116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
This week a federal judge denied a request from a group of parents to bar the Linn-Mar school district from enforcing a series of transgender student support policies covering kids in grades 7 through 12. It’s the right call. And we hope when the legal dust settles, the policies will remain in place.
U.S. District Court Judge C.J. Williams correctly concluded that granting an injunction against the policies would leave transgender students subject to bullying and harassment. He wrote that the policies ensure Linn-Mar schools “are productive, safe places to educate children and to ensure no child is subject to harassment, bullying or made to feel lesser for any reason by students, staff and others while at school.”
That’s the whole point of the policies, which were already in practice before being collected in a single policy document approved by the school board this spring. District leaders wanted to make sure Linn-Mar is complying with state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
The parents have sued the district, arguing a provision of the policy that allows transgender students to keep their gender identity confidential violates their parental rights. They also argue punishing students who repeatedly refuse to use another student’s preferred pronouns violates their First Amendment right to free speech.
Critics have, in particular, criticized provisions in the policy allowing transgender kids to use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity. They can also room with students of their identified gender on overnight trips.
In short, they’ve portrayed transgender students as a threat. In reality, studies have shown that transgender people are left more at risk of harassment and assault if they are forced to use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their birth gender. It’s also worth noting that it’s been illegal to discriminate against transgender Iowans by denying them use of public accommodations for 15 years.
We can understand why parents would want to know if their child has a gender support plan at school. But we can also understand why some kids would not want parents to know. In those situations, students know more than school officials about how their parents will react.
We’re sensitive to free speech arguments. But when speech is used to harass and bully, it comes with a high cost, and the school has a compelling interest in curtailing it.
And behind these arguments about parental and speech rights is a thinly veiled assertion that being transgender is not a real thing. It’s a mental illness, or just a passing phase. These are shameful, spiteful claims made to justify discrimination. No amount of discomfort among the close-minded justifies taking away transgender kids’ right to live authentically and enjoy freedom from harassment at school.
And, of course, these attacks on Linn-Mar’s policies are steeped in politics, with Republicans from the Statehouse to the U.S. Capitol stoking fear of transgender Americans for political gain. Gov. Kim Reynolds has repeatedly cited Linn-Mar as an example of why Iowa should spend public money to help students enroll in private schools.
The school board has spoken. The policies are in place. And, as Williams asserted, no evidence of harm has been presented. But the real harm will come from a politically driven effort to further marginalize transgender kids. It must stop.
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