by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
At the July meeting of the North Carolina State Board of Education, school board member Olivia Oxendine asked Ellen Essick, the section chief for NC Healthy Schools standards, if gender identity would be included in future standards. Essick replied that gender identity is not in the current standards and she is unable to say if they’ll be in the new standards, since they haven’t been written yet.
The exchange highlights the contours of the emerging debate over healthful living and science standards for the North Carolina Standard Course of Study. The goal of the academic standards review is to provide public schools guidance about how to teach the topics of sex, health, and healthy environments. As these topics are often defined by polarizing views, the outcomes of this process will be consequential.
Meanwhile a similar review process is taking place. The Biden Administration is proposing a radical rewrite Title IX regulations. The changes— all 700 pages — to how the U.S. Department of Education would regulate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 represent an extreme departure from the regulations originally drafted to end sex discrimination in schools. Because the federal government would require compliance with the new regulations as a condition of receipt of federal funding, the changes could force schools to follow policies that were voted down or rejected by the standards review process, but adopted Title IX regulations. Such policies may include gender transitioning or gender affirmation.
For those reasons the discussions over proposed Title IX regulations looms large over the review process for healthful living and science standards in North Carolina.
At the root of this controversy is Executive Order 14021. Issued by Pres. Joe Biden earlier this year, the order states it is the policy of the Biden administration “that all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender Identity.”
The new rules would expand a simply stated prohibition on sex discrimination and redefine the concept of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The regulations would do away with the biological concept of sex, male and female — an unquestioned truth at the heart of thousands of years of science and societal development – and ironically, the very idea enshrined at the core of Title IX.
Under the new regulations, sex is determined not by biology, but by gender identity. For example, any youth who identifies as a woman or any other identity must be legally regarded and treated as such. To refuse to do so would be to discriminate on the basis of gender identity and a violation of Title IX.
The proposed regulations would be a radical change. They would prescribe how gender and sexuality can be discussed in the classroom. The regulations would also call on states to expand access to suicide prevention resources and expand access to gender-affirming care for transgender students.
The proposed Title IX regulations would violate a long-established tradition that parents have a constitutional right to raise their children.
The proposed Title IX regulations would also create unfair disadvantages and dangers. Under the new regulations separating athletic teams on the basis of sex is illegal. If a 15-year-old boy identified as a woman, the school would be required to allow him to use the girl’s locker room. Attempts to enforce separate teams would be regarded as clear violations of Title IX. Such changes would certainly impact the career trajectories and opportunities available to many athletes. Moreover, it’s hard to overstate the impact such changes would have on personal safety (yes, males do enjoy — on average — advantages regarding physical strength), knowing rules would require that biological males be required free access to women’s locker rooms and bathrooms.
Still, the Biden administration’s proposed revamp of Title IX regulations has other major problems. Over the past few years, many school districts across the country have quietly adopted policies requiring staff to affirm the gender identity of students, often without the notification or consent of parents. Such policies are based on the notion that decisions about gender transitioning are personal and individuals must be free to make their own decisions. Because transgender youth are at higher risk for suicide and other emotional problems than other populations, affirmation of gender transitions is regarded as the best policy and has for the time being trumped parental rights to at least be notified about such developments.
The assertion that affirmation is the best policy is a theory that is far from settled. In an excellent piece published by the American Enterprise Institute, Luke Berg pointed out that transitioning and affirming a transition are response that can become self-reinforcing and do long-term harm. Berg noted that activists underestimate the special risks and complications involved with gender transition surgery. Puberty blockers can have strong effects on fertility and sexual response, for instance. Moreover, Berg has observed that the recent explosion of children dealing with gender identity issues is largely driven not by internal individual factors, but by largely external social messaging.
Jay Greene of the Heritage Foundation showed in two recent studies that assertions by gender ideology activists don’t withstand scrutiny. Greene found that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, making it easier for students to transition — through access to puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones — does not lead to reduced suicide rates. In fact, in some states, Greene found the opposite may be true. In another piece, he found that the studies used to justify the theory that gender-affirming care reduces suicide relied on questionable methodology. Moreover, Greene found that when transgender students have access to treatment, without parental consent, the suicide rate actually increases.
And herein lies a larger problem. The proposed Title IX regulations would violate a long-established tradition that parents have a constitutional right to raise their children. Most schools respect the authority of parents and require parental consent for matters large and small: anything from medical- or health-related issues to requesting permission to go on field trips or join sports teams. Yet it seems gender-transitioning is the one exception, an exception that lacks logic and supporting evidence. The good thing is, this shortcoming can be remedied fairly simply via legislation.
The Biden administration’s Title IX rewrite represents some of the most sweeping changes ever proposed by unelected bureaucrats. The changes would be a massive experiment in social engineering that broadly redefines sex and sex discrimination and would allow males into previously female-only spaces like athletic teams, locker rooms, or even sororities. The changes would be far-reaching and apply to every institution receiving federal funding.
Even before it has formally begun, the Title IX rewrite looms over the review of North Carolina’s healthful living academic standards The controversy continues and the stakes couldn’t be higher.