5 Big Problems With President Obama’s New Transgender School Policy

A gender-neutral sign is posted outside a bathroom in Durham, North Carolina.
A gender-neutral sign is posted outside a bathroom in Durham, North Carolina. (photo: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

On May 13 President Obama, through the power of his Department of Justice and Department of Education, declared that every public school facility should no longer have sex-distinct bathrooms or changing rooms. No facility should be restricted to either male or female. Any school that does so, his administration says, is discriminatory and in violation of Title IX.

This understanding of the DOJ and DOE directive is not hyperbole or conservative political spin. It is the bottom-line, bare-bones consequence of the President’s dramatic and far-reaching action. Like a NASCAR race car, the thin and fragile chassis over the powerful guts of this directive is “that transgender students enjoy a supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment.” And what virtuous person wouldn’t want every student, regardless of their circumstances, to have a supportive and nondiscriminatory school atmosphere in which to learn?

But the explosive engine and forceful powertrain under this thin body is explained in the conditions of compliance section of the Administration’s letter to all public schools, facilities and educational leadership (p. 2):

As a condition of receiving Federal funds, a school agrees that it will not exclude, separate, deny benefits to, or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities…

Two major points here.

While we are told to be comforted that the President’s mandate doesn’t have the force of law, it clearly has the force of the checkbook. Disobey if you want, but your federal funding will go away.

It also is not confined to transgender students, but clearly refers to “any person”.

The boy who insists on using the same bathroom or locker room as your daughter cannot be “exclude(d), separate(d)…or otherwise treat(ed) differently on the basis of sex” as a part of your schools’ “educational programs and activities”.

You might think this is an extremely fearful, even irrational way to interpret President Obama’s mandate. But it is not irrational by any stretch, because of how one’s gender identity is determined according to Administration’s explanation and general gender theory. Following are five primary reasons why the President’s policy is unsound and will create more problems than it solves.

(1) “Transgender” can mean anything to anyone.

Gender identity, as defined in the Administration’s directive (p. 1) is as such:

Gender identity refers to an individual’s internal sense of gender. A person’s gender identity may be different from or the same as the person’s sex assigned at birth.

Nearly all LGBT advocacy organizations define it similarly. The concern is captured in two words: “internal sense”. Gender identity is what the person says it is. Given this, the Obama Administration explains clearly on page 3 of its directive, “a school must treat students consistent with their gender identity [i.e. their internal sense of themselves] even if their education records or identification documents indicate a different sex.” The student’s subjective sense of self is more authoritative than any official document or biological reality, which brings us to the second point.

(2) There is no legal, physical or psychological criterion for being “transgender”.

Many believe that being “transgender” is a diagnosable and/or legal category that one meets by making certain observable changes and/or being declared such by a medical or psychological professional. This is not the case.

One is transgender simply by declaring the desire to be understood and accepted as such. The transgender person need not be diagnosed or meet any criteria of change. If a transgender person wishes to make no outward physical change, that is his/her decision that everyone must honor. After all, a foundational tenet of gender theory is that the “boys-look-like-this-and-girls-look-like-that” expectation is merely an illusory social construct and an unhealthy expectation that must be overthrown. Thus, it will be a violation of the transgender person’s rights and dignity to question whether they are actually a boy, girl or one of the more than 50 other genders they might identify as. To require any empirical verification of their claim is an even larger violation of the individual as well as current gender theory.

The policy guidelines from the federal Department of Education accompanying the Obama Administration’s DOJ/DOE document reflect this subjectivity. See question 2, page 1.

It is this profound subjectivity and the policy protection of it that practically and legally opens up all public school restrooms and locker rooms to anyone as it would be a violation of one’s individual identity and autonomy to question the legitimacy of their claim of being transgender.

(3) This about transgender politics, not the compassionate practicality of bathroom business.

Most trans-advocates claim that transgender students of any age should not have to face an unsafe situation when having to conduct the basic human functions of waste elimination and changing for sports activities. Who honestly disagrees with that for any student?

There is a practical answer to this that most school administrators use to respect the transgender student’s safety and modesty: single-use facilities. But when school officials provide separate facilities for their trans-identified students, this is seen as discriminatory by trans-advocates as well as by the Obama Administration. Separate is not allowed.

This indicates that this is not just about a student being able to do their business in a safe environment. It is about something more.

(4) The safety and modesty of the majority takes a back seat to a miniscule minority.

