Last weekend’s Values Voter Summit, the annual political gathering sponsored by the intensely anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, featured a breakout session on “transgender ideology in public schools.” One panelist encouraged a “divide and conquer” strategy to defeat “totalitarian” school policies on transgender inclusion.
Family Research Council’s Cathy Ruse and Peter Sprigg were joined on the panel by three people connected to a battle over the adoption of transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination policy in 2015 by the school board of Fairfax County, Virginia, which is located outside Washington, D.C., and is one of the nation’s largest public school systems.
Elizabeth Schultz, a member of the Fairfax County school board, said that while Fairfax’s size means that it is often a trend-setter in education policy, it is also too often “a laboratory for experimentation.” She criticized “the race to embrace” what she called an ideologically-driven trans-inclusive policy in a manner of weeks, contrasting it to the decade she said the school board spent considering a change to school starting times.
Meg Kilgannon, a parent and director of Concerned Parents and Educators of Fairfax County, called the school board’s actions a “massive violation of public trust.” She offered three strategic “non-negotiables” and five tactics that activists in other school districts could use to fight policies on gender identity.
Kilgannon’s first non-negotiable was “Focus on gender identity to divide and conquer”:
For all of its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.
Kilgannon said Americans are not ready to give teenagers gender reassignment surgery or put children on puberty-blocking hormones that may have serious long-term health risks, comparing the practice to “the 1950s lobotomy fad in psychiatry.”
Her second non-negotiable: no personal attacks on LGBT people or parents of trans children. Personal attacks, she warned, can be counter-productive. “If you attack trans people, you become the proof they rely on for demanding protection,” she said. “So don’t play into their victim narrative because in this culture war, they are the bullies, not the victims.” But, she said to laughter from the audience, “Elected officials who vote for this nonsense are fair game.”
Her third rule: Don’t use religious arguments, because they aren’t effective. Kilgannon said secular arguments can reach a more diverse audience. Feminism is generally a dirty word among Religious Right activists; at the Values Voter Summit, Dana Loesch declared feminism “dead.” But Kilgannon said that the Hands Across the Aisle Coalition—which describes itself as a group of conservative and progressive women that rise above their differences “to oppose the transgender agenda”—includes feminists who argue that gender identity is the “ultimate misogyny” and “erasure of women.” She said lesbians in the group are concerned that “transing masculine girls is a form of lesbian eugenics.” Citing shared opposition to gender identity, pornography and prostitution, she quipped, “I had no idea we agreed on so much.”
Kilgannon’s five-point tactical plan for community organizing: Engage, Educate, Explain, Empower, and Elect. On the final point, she urged activists to run for school board or to encourage other people from outside the “education-industrial complex” to run. She complained that school boards are full of ideological liberals, and in the case of Fairfax County, they control an annual budget of $2.8 billion. She asked, “Why are we letting the left spend all that money?”
Josh Hertzler of the Family Foundation of Virginia said the state has been at the forefront of trans-related debate and policy battles. Hertzler told activists that when it comes to the educational setting, the best way to pose the question is this: “Should a child in public schools be forced to share a shower room, locker room, bathroom, or even the same bed during an overnight school-sponsored trip with another student of the opposite sex?”
“Notice, by the way,” Hertzler added, “we are not even addressing the more fundamental question of whether, and upon what basis, should students be permitted to outwardly identify as the opposite gender while in the school setting?”
Hertzler said trans issues are legally complex due to differing policy responsibilities and approaches at local, state, and national levels, further complicated by the Trump administration’s withdrawal of a guidance on trans inclusion in public schools that had been issued by the Obama administration. “What we’re mostly dealing with here is an attempt by federal and state courts and agencies to redefine a long-established meaning of basic words, in this case, the term ‘sex.’”
“In essence,” he said, “what we’re experiencing is a full scale attempt to short-circuit the democratic process, right, of passing laws through the power of persuasion that reflects society’s values, substituting civil order and the rule of law with the will of a few judges and bureaucrats.”
Hertzler’s parting thought: “Elections matter.”
Ruse and Sprigg contributed broader comments on transgender issues. Ruse said that goal of policies that include protections for gender identity is not really to stop anti-trans bullying but to “force” changes in people’s beliefs and behaviors. She said gender identity “mandates” hurt all children, including victims of sexual assault and kids from evangelical, Muslim and Catholic families.
Sprigg, who has in the past said he’d like to “export” gay people from the U.S. and has urged anti-LGBTQ activists to avoid even using the words “gay” and “lesbian” because they suggest acceptance of a “gay identity paradigm,” started out by talking about intersex people.
The Intersex Society of North America defines the term this way: “’Intersex’ is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” Sprigg complained that some LGBTQ activists note that the existence of intersex people is evidence that not all human beings fit a male-female gender binary. But Sprigg says intersex people are irrelevant to gender identity because the “vast majority” of people who identify as transgender “do not have an intersex condition.”
Sprigg said there is no scientific evidence that gender transition can be expected to improve a person’s well-being. He urged attendees to get a copy of FRC’s brochure, “A Parent’s Guide to the Transgender Movement in Education.” Sample text: “Although the lifestyles and interests of self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are often very different, they have united in a movement to attack natural views of sexual morality and sexual identity.”