Nevada lawmakers set ‘gender diverse’ rule for public schools

Nevada legislators have given final approval to a regulation that guides how school districts should address the needs of transgender students — guidelines that continued to draw ire from parents even in the final step of ratification.

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The Legislative Commission voted 7-5 to accept the Department of Education’s regulation, which was required by a law passed in 2017.

The regulation requires school districts to adopt a policy that includes training on the needs of people with diverse gender identities. Districts must also develop a plan to address the rights and needs of such students, addressing issues such as access to school clubs and dress code.

The regulation does not address which restrooms transgender students must use or instruct districts to address that controversial topic.

It does specify that transgender students may only be referred to using the pronoun with which they identify. But students and staff who don’t comply with that directive may only be disciplined if the failure to do so constitutes bullying or violates school district policy.

Parents who spoke out during the process of developing the regulation threatened to take action at the polls, arguing that their concerns were not heard throughout the whole process.

“We’re going to go today to an early voting site and we are going to vote,” said Erin Phillips, president of the Power 2 Parent advocacy group that has lobbied heavily against the measure. “Vote for people that protect parental rights, protect the process and can work together as a bipartisan coalition that represent their constituents.”

But Laura Hernandez of the Gender Justice Nevada group, which had pushed the measure, used her transgender daughter’s struggles to illustrate the need for a regulation.

“I had to navigate through years of obstacles and discrimination through a school district that was frozen in fear,” she said. “Fear of my 11-year-old child, fear of where she would use the bathroom and where she would change her clothes for P.E., fear of even saying the word ‘transgender.’ ”

The five legislators who opposed the regulation — Assemblymen Keith Pickard, R-Henderson; Jim Wheeler, R-Minden; Chris Edwards, R-Las Vegas, and Sens. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, and Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno — did so over a variety of concerns, including the belief that some parents may not have been heard and that the regulation was vague.

Edwards expressed concern that ambiguous wording could introduce legal liability, also voicing concern that those who don’t use correct pronouns could be accused of being an aggressor.

“I really don’t understand how you can have a plan that’s going to say people have to refer to you as a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ or whatever, and then nobody’s supposed to know that you’re a transgender,” he said. “And if you mess up, you get punished.”

But Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton recalled her own childhood experience as being a bullied as a red-headed student.

“Despite all the existential arguments that I have heard over the last couple of months, it boils down to protecting kids for me,” she said.

The state regulation aligns with the Clark County School Board’s transgender policy, which also drew heated opposition before being passed on a split vote in August. That policy provides schools three options for deciding which locker rooms and restrooms transgender students may use.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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