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Statewide guidance on preferred names, pronouns in Utah schools up for discussion

Posted at 11:41 PM, Sep 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 10:29:24-04

SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn't on the agenda, but it's what a large portion of parents talked about during public comment at Thursday's Utah State Board of Education meeting.

Parents and others showed up in person and via Zoom to weigh in on the topic of preferred names and pronouns in schools.

"Using people's correct pronouns shows that you respect them for who they are," said one parent.

"Affirmation through pronouns will put teachers in schools at risk of future lawsuits," said another.

"To have an institution affirm this, puts parents at a great disadvantage," said a third.

They were giving thoughts on a yet-to-be-discussed draft of a Utah State Board of Education guidance document with the title Understanding Gender Identity to Better Support Students.

The eight-page document talks about laws, policies, and best practices for educators when it comes to students' preferred names and pronouns in the classroom.

USBE staff indicated this document came about because they're asked all the time by schools and educators about the rights of transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse students.

The Utah Pride Center is also asked the same questions by teachers. Amanda Darrow, Director of Youth, Family, and Education said she gets emails and phone calls daily.

"We are asked often, 'What do I do if my transgender, non-binary, or gender expansive youth want to go by a different name? What do I do if they want to use a pronoun?'" Darrow explained.

She said she often tells teachers to use the pronouns and chosen names, and that it is suicide prevention for those kids.

Darrow, who works closely with LGBTQ+ youth, has heard what students often experience at school and they've told her what it feels like for them to be deadnamed or misgendered.

She read some of the comments directly from her phone.

"A youth said, 'For me, when I get misgendered in class I get an empty feeling and remember that I’m not perfect, and I'm not good enough,'" Darrow said, reading off her phone. "'But after awhile I remember that the teachers are still learning, and that I haven't reached my goal yet, and there's something still worth fighting for.'"

Students also told her that they feel isolated, self-conscious, stressed, anxious, and emotionally hurt.

"'It does really hurt to know that so many of us are deadnamed, misgendered, discriminated against, and bullied for being ourselves,'" said Darrow, repeating the words a student wrote her.

While Darrow said the plan is well-written, there are parts of the guidance that she and others find problematic.

One includes a portion on parental rights. It says that parents would need to give permission for students to use their chosen names and pronouns in school.

Darrow plans to speak Friday morning when the document is discussed. She said it's important to put out guidance to help transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse students.

"To ensure that they're being included in the classroom, that they're feeling safe, again-- they're feeling loved and accepted," she said, continuing, "and able to find their full potential to strive academically."

The Utah State Board of Education Standards and Assessment Committee will meet Friday morning to listen to comments, then discuss and vote on whether to approve the draft.

If approved, the guidance document would go before the State Board of Education in their October meeting.