Increasing social and political polarization in our society continues to exact a heavy toll marked by, among other social ills, a rise in uncivility, an increase in reported hate crimes, and a more pronounced overall climate of intolerance--for viewpoints, causes, and identities alike. Intolerance, either a cause or a consequence of our fraying networks of social engagement, is rampant, hindering our ability to live up to our de facto national motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” or “Out of Many, One” and prompting calls for how best to build a cohesive civil society. Within the public school--an institution conceived primarily for the purpose of inculcating civic virtues thought necessary to foster solidarity in a pluralistic society--the intolerance has contributed to increased bias-based bullying, particularly toward transgender and gender diverse students. The devastating impacts of intolerance and exclusion on transgender and gender-diverse students include disproportionate rates of psychological distress, physical ailments, increased risk of homelessness, and other negative outcomes. As schools ponder how best to meet their needs and create safe and supportive learning environments, some parents have attempted to assert exclusive authority in this domain, challenging practices such as the adoption of gender-complex and LGBTQ-inclusive curricula as well as gender-affirming policies and practices. Parents allege that attempts by schools to accommodate transgender and gender diverse students infringe on their parental rights and the privacy rights of their cisgender children. While some schools have yielded to parental objections, others have resisted.
This Article presents a compelling approach for schools both to address the challenges posed by objecting parents and to carry out their original mission of inculcating an appreciation for democratic norms--namely, civility, tolerance, and equality--through the adoption of gender complex and LGBTQ-inclusive curricula. Relying on both long-standing limitations on parents' ability to exercise curricular control and research on the benefits of inclusive and comprehensive curricula, this Article makes the case that the educational purposes served by gender complex and LGBTQ-inclusive curricula more than justify any alleged burden on parents' free exercise of religion as protected by the First Amendment or any alleged infringement upon parents' substantive due process rights as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. It posits that although both parents and the state share responsibility for shaping our youngest citizens, parental interests should be subordinate to the interests of the state in promoting proteophilic competence--an appreciation for diversity--through public education. This critical educational mission holds the promise of reaching beyond the scope of gender to include the inculcation of civic virtues essential to the health of an increasingly demographically diverse nation: Respect for “other-ness” and the development of skills needed for effective democratic self-governance.
Sacha M. Coupet, Valuing All Identities beyond the Schoolhouse Gate: The Case for Inclusivity as a Civic Virtue in K-12, 27 MICH. J. GENDER & L. 1 (2020).