Parent's bill of wrongs

Published February 9, 2023

By Thomas Mills

Last night, Joe Biden gave a State of the Union speech for the ages. It wasn’t what he said that was so significant. It was what he got Republicans to say. In a back-and-forth like we’ve never seen, Biden goaded the GOP into pledging not to cut Social Security and Medicare. The exchange was off the cuff and should put to rest any doubts about Biden’s mental acuity since he was sharper than the entire GOP caucus. 

Here in North Carolina, the state senate passed North Carolina’s version of “don’t say gay.” The Republicans insist on calling it a “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” but the bill has little to do with parents’ rights and everything with trying to ostracize the LBGT community. The GOP gives the game away when the next bill on deck would ban any gender affirming treatments for minors. If they really cared about parental rights, they would leave medical decisions for minors up to parents, doctors, and their children. It’s not about parents. It’s about ostracizing a minority. 

Whatever you want to call it, Parents’ Bill of Rights or Don’t Say Gay, the bill is heavy-handed government with little respect for individual community standards. Republicans like to portray the measure as preventing teachers from talking to elementary school students about sex, but they would really ban discussing family structures that are more common in some parts of the state than others. 

My eldest daughter grew up in a household with a mother and step-mother. Both of my younger children have friends with two moms or two dads. I don’t want any of these children to be ashamed of their families. 

Conservatives, particularly conservative Christians, believe their view of the world is under attack. They simultaneously want government to prevent community standards from encroaching on their right to exclusionary religious beliefs and they want the government to impose their standards on the broader society. Republicans across the country seem ready to oblige. They don’t want ANY children to have access to books that reference same-sex couples because they don’t want THEIR children to have access to them. That’s censorship, plain and simple. 

The fight over transgenderism or gender dysphoria is a bit more sticky. On the one hand, people shouldn’t be told by the government what they can and cannot do with their bodies. On the other hand, children demanding hormones and surgeries that permanently change them makes more than just conservatives uneasy. 

In this country, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of children who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify as transgender. According to a Reuters report, “In 2021, about 42,000 children and teens across the United States received a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, nearly triple the number in 2017.” Only a small portion of those children receive medical interventions, but the number is growing. 

Puberty blockers are probably the most controversial medical interventions. These hormone treatments start in young children on the brink of puberty to prevent the development of male or female characteristics. Proponents say that these treatments help children become more comfortable with their bodies and prevent anguish over watching their bodies mature in a way that causes distress. They say that the hormones can prevent children from harming themselves. 

The science on the use of hormones in children is still out. Recently, Sweden sharply curtailed the use of hormone blockers for teenagers because the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare found that “the evidence base for hormonal interventions for gender-dysphoric youth is of low quality, and that hormonal treatments may carry risks…The NBHW emphasized the need to treat gender dysphoric youth with dignity and respect, while providing high quality, evidence-based medical care that prioritizes long-term health.”

The Swedish Board recognizes two types of gender dysphoria. Those with “’classic’” childhood onset of cross-sex identification and distress, which persist and cause clear suffering in adolescence.” These children are still eligible for hormonal treatment. The other group is the “cohort of youth whose transgender identities emerged for the first time during or after puberty.” These children are currently treated with psychiatric and gender-exploring psychological care. 

The Swedish approach makes sense to me. They recognize that some children, those who identify as the opposite sex very early in their lives, will most likely benefit from hormonal treatment. Children who begin identifying during puberty or shortly thereafter, may benefit, but we need much more research. 

The first transgender person I knew began life as a girl. She taught music lessons as a teenager, but looked like a boy and walked like a boy and talked like a boy. A few years later, she transitioned and became a man. That was about 50 years ago and he’s lived a happy and productive life.  

Today, I meet lots of kids who use neutral pronouns and some who identify as nonbinary. When they were young, they were boys or girls. As they’ve gone through adolescence, their identities have shifted. I try to respect them and use their preferred pronouns, but as an old guy, I don’t always get it right. I suspect some of these teens will find themselves later using the pronouns they used before puberty. Some are likely gay. A few will continue to identify as nonbinary throughout their lives. Many will end up in long-term heterosexual relationships. Just like always. 

The Republican bills do not treat children with gender dysphoria with respect. They treat them as outcasts and problems. Requiring schools to tell parents when their kids want to use neutral pronouns puts children in jeopardy. If the kids aren’t telling their parents, then there are likely problems at home. The schools could put some children in danger of physical or mental harm

Banning any hormone treatments for all children ignores the medical advice of doctors. Sweden recognizes that not all gender dysphoria is the same. Treatments should be on a case by case basis. We need much more research into the subject. We don’t need heavy-handed legislators making decisions that should be left up to families and their doctors. 

We should not be banning books about homosexuality or gender identity from our school libraries. Students who identify as LGBT+ need to know that they aren’t alone in their experiences. Books offer a window into the world of possibilities and show that bleak experiences often change and even lead to positive outcomes. Books will offer comfort to kids who are struggling with their identity, not convert kids who are not.  

That said, gender dysphoria affects a very small number of children. Schools do not need to make it part of an agenda in elementary school unless there are situations in class that demand it. For kids who want additional information, make books and counseling readily available. Most elementary school kids aren’t thinking about any of that stuff, so why beg the question? Still, decisions about what is read in class should lie with schools, not the legislature. 

We become a healthier society when we accept differences without prejudice. With race, sexuality, and gender identity, we still have a long way to go. Using the power of the government to alienate people is wrong. Calling it a Parents’ Bill of Rights doesn’t make it right.