On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced its decision to rescind a May 2016 mandate introduced by the Obama administration that called for sweeping changes on how public schools accommodate transgender students under federal law.
With the decision to withdraw the guidelines, the federal government will now resume its original understanding of “sex” to refer to biological sex, rather than the amorphous and subjective “gender identity.”
When originally introduced, the Obama administration’s guidelines elevated a student’s gender identity (their internalized sense of gender) as the lawful equivalent to a person’s sex. This action resulted in situations where biological males who think of themselves as female were allowed to use female restrooms or locker rooms and vice versa. The consequences of what could follow this policy were potentially grave. As attorney and National Review writer David French observed, there were “implications for free speech, science education, religious liberty, and federalism. In other words, arguing that a man can’t get pregnant or a woman can’t have a penis could create a ‘hostile environment’ or be considered discriminatory harassment. Teachers and administrators would be required to participate in and cooperate with the lie that boys can be girls, and girls can be boys. The curriculum would have to reflect that fact, sports teams would have to conform (with limited exceptions), and schools would be legally and formally opposed to orthodox Christian beliefs regarding the very nature of men and women.”
French’s concerns are why Christians were upset at the Obama administration’s unilateral action to upend local authority and enshrine in law contested viewpoints on what it means to be a man or woman. It is not controversial or wrong to teach the historic and biblical view that gender is based on one’s biological sex, and that biological sex is both objectively known and cannot change. If progressives want to debate the merits of their beliefs about gender identity and transgenderism, now is the time to allow for such debate — not shut it down using the federal government as a cudgel against other citizens.
It is worth noting that the Obama administration made this move by lawlessly reinterpreting “sex” to broaden it to include gender identity in order to give it the umbrella of protections in Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination. All of this was done without congressional approval, which the Trump administration cited as one of its reasons for rescinding the guidelines.
Loving our gender-confused neighbor
The decision to rescind the transgender guidelines does one main thing: It gives authority on how to handle transgender accommodations back to local schools. It puts schools and viewpoints on equal ground once again.
On social media, critics of the Trump administration’s actions allege that transgender students will be subject to increased bullying and harm without these protections. In short, if you oppose the Obama transgender mandate, you’re seen as cruel and uncaring. The strong denouncement coming from progressives is the result of investing immense energy in seeing transgender ideology advanced without allowing for dissent. But Christians should dissent. While Christians should extend compassion, empathy, and love to gender-confused persons, Christians cannot accept wholesale the assumptions behind the transgender worldview because they are incompatible with biblical Christianity. Love always rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), and while the world will disagree with our assumptions about what is loving, it is not loving for Christians to endorse a worldview that leaves people confused, deceived, and living outside boundaries that God imposed on creation.
But accusations of cruelty assume that disagreement must mean disparagement. The parents I know who have expressed concern about growing transgender acceptance have no interest in demeaning transgender students, but are concerned about their children’s privacy and the implications for free speech and religious liberty that come from disagreeing with newfound social policy.
What is important to remember is that local schools are still allowed to make decisions on how best to accommodate transgender students. Moreover, the “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the Trump administration makes clear that rescinding these guidelines “does not leave students without protections from discrimination, bullying, or harassment. All schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment.”
The letter is right to make this claim. No student of any distinguishing characteristic is deserving of mockery, bullying, or intimidation. Christians believe that Jesus’ words in Luke 6:31 are relevant and apply in these circumstances: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Christian students and parents should be the last segment of the population that engages in cruelty toward their neighbors, including neighbors confused about their gender. It is a sad testament to our society’s decline in civility that serious discussion cannot proceed without questioning motives.
Why Christians should care about good policy
Christian parents with kids in public schools should be thankful for the Trump administration’s actions because it bars the federal government from treating citizens with a different belief on debated issues over human anthropology as outside the mainstream.
There are ways to resolve this dispute at the local level without bringing the heavy hand of government coercion into the equation and in the process, penalizing different beliefs about how men and women are made.
Restroom and locker room policies separate men and women based on privacy concerns. Individuals of the same biological sex share the same anatomy. Sharing the restroom with those who are of the same sex and who have the same anatomy enhances the possibility of embarrassment or vulnerability from viewing the opposite sex in a state of undress. For the sake of protecting women against sexual assault by those who would take advantage of these laws or preventing biological men from viewing women in a private situation, restroom, or locker room, it is prudent to base access on biological sex distinction.
When it comes to school-age children, it is extremely unwise to put children in a situation where they could be exposed to the genitalia of the opposite sex or where their own genitalia could be exposed to a member of the opposite sex.
Cultures will vary on the level of awkwardness someone may have at seeing a member of the opposite sex who they don’t know in a state of undress or using the restroom. But those variances do not cast aside the safety and privacy concerns of parents, who may—and should feel able to—strongly protest such a circumstance.
Men and women are different (Gen. 1:27; 2:18; 5:2). This difference manifests itself in biological distinctions. For reasons of modesty, safety, and privacy, men and women should continue to use separate bathroom and dressing facilities. Furthermore, it is not the role of the government to devalue the legitimate opinions of others by forsaking their interests.
Let us remember that this debate isn’t about transgender men or women using the restroom of their choice. Instead, the restroom wars are merely a proxy debate for a larger conflict about what it means to be male and female.
The policy debate over transgenderism glosses over a much more fundamental set of truths that society wants to suppress: Men cannot become women and women cannot become men. As Christians, we’re told God created us in his image. God made men and women as equal, but distinct. These distinctions are beautiful, good and are a testament to God’s wisdom in creation. Rewriting laws to conform to the spirit of the age cannot rewrite the laws of nature and nature’s God (Ps. 24:1).
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