How a new executive order would promote gender ideology and silence free speech at schools

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A new executive order could promote gender ideology in public and some private schools while affecting both the privacy of women and the intellectual freedom of children.

President Biden on Monday issued an order reinterpreting federal civil rights law to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. The order instructs Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to begin reviewing actions taken by the Trump administration, the first step toward reversing those actions.

The order states the Biden administration’s policy, that “all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex…including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” This policy, the order said, applies to schools receiving federal aid.

This language about fighting “discrimination” against one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, said Mary Rice Hasson, the Kate O’Beirne Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), is not about preventing “bullying,” but is rather a promotion of gender ideology.

“This sets the stage for massive indoctrination of America’s children in a worldview –gender ideology—that is fundamentally at odds with Christian beliefs,” she said.

“This administration intends to use the force of law to transform every public school (and private schools that receive federal funds) across the country into a venue to promote LGBTQ identities and behaviors, regardless of what parents and local school boards want,” she added.

A representative of the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) told CNA on Wednesday that the order carries “two likely applications,” one of them being “denying women a level playing field in athletics.”

ADF is currently involved in a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut over its policy that athletes identifying as transgender may compete in athletics based on their gender identity. They have alleged a Title IX violation in the case because girls have already been forced to compete against biological males identifying as transgender females. Two of them participated in girls’ track events in recent years and won a combined 15 state championships.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-funded education activities.

Four female runners sued over the state’s policy, claiming that they were denied an equal opportunity to compete under Title IX. While the Trump administration sided with the girls and ruled that Connecticut’s policy violated Title IX, the Education Department in February walked back that stance.

New Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has said that athletes identifying as transgender have a right to compete in sports.

Hasson agreed that girls’ sports would be compromised under the policy.

“A male 7th grader who identifies as a ‘girl’ will have the right to use the girls’ bathroom, play on the girls’ basketball team, and insist that teachers and classmates call him ‘she’—or he can claim he is being discriminated against,” Hasson said.

However, Biden’s order reaches beyond sports and is an attempt to completely change the culture in schools receiving federal funding, she said.

“All students will be taught the language and worldview of gender ideology, as if gender ideology were grounded in facts rather than ideological beliefs. Children will be taught that it is ‘discriminatory’ to refuse to affirm the “transgender” identity asserted by a teacher or classmate,” she said.

Furthermore, the policy could ostracize students who are in any way opposed to gender ideology at schools.

“It’s already trendy for middle and high school adolescents to choose edgy identity labels for themselves, such as ‘pansexual, bi-sexual, or gender-queer,’ without really understanding the implications,” Hasson noted.

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“Peer pressure and school policies will pressure kids into conforming and ‘exploring’ new ‘sexualities and genders,’ or risk ridicule or shame for refusing to go along with it,” she said.

The order would remove due process protections for those who disagree with gender ideology at schools, the ADF representative said.

Religious schools could be affected by the new order, as Title IX applies to federally-funded education activities. Many private schools accept federal funding in some form.

“I expect to see lawsuits brought by faith-based schools as well as by teachers and administrators who have conscience-based objections to participating in the promotion of gender ideology,” Hasson said.

She added that Catholic schools may have to stop receiving federal funding in order to uphold Church teaching in their curricula and policies.

“The Church may well come to a crossroads where, to be faithful to the Gospel, she will have to spurn government money that comes with ideological strings attached,” Hasson said.

The policy underscores the need for authentic Catholic education as an antidote to gender ideology, Hasson said.  

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“Gender ideology, in many respects, looks very much like a quasi-religious cult. Parents need educational alternatives that will allow them to raise their children without fear of indoctrination. They need authentic Catholic education, in all its varieties. And they need it now,” she said.