SEATTLE – School districts in Washington will be getting new standards from the state superintendent's office on gender identity, referred to as “Self-Identity.”
The standards, which were adopted in 2016, don’t include how the children should learn about gender identity, but that starting as young as kindergarten kids should know “there are many ways to express gender.”
“We were totally like girl power and trying to say girls can do anything they want,” said Huddle Blakefield, the mother of an 11-year-old girl who, she would learn later, identified as a boy.
She said her transgender child was listening, “but you could tell there was more there."
“When I talk to him now about it, he says, ‘Oh, I always was a boy, you just didn’t know that yet,'" she said.
Blakefield said her son started voicing his gender at the age of 2 1/2. She said she tried to brush it off as a phase.
“We kinda went, OK, uh-huh,” she said.
It wasn’t until a deep depression at age 7 took hold of their child that they sought therapy. Soon after, they were introduced to “Matt.”
“When he was finally able to say I am a boy, it kind of all made sense. Though I would have to say it still shocked us, because we weren’t sure what that would look like."
Blakefield said they are still learning what being parents of a transgender child is like, and conferences like Gender Odyssey at the Seattle Convention Center help. This weekend, she will be able to meet with hundreds of other parents of transgender children, all trying to navigate the same issues.
Part of that will be to garner support for what could be a rough or easy back-to-school year depending on who you talk to. This fall, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, or OSPI, is sending school districts new standards that outline what kids should know in each grade. Part of that is a topic called “Self-Identity” and it begins in kindergarten.
Districts will be able to choose if they want to adopt the standard. If they do, OSPI’s guidelines include things like understanding there are many ways to express gender to treating others with respect regarding their chosen gender identity.
“We’re talking about things like gender expression, and what colors people wear, their names, maybe their pronouns, and that these are just people and humans first. That’s the level of conversation,” said Gil Rich, who is leading the youth programs at Gender Odyssey.
Rich said he also works directly with schools on how to implement this type of education change.
“I think if we can just break it down for parents so they understand and get the adult mindset out of that conversation, they won’t be so scared to think, what are we talking about (to) these kids,” he said.
Chris Plante, with the Family Policy Institute of Washington, said parents not only need to be involved in the gender identity conversation, they need to be the ones leading it.
“Parents have the ultimate right and responsibility to raise their children, it’s not the state’s job,” he said.
Plante said kindergarten is too young for this type of conversation, and parents he talks to agree.
“The school district should leave issues of sexuality and especially gender identity at least to a much older age where they are able to handle the information,” he said. “We don’t even trust those children to cross the street on their own, they can’t handle the information about cars, how are they going to handle the information on sexuality?”
Blakefield said she knows no amount of convincing conversations would have made their son Matt into the girl they had once known. She does believe, however, it could have saved him from the deep depression he felt when he thought he was all alone.