The Obama administration contends that this policy is all about ensuring the safety and dignity of students. But it distinctly pits the considerations of trans-identified students against the safety and comfort all other students. This is dramatic, as the world’s leading pro-gay think tank puts the total population of transgender adults no higher than 0.3 percent. That is not a typo. Point-three-percent. Of course the percentage of young people would be much lower than this.

Certainly we cannot say the rights of the majority should squash the rights of a minority, regardless of how miniscule that minority is. But it is simply unfair and unwise to tell the majority their own right to safety and dignity in the bathroom and changing room must be squashed. If a workable compromise can be found, which is what nearly every school administrator has established in single-use facilities for trans-identified students, that is the wisest solution for all. Unfortunately, any concern for the majority along these lines is lazily branded as hateful bigotry. This is neither true nor helpful.

As an important aside regarding safety, the confident assurance we hear from trans-advocates that it is unlikely any transgender individual will abuse someone as they use the facilities of their preferred gender misses the point. The concern is that any male with ill intent (or not) can enter a woman’s restroom or changing room. He cannot be questioned or asked to prove his gender identity for the reasons stated above.

(5) Leading clinicians do not recognize children as transgender.

These policies are being driven by the assumption that children who identity with the gender opposite their biological sex are transgender. Those who think it unwise to allow young children to identify as the opposite gender and accordingly change their clothes, names, bedroom décor and identity at school are shamed as unenlightened clods who are responsible for these children committing suicide one day. I have personally experienced such serious and manipulative accusations more times than I can count. But are these people really so unenlightened?

First, many of the world’s leading clinicians working with such children do not refer to them as “transgender” but as gender dysphoric. This is because the best research reveals that 75 to 98 percent of children who at some point identity as the opposite gender return to their biological gender identity at or sometime before the onset of puberty. It is not something they are, but something the overwhelming majority deal with for a period of time. Leading clinicians working in the Netherlands report that “the results unequivocally showed that gender dysphoria remitted after puberty in the vast majority of children.” They refer to this switch back to the child’s natal gender as “desisting”. Thus, most such children are indeed not “transgender”.

This is primarily why the Amsterdam Gender Identity Clinic, one of the largest clinics in Europe treating gender dysphoric children, does not recommend that parents, teachers or clinicians facilitate pre-adolescent gender transitioning:

Because most gender dysphoric children will not remain gender dysphoric through adolescence, we recommend that young children not yet make a complete social transition (different clothing, a different given name, referring to a boy as ‘her’ instead of ‘him’) before the very early stages of puberty. In making this recommendation, we aim to prevent youths with non-persisting gender dysphoria from having to make a complex change back to the role of the natal gender.

This is critical. These specialists explain that children who are facilitated by parents, teachers and other adults in an identity transition from their biological to their perceived gender report substantial difficulty in deciding, taking actions and explaining to others that they now desire to live according to their natal gender. They find it hard to reverse the momentum that was created for them by well-intentioned, but enabling adults. These clinicians explain:

In a qualitative follow-up study, several youths indicated how difficult it was for them to realize that they no longer wanted to live in the role of the other gender and make this clear to the people around them. …One may wonder how difficult it would be for children already living for years in an environment where no one (except for the family) is aware of the child’s natal sex to make the change back. …Parents, too, who go along with this, often do not realize that they contribute to their child’s lack of awareness of these consequences.

Dr. Richard Green, one of the oldest researchers in this field and a committed LGBT advocate within the professional associations, expressed similar concerns to The Atlantic some years ago:

Are you helping or hurting a kid by allowing them to live as the other gender? If everyone is caught up in facilitating the thing, then there may be a hell of a lot of pressure to remain that way, regardless of how strongly the kid still feels gender dysphoric. Who knows? That’s a study that hasn’t found its investigator yet.

Clearly being “transgender” is not necessarily a thing that children are, prior to and even post puberty. Even though acceptance and facilitation by parents and teachers of such changes is assumed to be the enlightened and compassionate thing to do for these children, there are very substantial contrary views.


These five points collectively demonstrate how and why this seemingly well-intentioned policy mandate from the Obama Administration is rooted more in the ideology of gender theory and transgender politics than careful scientific examination of the issue itself. It could end up hurting far more children than intended to help.

Yes, every child dealing with gender dysphoria must be cared for, protected and treated with dignity. Few, if any, are arguing that point. But to use that rationale to force a wholly subjective and unproven gender ideology on our nation’s educators, their students and parents is remarkably ill-informed and unwise. President Obama is opening a dramatic Pandora’s Box and the size of that box will be evident to all in very short order.