By RICHIE MALOUF
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent $85 million on a grant program requiring public schools to start Gay-Straight Alliances, public documents show.
According to a notice of funding report for a grant offered by the CDC, the federal agency has a total of $85 million to spend over a five-year period from 2018-2023 with a 12-month budget period.
To access that funding, a school must apply for the federal grant. Once a school is deemed eligible, the school can be awarded anywhere from $12,000 to $350,000 for the program.
For schools to be eligible for the grant, they must fulfill all of the required activities listed in the program guidance document and cannot opt-out of those requirements.
According to the document, one of the required activities that schools cannot opt out of requires the implementation of student-led clubs supporting LGBT youth, usually known as Gay-Straight Alliances.
“A GSA is a student-led club, typically run in a middle or high school, which creates a safe space for students to socialize, support each other, discuss issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and work to end homophobia and transphobia in their school and/or broader community,” the CDC said. “To implement this activity,(local education agencies) will first need to determine which schools have GSAs. LEA can then create and implement a plan for establishing GSAs in schools that do not already have them and strengthening GSAs in schools that do (see key consideration below on enhancing existing GSAs).”
The CDC lists the organization known as GLSEN as a potential resource to help with this activity, which encourages the use of gender neutral language.
“When addressing a group of people, make sure to use gender-neutral language,” GLSEN said. “For example, instead of saying ‘Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,’ say ‘Welcome, everyone.’ You should also use gender-neutral pronouns when referring to a group or when addressing someone whose pronouns you do not know.”
A second activity required of schools is that schools educate all their staff on how to support LGBT students.
“Professional development (PD) delivered to teachers and school staff annually should address fundamental knowledge about: the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity, including appropriate language, health risks faced by LGBT youth, effects of the school environment on the health of LGBT youth, supportive school policies and practices (e.g., GSAs, safe spaces, inclusive curricula), the unique needs of transgender and gender diverse students,” the CDC said.
The CDC also says that schools must oppose beliefs that are against the LGBTQIA+ ideology.
“PD should thus involve critical reflection that helps school staff recognize and challenge both individually held and broader normative beliefs about sexuality and gender identity that can contribute to a negative school environment for LGBT youth,” the CDC said.
To help schools conduct this activity, the CDC lists various resources that can be referenced for learning materials and further information on the subject. One of the listed resources is titled “Gender Spectrum. Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools,” and says that transgender students should be called by the pronouns they identify with, even if they fall outside the gender binary.
“It is important to note that a growing number of gender-expansive youth are identifying themselves outside the gender binary, and many use gender-neutral pronouns,” the document said. “While it may be more difficult to adapt to gender-neutral pronouns, it is still important to do so in support of the student.”
Tyson Langhofer at Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization, said that it would go against one’s constitutional rights if schools were to attempt to force their staff to use an individual’s preferred pronouns.
“Any policy that mandates teachers to use chosen pronouns by students that would violate both their free speech rights and their free exercise rights under the First Amendment, and also sometimes under their state constitution, or state religious freedom restoration act laws,” Langhofer said. “When you say somebody can choose their own pronoun that means you are by definition expressing the message that gender is fluid and can be chosen by an individual rather than it being immutable based upon your biological characteristics.”
The resource also encourages schools to allow transgender students to enter bathrooms and locker rooms with the gender they identify with.
“Providing transgender students with access to the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity is yet another way that schools adjust to meet students’ individual needs,” the document said. “Generally, there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of a student who asserts a transgender identity, and schools should accept the student’s identity without imposing additional requirements.”
In addition to the two required activities, the program includes two additional activities that schools may engage in but are not required to do so.
One of the listed additional activities says schools can make an effort to change existing instructional programs to include LGBT youth, which includes selecting educational material that uses non-gendered language so as not to make transgender students feel out of place.