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This Delaware Law Could Let Students Self-Declare Their Race & Gender, But Here's What That Means

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In July this year, a few months after President Trump rescinded Obama era guidelines on transgender students' rights in schools, the governor of Delaware, John Carney, issued a memorandum asking the Delaware Department of Education to come up with new guidelines to help schools prohibit discrimination based on characteristics like gender, ethnicity, or race. The Department of Education has now come up with a new policy that, if approved, would safely let Delaware students self-declare their race and gender in school, a huge step forward in helping protect LGBTQ kids. And of course, that means that people are already mischaracterizing the regulations.

Along with regulations that ensure students aren't barred from any classes or activities due to their gender, race, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, the Department of Education also outlines how schools should deal with student records. With the new guidelines in place, schools would have to allow students to self-identify their gender, race, and preferred name on school records.

The policy clearly states that schools could seek permission from students' parents or guardians prior to changing students' records — but it also makes it clear that schools need to sit down with students first and make sure that's OK. According to the regulation proposal:

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The school should consult and work closely with the student to assess the degree to which, if any, the parent or legal guardian is aware of the Protected Characteristic and is supportive of the student, and the school shall take into consideration the safety, health and well-being of the student in deciding whether to request permission from the parent or legal guardian.

Of course, some people immediately worried about the repercussions of the proposed policy, and they were quick to share their concerns on social media:

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One article published on the topic claimed, "White boys could soon self-identify as black girls in Delaware," and warned parents that "the proposed regulation should scare the living daylights out of every mom and dad in the state." Other groups, including the Delaware Family Policy Council, claimed that the new policy could strip parents of their rights to raise their children as they see fit, and that the regulations would pressure children to "undress, shower, or share overnight accommodations" with students of the opposite sex.

But these arguments, much like criticisms of laws allowing transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity, entirely misunderstand what gender identity is in the first place. The idea that transgender rights mean allowing straight men to enter women's bathrooms and be creeps simply isn't accurate — and despite the popularity of this fictional scenario in headlines, it's never actually happened.

Instead, research points to an innate, biological sense of gender identity — one that remains stable throughout a person's lifetime and begins early on. And when children are allowed to grow up living a life in line with their true gender identity, with support from the community around them, they show low levels of anxiety and depression.

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Delaware's law is meant to make sure no child has to forgo an education due to prejudice, and that they feel safe in their schools and communities. No child deserves to be outed to their parents, and doing so could put children in real danger. As Nathan Smith, Director of Public Policy at GLSEN — a non-profit that supports LGBTQ youth — told ThinkProgress last year:

The school has a principal responsibility to ensure that the student is safe and affirmed, and part of that means that they aren’t doing anything that could potentially lead to a bad situation at home. ... Parental engagement can really be a positive force in the life of a trans student, but we know that’s not always the case.
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If Delaware's Department of Education goes through with its new regulations, it'd be a huge step forward in helping protect kids and giving them a supportive, safe environment no matter their background. And isn't that something we want for all kids?

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