Jacques: Parents aren’t buying LGBTQ policy

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

If the Michigan State Board of Education wasn’t sure how parents felt about the board’s proposed guidelines for gay and transgender students, it knows now.

Board members got an earful at their monthly meeting Tuesday. Public comments went on for nearly seven hours, with around 150 people sharing their thoughts. Most were against the proposal.

That was expected, given the outpouring of online comments and other feedback regarding the policy for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) students the board rolled out earlier this year. Almost 12,000 have commented on the Michigan Department of Education’s online forum since March 14.

The Democratic-controlled board hadn’t expected the kind of backlash it received, and had originally hoped to vote on adopting the guidelines at its meeting this week. Instead, it had to listen to all the angry and concerned parents and citizens who think the policy would take Michigan down the wrong path.

The feedback also contradicts the board’s portrayal of opponents as bigots and tea partiers. At the heart of this debate is the role of parents. And parents spoke out.

The state board hasn’t set a new date to vote on the matter, although it’s likely to be several months from now. Most board members seem resigned to making revisions to the proposal, given the public feedback. State Superintendent Brian Whiston also appears on board with modifying the document.

The board’s seven-page proposal, as it now stands, cuts parents out of very important decisions regarding their child’s school experience. The policy states that students should be able to determine their gender, preferred name and pronoun, and bathroom and locker room use — all without consulting or informing parents.

This is not only concerning to families with transgender children. It’s got parents of non-transgender kids worried, too. A recurring fear, voiced at the meeting and in online comments, is that having boys in girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms, regardless of the reason, would create many more problems than it would ease.

Board President John Austin is the force behind this push for gay and transgender accommodations at school.

He continues to use this debate as a fundraising tool, sending numerous personal emails about his cause. Austin is running for re-election to the education board this year, and he’s almost certainly laying the groundwork for a bigger statewide campaign.

“Together we can continue to fight to protect the rights and safety of LGBTQ students and ensure all of students are equipped with the skills they need for success,” Austin wrote in a “John Austin for Michigan” email Tuesday.

Protecting all students is an important goal, and Michigan has an anti-bullying law for schools for that reason.

If the board backs off its policy, GOP lawmakers who strongly oppose it may halt work on legislation that would prevent transgender use of bathrooms at school. A similar law in North Carolina has caused a firestorm, with the Justice Department suing the state this week for civil rights violations.

The board should modify its guidelines and include parents, and that should help put this matter to rest for concerned families and lawmakers.