After facing backlash from parents and the media, the public school district in Lincoln, Neb. is refusing to back down from programs designed to encourage the use of gender-inclusive language.
In an attempt to increase teacher awareness about the issues facing transgender and gender non-conforming students, Lincoln Public Schools recently provided staff with additional training and information about gender sensitivity. One handout focused on “12 easy steps on the way to gender inclusiveness,” while others explained the concept of gender as a spectrum, rather than a binary system:
The handouts recommended that teachers call out references to binary gender and use language that includes everyone, even students who may not identify as male or female. That means finding alternatives to phrases like “boys and girls” or “you guys"; the handout suggests “readers,” “campers,” or “athletes.”
Teachers should also avoid separating students by gender, the handout says, and should ask themselves, “Will this configuration create a gendered space?” One suggestion for grouping students is to divide students into clusters with names like “purple penguins.”
The training and handouts first started getting negative attention after parent Rachel Terry sent out an email to other parents accusing the district of “social re-engineering,” saying that the district was promoting “the deconstruction of fundamental family and religious values.”
District administrators stand by their actions. Superintendent Steve Joel told the Lincoln Journal Star that LPS has no plans to stop educating teachers and students about transgender and other gender-related issues.
Joel also noted that the training didn’t mark a change in policy: “Never once has anyone inside our system mandated that a teacher take (the words) ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’ out of their interactions with children or interaction with adults.”
A recent study shows that students who don’t conform to gender norms can face harsher punishments at school and feel “blamed for their own victimization.” In this context, LPS administrators just want to make sure that all students feel welcome at school.
Brenda Leggiardo, coordinator of social workers and counselors for the district, told the Lincoln Journal Star, “If there’s a staff member that’s uninformed and unsupportive, that can be pretty scary for a family maybe struggling to understand transgender issues themselves.”
Image of “The Genderbread Person,” a version of which was included in the LPS handouts, from Sam Killerman of It’s Pronounced Metrosexual.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.