New transgender policies in Mass. schools criticized

BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Department of Education issued an 11-page set of directives Feb. 15, which opened school bath rooms, school locker rooms, and school athletic teams to transgender students based on which gender they self-identify as.

In addressing the guidelines, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference maintained some wording used in a statement to The Pilot in 2011, regarding a state law to protect transgender individuals that went into effect in 2012.

"It is important to point out that legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes are critically important to all individuals regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, etc.," MCC executive director James F. Driscoll said.

The guidelines take the protection of transgender students a step further than the law, by opening restrooms, locker rooms and other school facilities to students who identify as members of the opposite sex. Lawmakers specifically removed provisions for access to those facilities as part of the legislative process, before the law went into effect.

"It is a question of whether the Department of Education overstepped the bounds of the law," Driscoll said.

The guidelines' supporters say the new regulations protect the rights of transgender individuals, but opponents say the guidelines violate privacy of students who observe their biological gender.

"There is a common-sense expectation of privacy, both for males and females, and that privacy should not be violated," he said.

Driscoll said the guidelines could result in problems and issues in schools by creating the potential for violation of privacy of other students.

"I think the remedy is over-broad," he said.

The document said the department of education formulated the guidelines after it "reviewed policies and guidance from several states, organizations, and athletic associations and consulted with the field."

"We appreciate the input we received from school and district administrators, advocacy groups, parents, students, and other interested constituents," the guidelines said.

The document said students maintain the responsibility of determining their own gender identity, giving parents a say in the matter only for "young students not yet able to advocate for themselves."

"The problem is that there is no definitional criterion for a student declaring that they are the opposite gender," Massachusetts Family Institute president Kris Mineau said.

"It is totally an internalized decision on the student's part. There is no medical verification, no counseling verification, no parental verification; it is just whatever the student feels like for the day, literally. Then it goes back to, particularly the older students, the teachers are encouraged not to tell the parents. The student can be one thing at the school and something else at home, again a total abrogation of parental rights in the welfare of their children," he said.

The document, in some cases said refusing to call a transgender student by the name they choose or pronouns associated with the chosen gender "should not be tolerated and can be grounds for student discipline."

The department issued the guidelines in an attempt to help schools follow an anti-discrimination law protecting transgender people that went into effect in 2012.

The law to grant protection to transgender individuals under current civil rights laws in the commonwealth, An Act Relative to Transgender Equal Rights, became popularly known as the "bathroom bill" in early discourse surrounding the proposed law. By the time the bill reached the governor's desk, lawmakers had removed language perceived to cause confusion in sex-designated public facilities.

Mineau said the guidelines bypass a key aspect of that law, by mandating access to sex-designated facilities.

"When it was the legislature in the debate, and that's on the public record, in the house chamber. They said this bill in no way pertains to the use of bathrooms or locker rooms by transgendered people. This does not authorize that," he said.

He said Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, overstepped the boundaries of that law by publishing the guidelines.

"This is a violation of the modesty, the privacy, and the safety of all children in our public schools K-12; that is absolutely bad and flawed public policy that Commissioner Chester is trying to initiate," Mineau said.

Mineau said the guidelines created by the department of education impose new adult views on children attending public schools, as opposed to traditional values that give priority to protecting children.

"These values, of course transcend religion. When it comes to the sexual innocence of our children, we must protect that at all costs," Mineau said.