noticed that none of you with damaged children appeared on TV; you sent the lawyers out instead. All of you chose to hide out for the sake of your reputations while the loons who support this abortion of common sense got on camera to talk about what a wonderful thing it was.

I realize you live in California and it's not the friendliest place, but here's the deal: things will only get worse. There are a whole lot of us out here who will back you. You may have to move out of your community, pull your kids out of school, and face criticism at the grocery store. Do it anyway. What more would you face to protect your children? There are people in your children's school right now determined to rip their childhood away from them and turn them into mind-numbed robots who nod affirmatively in the face of lies. Your school is teaching your children to lie and be proud of it!

[...]

Our culture is trying to make us lie and call it virtuous. A boy can be a girl! A girl can be a boy! A liar speaks the truth. Do not allow it. Your child came home shaking and crying because of this lie. If you sit home cowering in your house, your child learns that it is better to lie than face criticism or scorn. Be scorned. But tell the truth. [PJ Media, 8/26/17]

Wash. Examiner: “There are appropriate ways to nurture students struggling with their sex -- preaching on transgenderism to a room full of children … is not one of them.” An August 22 op-ed in right-wing news outlet Washington Examiner asserted, “There are appropriate ways to nurture students struggling with their sex -- preaching on transgenderism to a room full of children barely old enough to read without even asking their parents for permission is not one of them.” [Washington Examiner, 8/22/17]

Right-wing reaction dismisses increased challenges for trans students, including in academic outcomes and mental and physical health

CDC: “A positive school climate has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among LGB students.” Though it has not collected data on transgender youth specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that “having a school that creates a safe and supportive learning environment for all students” is important for the mental and physical health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth. The CDC’s research found that “a positive school climate has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among LGB students,” who are at increased risk for violence and bullying. From the CDC (citations removed):

Most lesbian, gay, bisexual, (LGB) youth are happy and thrive during their adolescent years. Having a school that creates a safe and supportive learning environment for all students and having caring and accepting parents are especially important. Positive environments can help all youth achieve good grades and maintain good mental and physical health. However, some LGB youth are more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience negative health and life outcomes.

For youth to thrive in schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. A positive school climate has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among LGB students.

[...]

According to the 2015 YRBS, LGB students were 140% (12% v. 5%) more likely to not go to school at least one day during the 30 days prior to the survey because of safety concerns, compared with heterosexual students. While not a direct measure of school performance, absenteeism has been linked to low graduation rates, which can have lifelong consequences. [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed 8/29/17]

NCTE: “Transgender and gender non-conforming youth face challenges at home [and] school … and those who are able to persevere” still saw academic outcomes suffer. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), transgender and gender-nonconforming students face increased challenges in schools. NCTE noted that a national survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) “found that 75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school” and that transgender students who were “able to persevere had significantly lower GPAs, were more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety, and were less likely to plan on continuing their education.” [National Center for Transgender Equality, accessed 8/29/17]

GLSEN: “Transgender students face much higher levels of harassment and violence than LGB students … result[ing] in these students missing more school, receiving lower grades, and feeling isolated.” GLSEN’s 2009 Harsh Realities report explored the experiences of transgender students in schools and found that “transgender students face much higher levels of harassment and violence than LGB students.” The report noted that a majority of transgender students “had been verbally harassed in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and gender expression, and many had also experienced physical violence.” It also noted that “a hostile school climate can have very negative repercussions on transgender students’ ability to succeed in school,” often resulting in more absences and lower academic performance. Other key findings of the report involved access to resources and support, including that “less than half (46%) of transgender students reported that they could find information about LGBT people, history, or events in their school library” and that “only a tenth” of transgender students “were exposed to an inclusive curriculum that included positive representations of LGBT people, history, or events” at the time of the study. From the report:

Transgender students face much higher levels of harassment and violence than LGB students. And these high levels of victimization result in these students missing more school, receiving lower grades and feeling isolated and not part of the school community.

[...]

Transgender students experienced high levels of in-school victimization. The majority of students had been verbally harassed in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and gender expression, and many had also experienced physical violence.

  • Almost all transgender students had been verbally harassed (e.g., called names or threatened) in the past year at school because of their sexual orientation (89%) and their gender expression (87%).

  • Over half of all transgender students had been physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation (55%) and their gender expression (53%).

  • Many transgender students had been physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon) in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation (28%) and their gender expression (26%).

  • Although LGBT students overall reported high levels of harassment and assault in school, transgender students experienced even higher levels than non-transgender students.

[...]

A hostile school climate can have very negative repercussions on transgender students’ ability to succeed in school – a high incidence of harassment was related to increased absenteeism, decreased educational aspirations, and lower academic performance. Transgender students fared worse on these educational outcomes than non-transgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, perhaps because of their increased levels of in-school victimization.

[...]

  • Less than half (46%) of transgender students reported that they could find information about LGBT people, history, or events in their school library and only a third (31%) were able to access this information using the school Internet.

  • Less than a fifth of transgender students (16%) reported that LGBT-related topics were included in their textbooks or other assigned readings, and only a tenth (11%) were exposed to an inclusive curriculum that included positive representations of LGBT people, history, or events in their classes. [Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Harsh Realities, 2009]

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