Part of my job involves monitoring the activities of Religious Right groups, which means every day my email box receives messages from groups like the Family Research Council, Alliance Defending Freedom and American Family Association (AFA).
The AFA has lately been going around the bend about something called the “gender unicorn.” This unicorn, which has apparently surfaced (metaphorically speaking) in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, has Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, in quite a tizzy.
Terms like “brainwashing” and “gender-bender morality” were being tossed around. I knew I had to check it out.
“Parents, watch out,” Graham blared in a story distributed by OneNewsNow, an AFA “news” service. “They are using this unicorn to grab the imagination of children and make this seem acceptable.”
He added, “Parents should be enraged and so should we. The Communists used brainwashing in Eastern Europe and Russia, and they took the parents out of the decision-making process and the state began to make decisions about morality. This is a dangerous path.”
Great gratuitous mention of the communists, but, really, Franklin, no reference to Hitler? I’m disappointed.
This is not the gender unicorn, but Franklin Graham probably still doesn't like it.
OK, so what’s really going on in the Charlotte schools? I did a little digging. It turns out that the school system sponsored training for its teachers and staff on the challenges facing transgender students. Education officials wanted to make sure that all students are welcome in the schools, including those who are transgender.
The gender unicorn does exist. As the Charlotte Observer noted, the unicorn is a cartoon figure that was created by Trans Student Educational Resources, a national transgender youth group, to help people understand terms that are often used by the transgender community, such as “gender identity,” “gender expression,” “genderqueer,” “cisgender” and “sex assigned at birth.”
This training was for teachers, not students, and it’s designed to keep kids safe, ensure that their rights are protected and that they’re treated with the respect they deserve.
Naturally, Religious Right groups in the state are going crazy. The North Carolina Values Coalition has urged supporters to flood the school system with an electronic letter stating that the policy violates North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill” and that it “jeopardizes the privacy, safety, and dignity of my child(ren). My child(ren) feel both anxious and disrespected faced with the reality that this new policy will force them to share intimate facilities with members of the opposite sex, threatening their well-being and peace of mind on a day-to-day basis.”
The school system has reiterated that its policies are meant to stop bullying. They apply to all students equally. As the school system noted in a statement, it is “committed to nurturing a safe and welcoming learning environment for every student.” Parents aren’t kept in the dark. They are consulted.
Officials took this step because they are aware that transgender students face real challenges. Their risk factor for suicide is high. They often don’t feel safe at school because they fear being bullied.
The men and women who run the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system are doing the responsible thing by addressing these issues and making sure teachers and staff have the resources they need to help transgender students stay in school and succeed.
That’s their goal. What’s Graham’s? I suspect it’s the usual Religious Right thing – whip people into a frenzy, raise cash and promote far-right candidates for public office in a quest to “Christianize” America – according to Graham’s narrow definition of Christianity, of course. (Liberal Christians need not apply.)
To do this, Graham needs a new community to demonize. He and his pals lost the marriage equality case at the U.S. Supreme Court, but they didn’t let that slow them down. Almost immediately, they started attacking the transgender community.
The school wants to keep these kids safe. Graham doesn't seem to care about their well-being and uses them to frighten and anger his supporters.
I believe any decent person is capable of deciding which approach is truly the moral one.