A debate is raging throughout this country about the most compassionate way to help children struggling with gender dysphoria. Virginia is no exception.

Last year, the commonwealth passed a law requiring the Virginia Department of Education to develop model policies for school boards concerning the treatment of transgender students in public schools. The law requires the model policies to “address common issues regarding transgender students in accordance with evidence-based best practices.” And it mandates that all school boards adopt policies “consistent with” the model policies.

In April, the department issued a model policy which includes this requirement: “Schools shall allow students to use a name and gender pronoun that reflect their gender identity without any substantiating evidence. School staff shall, at the request of a student or parent, when using a name or pronoun to address the student, use the name and pronoun that correspond to their gender identity” (italics added).

In short, the model policy purports to mandate that all Virginia public schools facilitate the social transition of any student based solely upon the demand of the student (i.e., treat a boy as a girl or vice versa). The policy does not include an age requirement. A kindergartner can make this demand and the school must comply. No formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria by any healthcare professional is required. Parental consent is not required. In fact, the model policy specifically authorizes school officials to conceal a student’s social transition from the student’s parents or legal guardian.

Since its issuance, school boards throughout Virginia have been debating the merits of adopting the model policy. Many school board meetings have involved highly contentious debates with community members voicing their various opinions on the proposed policy.

Loudoun County Public Schools has been ground zero in that debate. To illustrate, the school district took the extraordinary (and unconstitutional) step of suspending Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, after Tanner voiced his opinion about the proposed policy during a public comments portion of a school board meeting in May. After Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on Tanner’s behalf, a Loudoun County judge ordered the district to reinstate Tanner to his position while the lawsuit proceeds because he found the suspension likely violated Tanner’s rights of free speech and free exercise of religion, and the Virginia Supreme Court just agreed.

Regrettably, the district refused to heed the public’s concerns. Instead, it has now adopted Policy 8040, mandating immediate social transition of any student based solely upon a student’s demand without diagnosis or any substantiating evidence and without parental permission or knowledge. That led to two long-time teachers in the district, Monica Gill and Kimberly Wright, joining Tanner’s lawsuit on Aug. 16. The amended lawsuit alleges that the policy violates the constitutional rights of the teachers by forcing them to speak messages that violate their conscience, and a subsequent motion asks the court to halt the district’s new policy while the lawsuit moves forward.

When teachers sign a contract, they don’t sign away their constitutional rights. Under the timeless free speech principles enshrined in the Virginia Constitution and laws, school board officials cannot compel one side to voice the other’s beliefs. Teachers should not be forced to lie to their students to keep their jobs.

But Policy 8040 also has another fatal flaw: It is inconsistent with “evidence-based best practices” as required by Virginia law. Although the medical community is engaged in an ongoing debate about the appropriate therapies, here’s what the current research reveals:

· In the large majority of child-onset cases, the gender dysphoria will desist before puberty, absent substantial intervention such as social transition and/or hormone therapy.

· In contrast, when children are encouraged to socially transition, a substantial proportion of children who would otherwise have achieved comfort with their biological sex instead persist in a transgender identity.

· A large portion of children who seek professional care in connection with gender issues have a wider history of psychiatric co-morbidities.

· No studies show that affirmation or social transition of children reduces suicide, prevents suicidal ideation, or improves long-term outcomes, as compared to other psychotherapeutic responses.

· Substantial psychological and medical risks are associated with transitioning to live as a transgender individual, including sterility, loss of sexual response, life-long medication, and increased rate of mental health problems.

Given what we know, mandating social transition for a child of any age based solely upon the child’s demand, without any medical diagnosis or support, is not consistent with “evidence-based best practices.” Rather, it is social experimentation on our most vulnerable children. And it is certainly not constitutional to force teachers to participate in this ideological experiment. Our students and teachers deserve much, much better.

Tyson Langhofer is senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom at Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents faculty members suing the Loudoun County School Board.

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