School board reviews gender-diverse policy

After about four hours of public comment and intense debate, the Clark County School District Board of Trustees voted 4-3 to move forward on a proposed policy for gender-diverse students.

The trustees are expected to discuss changes to the drafted policy again at an August meeting.

“I’m pleased to finally review a draft,” says Laura Hernandez, a parent of a transgender child. “We have beat this horse to death. Let’s move on a decide what actions we can take to support those who have concerns.”

Hernandez, who is also a member of Gender Justice Nevada, is part of a group of people who have been advocating for the school district to adopt some sort of cohesive guideline for students.

At the June 14 meeting, the board was presented with a draft that includes steps to formulate a plan for when a student comes forward as gender diverse, giving students the right to have their preferred pronoun and name used in a classroom setting or on any school documents and allowing students to attend classes, sports teams and other school activities of their gender identity.

The meeting was a chance for trustees to read through the eight-page proposal, ask questions and point out concerns. More debate ensued as trustees could barely get through the first page without arguing.

While the policy includes many aspects to help gender-diverse students, parents at the meeting focused a lot of attention on restroom usage.

“I would like to remind the board it’s not in their power to determine whether a sex gender-diverse student should have access to facilities,” Hernandez says. “This is settled law.”

State law recognizes gender expression and identity and protects rights to access public accommodations.

However, some parents challenge this.

“The public accommodations law has been litigated in the court of public opinion only,” said Erin Phillips with Power 2 Parent and an outspoken opponent of the policy. “It has not been litigated in the courts. We keep being told that this is Nevada law, but that’s not what the public accommodations law is meant to do – open restrooms and private changing areas.”

This wasn’t the first time discussion over gender-diverse policies resulted in hours-long contentious debate.

Developing some sort of cohesive strategy for gender-diverse students has been a long-time coming. Last summer, the Legislature voted on Senate Bill 225, which requires school districts to develop policies for gender-diverse students.

In the last year, the school district developed a group to discuss potential ideas that could be included in the policy and hosted five town hall meetings to get public input.

In March, the board voted to actually develop the policy. The June meeting was the first time the board discussed a draft.

The ACLU of Nevada, Gender Justice Nevada, and the Human Rights Campaign joined parents, trans students and community members to speak in favor.

Gender-diverse students spoke about their experiences within the school district and urged the board trustees to offer them protection.

“We are looking to you for protection,” says Kristina Hernandez, a 15-year-old student. “It is easy to stand up and say hateful things when the target of your hate is an imaginary monster.”

Rows of parents met them in opposition.

Their pushback includes concerns about children’s privacy in the bathroom and fear that students would be punished for misgendering someone (the draft addresses discipline and students would only be pursued if their actions qualify as bullying).

Phillips accused the trustees of colluding with outside groups.

“The board assured us it would protect all parents,” one woman says during public comment. “But here we are, three weeks into summer break and now you present this policy. You tend to leave parents out of the conversation.”

Many against the policy assured the room they weren’t bigots and were tired of the label.

They simply believe that their religious beliefs, as well as the First Amendment, exempt them from using a person’s preferred pronoun and name or from sharing public accommodations with transgender students.

Overall, parents are also arguing this policy is discriminatory because it only appeals to a minority of students.

Holly Welborn, the policy director with the ACLU of Nevada, says this is about equity among the student population.

“Until this passes, trans students living in this environment don’t have equal rights,” she adds.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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