Schools should teach acceptance, expand sex, gender education

CITY AFFAIRS: Berkeley school district’s potential inclusivity policy for gender-nonconforming, transgender students is a step forward

Illustration of a teacher standing before her class, pointing at a board showing the pride and non-binary flags.
Genesis Cruz/Staff

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Content warning: This article contains a brief mention of suicide. 

Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, is considering an inclusivity policy to ameliorate the “safety and happiness” of gender-nonconforming and transgender students. 

The policy contains physical accommodations for gender-nonconforming and transgender students, and also importantly eradicates practices that enforce the gender binary. This would shift the culture of Berkeley’s schools toward prioritizing identity, acceptance and respect, and is a policy that BUSD should pass and other school districts should emulate.

In shaping the policy’s framework, BUSD integrated flexibility, such as in its accommodations for students that desire increased privacy. Alongside codifying that students participate in activities in a way that respects their gender identity, it also directs district officials and teachers to eschew gender-segregated class activities. 

Altogether, remolding sex and gender education to systematically express inclusivity is groundbreaking — given that the right to marry was guaranteed to all couples regardless of gender only five years ago, we appear to be amid breakneck progress and open discourse surrounding queer issues. However, these sex and gender policies, specifically those addressing health, are drastically outside the norm elsewhere in the country. 

When the culture of your home, school and community feels pointed against your identity, the ramifications are intense — queer youth are nearly five times as likely to have attempted suicide than their straight peers. This life-threatening pattern is one that places of learning should be fighting with policy, not strengthening, as is the case in eight states that prohibit teachers from broaching queer issues. 

Policies that protect queer and genderqueer people in public education by normalizing discussions of sex and gender are a necessity. BUSD should not only pass this policy, but elaborate on it by incorporating LGBTQ-affirming sex education and information on the gender and sexuality spectrums. 

The California Healthy Youth Act requires schools to cover “age-appropriate” health material surrounding the development of sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, puberty and “unbiased sexual health” once in middle school and once in high school. A new sex education framework for K-12 schools was introduced by California’s Board of Education in 2019, discussing gender identity, consent, contraception and healthy sexual relationships for both straight and LGBTQ+ couples. 

Such a structure would establish a new norm for American education that diverges from sex and gender-related stigmas at all levels of education. Only 13 states even require medically accurate sexual education, and health is widely viewed as an extraneous course that kids pay no real mind to. Simply stressing abstinence does not cut it — inclusive sex and gender education across the country must prioritize comprehension over shame, understanding over ignorance, love over hate. 

Every classroom should be a safe space for every gender-nonconforming, trans and queer kid out there. Education shapes how our country’s children understand the world and the array of people in it. As a result, we must foster an inclusive worldview, engendering in young people everywhere that they are free to be who they are and that they will be accepted for it.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.