“Your ethical duty as a school counselor is to always ‘affirm’ a transgender student whether the parents agree, give consent, or are even aware.”
These guidelines immediately raised alarm bells when I heard them for the first time while attending graduate school in 2016. But, I didn’t feel as though any of it was relevant to me because I had never met a student or adult who called themselves transgender in my entire life. So, even though these directives clashed with my values and convictions, I moved on, convincing myself that I would never have to worry about how I should handle this moral dilemma.
However, prior to the start of school just two years later, my school district held a professional development training led by the state’s most influential LGBTQ activist organization. During this training, school counselors were instructed to call students by their preferred names and pronouns when requested. This directive was presented as suicide prevention and the only way to help gender-confused students. We were also introduced to the district’s new Transgender Support Plan. This new plan required school counselors to complete an extensive seven-page document with any student who requested one. It outlined policies regarding preferred names, pronouns, facilities usage, and safeguards if parents were not aware or supportive of their child’s gender transition. According to the plan, parental approval or knowledge was not required because parents were assumed “unsafe” until proven otherwise.
I was shocked that these controversial policies were being promoted in my school district. But even then, I still thought I had nothing to worry about because of the young age of my middle school students.
I was wrong again…
Within the first week of school that year, a student approached me and requested a Transgender Support Plan. This student wanted all school staff to call her by a new male name and male pronouns. She asked to use male facilities. She also did not want her parents to know about any of these changes and requested that school staff call her by her birth name and pronouns when communicating with her parents. And to make my personal situation even worse, I was supposed to facilitate the entire operation as the student’s counselor.
In the days immediately following, I learned that the student had a long history of mental health issues and had experienced trauma at home. This student had never expressed struggles or confusion about gender identity up until this point. But, when some other students in her friend group came out as transgender, she did as well. Considering all of this, I could not see how affirming gender confusion and secretly helping this student transition would benefit her in any way.
I didn’t know what to do.
How was I going to honor my personal values and convictions, minister to this student, and keep my job at the same time?
After much prayer, I decided to bring my concerns about the student’s welfare and my ability to execute this complex plan to my administrator. My administrator then shared the concerns with the district office. In response, district office administrators sought the advice of the same LGBTQ activist organization that had conducted the professional development training prior to the start of the school year. District administrators then made the decision to fill out a new Transgender Support Plan with the student without my knowledge and without consulting this student’s parents. Also without my consent or knowledge, my name was put on this plan, designated as the “safe person” who was required to conduct secret, weekly check-ins with the student. Documentation of these check-ins was required, but parent notification was not.
Again, I didn’t know what to do.
To avoid insubordination, I checked in with the student weekly. Because I felt convicted that using incorrect pronouns was lying to the student and defying God’s created order, I simply avoided the use of pronouns during our time together and focused my efforts on offering God’s unconditional love and compassion to my student.
Throughout the time that the student identified as transgender, the student’s mental health symptoms worsened. The student’s behavior became more erratic. The student missed class more and more often for mental health reasons and became increasingly emotionally unstable. I saw firsthand that what I had learned in graduate school and professional development about the “affirmation” of transgender students was a lie.
The student’s parents were notified of the mental health issues and behavioral problems exhibited while in school, but they still had no idea that their child was transitioning to a new gender. This steady deterioration and unhealthy deception went on for three months until the school administration admitted that we could no longer help the student without informing the parents about what was really going on while their child was at school.
However, there was a catch.
The district office officials were adamant that the student (despite being only 13 years old) had to give the school written permission to notify anyone outside of the school (including the child’s own parents) of the Transgender Support Plan that had been secretly enacted for months. Although hesitant at first, the student eventually signed off, and the parents were finally notified just before winter break. The parents were upset. However, even though I had to take the brunt of their anger, I was thankful they were finally involved.
This was the turning point.
After returning to school from winter break, I sensed a new, surprising peace about the student. I’d never before seen such a transformation. I compare it to Jesus calming the sudden and fierce squall in the Sea of Galilee. The student no longer wanted to be transgender and, therefore, no longer wanted to follow the Transgender Support Plan.
The fact that our school district was helping students transition genders without parental knowledge eventually went public. The community and even the school board members were shocked and upset that this was happening in secret. This reaction from the board surprised me because I had thought the Transgender Support Plan was board-adopted policy. However, this was far from the truth. In reality, the Transgender Support Plan process was never approved by my school board; it was just presented to the staff as if it was a required school policy.
Interestingly, in 2022, a new law was passed in my state, banning any student support forms from encouraging or mandating schools to hide critical information from parents. So, that Transgender Support Plan process my school district had been implementing is now illegal.
Navigating gender confusion with students is undoubtedly a highly complex process. Professional development training, district policies, legal ramifications, pressure from administration, personal convictions, and concern for the welfare of our students can leave educators feeling confused and fearful. Although I can’t promise you that every circumstance you encounter will be easy to navigate, I can offer some tips to help guide you based on my experiences.
- Stay rooted in Christ. Without firmly grounding your faith in Christ, you may feel lost and confused when your values and convictions are challenged. Consistently reading your Bible, spending time in prayer, and surrounding yourself with other Christians can give you the extra support needed when difficulties arise.
- Embrace the opportunity. There are plenty of places in your school where students struggling with gender identity can go to be “affirmed.” Your classroom or office can be a place where they experience God’s unconditional love and compassion—it might be the only time they ever encounter it. What an incredible opportunity!
- Know your district policies and state laws. Due to the ever-changing political landscape of this issue, it is important for educators to know and fully understand their school board-adopted policies as well as state and local laws. As I learned through my experience, a directive, plan, or guide from an administrator or activist is not the same as a board-adopted policy. Take time to understand the difference while being careful to avoid insubordination.
- Get involved in local organizations and vote. Help support local organizations advocating for policies that align with your values, strong candidates, and laws that protect students, families, and educators who do not feel comfortable affirming their students’ transgenderism. Also, take the time to learn about the agendas of your policymakers and legislators and vote for those who support your values.
- Use your resources. Representatives from Christian Educators prayed with me and helped me navigate the challenging and delicate complexities involved with ministering to my transgender student. I encourage you to reach out to Christian Educators for help. They are waiting to assist you!
Contact Christian Educators for SupportDo you need prayer? Do you have questions about religious freedoms, educational issues, or other legal inquiries?
Visit christianeducators.org/help for support.
* The information or opinions expressed in this article are not intended to render legal advice. In each circumstance, factual and legal issues must be considered and may require an attorney’s review.
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