Democratic lawmakers voted Friday to kill a bill that would have prohibited public school employees from addressing students by alternative names or pronouns without written consent from a parent or legal guardian.
The bill originally would have required teachers and other employees to use only the name and pronouns listed on a student’s birth certificate unless written permission was provided.
Amended versions of the bill, however, would have required those working in public schools to use the name, nickname, and pronouns listed on student’s enrollment form unless a parent or guardian gave written consent to do otherwise.
Rep. Katrina Smith (R-Palermo), the bill’s sponsor, testified that “this bill is presented to protect the rights of parents to be the sole authority in the lives of their children. This bill does not say that these name or pronoun changes cannot go forward, but merely that a parent must be informed and approve of any requests for changes.”
Rep. Smith also stated that the bill would not lead to a breach of confidence between a student and school counselor.
“I also am not talking about breaking the confidence of the chapter 117 statute which allows confidentiality with a counselor at a school l am speaking about a school wide name or pronoun change of which a parent is unaware,” she said.
With the defeat of the bill, employees at Maine’s public schools will continue to be allowed to use new pronouns or names for students of any age unless local rules bar the practice.
Rep. Reagan L. Paul (R-Winterport), a co-sponsor for the bill, also testified before the Committee on Judiciary.
“Parents are labeled as unsupportive and potentially dangerous when they do not go along with affirming transgender feelings. A parent would be arrested for affirming their anorexic child’s feelings. This is no different. Schools should not be working secretively and at odds with parents,” Rep. Paul said.
“This bill does not deny children the ability to be called something other than their name or preferred pronoun, it simply puts the power back where it belongs, in the hands of the parents,” she said.
Two doctors from the American Academy of Pediatrics testified in opposition to the bill. Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Mahmuda Ahmed testified that “less than 40% of LGBTQ adolescents live in LGBTQ-affirming homes.”
“These youth are unable to have supportive environments at home and can experience this only at school,” Dr. Ahmed said.
“Not all children who experience gender dysphoria have a safe home life and disclosing this sensitive information to non-affirming parents/guardians could lead to unsafe situations including attempted conversion, violence, or threats of homelessness,” Dr. Ahmed said. “The process towards familial acceptance and understanding can be challenging and unfortunately parental acceptance is not always attained. During this tumultuous period, students can still live in their affirmed gender with fully reversible social transition.”
Dr. Rosamund Davis of the American Academy of Pediatrics echoed many of these sentiments.
“Not all children are born into a home where their gender is affirmed by their family members. Given that gender affirming care (from medical treatment to social support) is recommended by medical societies, it would be gravely misguided for a bill written by a lay person to be signed in to law when it goes against the recommendations made by medical professionals and their societies,” Dr. Davis said.
The Maine Education Association also offered testimony in opposition to the bill, arguing that the policy would be disruptive to the work being done to create an inclusive environment in public schools.
“The bill before you is an attempt to disrupt all the work happening in schools to make our schools more inclusive and more welcoming for all students and families. LD 678 attempts to interfere with the student/teacher relationship by requiring parental approval before a teacher can respect the wishes of the student. This bill is a threat to inclusive practices, and this is why we are opposed,” they said.
The Civic Christian League of Maine testified in support of the bill.
“At the Christian Civic League, we believe it is the fundamental right of a parent to direct the upbringing of their child, including their associations, their care, their education, their healthcare, and anything related to the identity of that child,” they said. “A school, teacher, or social worker doesn’t have the right to unilaterally determine whether they believe a parent is ‘fit,’ or to make a judgment call on what role a parent should play in the life of their child.”
Ten states have recently enacted laws along the same lines as LD 678, sometimes referred to as the “Given Name” act.
Legislatures in two additional states, namely Arizona and Louisiana, have also passed similar bills, but neither is on track to make it into law. Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) of Arizona has already vetoed the measure in her state, and Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) of Louisiana is expected to also issue a veto in the near future.