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Thousands weigh in on new LGBT guidelines for schools, amid controversy

Mar 25, 2016

Credit antiochla.edu / Antioch University

By Friday afternoon, more than 3,000 people had submitted online comments about the State Board of Education’s new recommendations for how schools should support LGBT kids.

These are just draft recommendations, and they’re purely optional.

Here’s a sampling of what the board is suggesting schools do to create a safer space for transgender students:

  • Call kids by their chosen names, and use the corresponding pronoun. 
  • Don’t force trans students to use locker rooms that don’t fit their gender identity.
  • Let the student decide if they want tell the school to inform their parents about the student identifying as trans, or gender non-conforming, at school.
  • Any kid who wants to use “an all-gender or single user restroom (e.g., staff bathroom or nurse’s office),” should be able to, but that shouldn’t be presented as the only option for trans kids.
  • And students should be allowed to play sports on the team that corresponds with their  gender identity.

The optional, draft recommendations were put together after board members say they got a lot requests from “schools and educators asking for recommendations of best practices in creating more supportive learning environments for LGBTQ students,” according to a statement the board released today.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are at a statistically higher risk for feeling unsafe at school, bullying, and committing suicide.

But that hasn’t stopped some Republican lawmakers from pushing back.

“The Michigan State Board of Education is eroding parental rights to the degree that parents will not even be entitled to know what gender clothing their child is wearing during the school day,” Rep. Gary Howell said in a statement. “The policy allows children to use any bathroom facility they want, potentially putting the health and safety of children at risk. Federal and state laws already address gender issues, and the draft policy is an example of government bureaucracy gone haywire.”

Now the board says it’s extending the public comment period on the recommendations by an additional 30 days.

“We want to be very thoughtful in this discussion, hear all of the input, clarify any misconceptions, and modify the guidance to meet the needs of educators, parents and students in creating safe and effective learning environments for all children – including LGBTQ school children.” said State Board of Education President John Austin in a statement Friday.

Meanwhile, LGBT advocacy group Equality Michigan sent out a statement supporting the draft recommendations:

“The unfortunate fact is that LGBTQ students are subject to pervasive bullying, harassment, and discrimination in Michigan schools, which negatively impacts their health, well-being, and academic achievement. That schools should be places that are safe and nurturing is a common sense value we all share.”

You can read the full guidelines here; go here to see the comments so far, and submit your own.

“It … gives peepers and perverts direct access to our children, absolutely unacceptable,” wrote a commenter who went by the name Crissy Mitchell.

“These folks pushing this agenda want to wire these kids' brains during their developing years to support or become members of the LGBT community, rather than the community these children were born and raised in,” wrote another commenter, who went by the name Rhonda and identified themselves as a “mother, grandmother, teacher.”

But supporters of the recommendations also weighed in.

“I fully support the changes in policy which are respectful of student's [SIC] who are LGBTQ,” wrote a poster called William Weld-Wallis, who identified themselves as a parent and grandparent. “How many more suicides do we need from this youth population before their needs begin to get addressed?”

“Anybody who's ever worked with children who are struggling knows how important this is for our schools,” a commenter named Stephanie Lange, who said she was a social worker, wrote. “It is so important for public schools to be a place where everyone has an equal opportunity to learn. This policy will make a huge difference in the lives of those students to feel that they belong.”