Alaska school district adds ‘gender identity’ to official policy


The third largest school district in Alaska approved a new policy last month that will allow students to choose their own "gender identity." Gender identity — meaning the gender a person believes he or she has internally, regardless of their given biology — has been added to the nondiscrimination policy of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

As no other district in the state recognizes gender identity in official policies, it was unclear how the Fairbanks decision would affect its activities with other school districts and private schools that do not officially recognize a students’ right to determine their own gender identity, explains the

Policy applies to all activities

The Fairbanks school board approved the sweeping change last month and thereby placed gender identity alongside race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, as factors upon which "discrimination" or "harassment" may not be based.

In explaining the concept of gender identity to the school board members, the school district’s labor relations director said gender identity refers to a person’s own internal and deeply felt sense of being a man or a woman, which she said can be different from the gender assigned at birth.

After approving the policy, however, it remained unclear how the change would affect issues such as gender specific bathrooms and locker rooms, or what impact it would have on boys’ and girls’ athletic teams or sex education for students. The new policy, however, will apply to all school district matters concerning staff, students, the public, educational facilities, programs, services, activities and any group which the district does business with.

Critics: policy politicizes classrooms

While supporters of the policy said it was needed to ensure the safety of students who deal with gender identity questions, other concerned parents argued that the Fairbanks school board was politicizing schools by placing an ill-defined theory on the same level as race, religion and gender.

"The school board is right to be concerned that children be treated with dignity, and bullying should not be tolerated," wrote Debbie Joslin of Delta Junction in an opinion piece to the Fairbanks News Miner. "Where they have gone astray is in attempting to place a stamp of approval on students questioning their gender identity. This policy would encourage students to question their gender identity and foster confusion in the minds of our children."

In dozens of online responses to a News Miner’s report of the school board’s decision, readers expressed concern that the policy actually could violate the privacy rights of many male and female students who believe that gender identity is a matter of biology and not personal feeling.

Gender identity gains momentum

While the Fairbanks decision is a first for Alaska, it follows on the heels of other national and international efforts to include gender identity as a protected quality. In some cases, the right to choose one’s own gender identity is viewed as a fundamental human right.

From California to Europe, an increasing number of schools, colleges and other organizations have begun to formally recognize gender identity.

In the News Miner article, Fairbanks school board members cited several reasons to expand the district policy including the need to be "more inclusive" and protect students from harassment.

"It’s really important to give people a voice and through this policy, we say we value you and we recognize you," one school board member was quoted as saying in the News Miner.

Board member Wendy Dominique compared recognition of gender identity to recognition of civil rights for African-Americans in the 1960s.

"We have a lot of ignorant people out there," Dominique was quoted. "This is not the 1960s anymore."

In the days leading up to the school board vote, Bent Alaska, a central coordinating web site for gay rights activity, urged Alaskans to email Fairbanks school board members and testify at the meetings in support of the new policy. The Web site, which serves to coordinate political activity across the state, including Anchorage, hailed the policy change as an opportunity to "make history in Alaska."

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