Schools cannot and should not keep students’ gender identities from parents, transgender psychologist argues

A transgender psychologist has come forward to support parents who are suing to stop schools from hiding their children’s change in gender identities.

In August, a district court judge dismissed a…

A transgender psychologist has come forward to support parents who are suing to stop schools from hiding their children’s change in gender identities.

In August, a district court judge dismissed a case brought by parents opposing a Maryland school district’s policy that provided for confidentiality between students and school staff regarding gender identity.

Now, even a transgender psychologist urges an appellate court to reverse the decision and let parents in.

Parents suing the Montgomery County Board of Education alleged their parental rights were violated by the district’s Guidelines for Student Gender Identity in Montgomery Public Schools, which say staff cannot alert parents to changes in a student’s gender identity.

A student’s disclosure of gender identity status to staff or other students, the district’s policy says, “does not authorize school staff members to disclose students’ status to others, including parents/guardians and other school staff members, unless legally required to do so or unless students have authorized such disclosure.”

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Grimm granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in August, upholding the district’s policy as a matter of “curriculum.”

But now an amicus brief has been filed requesting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reverse the decision. The brief was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) on behalf of Dr. Erica Anderson.

Anderson is the former president of the U.S. arm of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and is transgender herself. She has over four decades of experience as a clinical psychologist and, according to the brief, “has seen hundreds of children and adolescents for gender-identity-related issues.”

Anderson’s argument is made in three parts. 

First, Anderson argues social gender transition for minors is a major decision that should involve parents. 

Anderson discusses disagreement surrounding “early social transition.” Anderson advocates for professional involvement “when a child or adolescent exhibits signs of gender incongruence,” and notes that “parents cannot obtain a professional evaluation, screen for dysphoria and other coexisting issues, or provide professional mental-health support for their children, if their school hides from them what is happening at school.”  

Additionally, Anderson argues that a concern parents will not support a minor’s “social transition” does not justify teachers secretly facilitating the process. 

Second, Anderson vouches for the rights of parents to be involved in decisions regarding how their child will be addressed by school employees regarding their gender identity. 

“Parents are the primary decision-makers with respect to their minor children – not their school, or even the children themselves,” Anderson writes. She says the school’s policy infringes on the rights of parents to make decisions for their minor children as they pertain to “social transition,” parental involvement in a “serious mental-health issue,” and professional assistance. 

Finally, Anderson argues against the idea that facilitating a student’s gender transition secretly is a “curriculum” matter, as well as against the idea that parents should be kept in the dark simply because a child requests secrecy. 

Anderson notes there is a constitutional presumption “that parents act in their children’s best interests,” and that the judge’s ruling is incongruent with that presumption in its holding that the school district’s policy “is substantially justified and appropriately tailored to protect children from their own parents.” 

Moreover, citing judicial precedent Anderson argues, “It is never constitutionally permissible to usurp parental authority solely at the say-so of a minor, without requiring any evidence or allegation of harm, or providing any process or opportunity for the parents to respond or defend themselves.” 

Anderson’s brief was filed on Nov. 21 with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

“We have seen policies like this in school districts across the country,” says Luke Berg, WILL deputy counsel, “and they all violate parents’ constitutional rights. It’s up to the parents to raise their child, not school staff.”