Marlboro, Manalapan, and Middletown pass anti-trans forced outing policy

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Outside the Marlboro BOE meeting
Outside the Marlboro BOE meeting. Photo courtesy of advocacy group Say Gay NJ

Three New Jersey school districts’ Board of Educations voted on anti-transgender forced outing policy (or parental notification) Tuesday after second readings. Marlboro, Manalapan-Englishtown, and Middletown school districts all passed very similar policies. The BOEs’ drafted the new policy with different circumstances for outing a student’s changing gender identity and expression to parents.

Forced outing, or parental notification, of a student’s trans, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming gender identity and expression is when a school makes the decision to notify a parent of a student’s social transition at school. This violates the original P5756 Transgender Policy. The 2017 policy passed by the New Jersey legislature that states: “The school district shall accept a student’s asserted gender identity; parental consent is not required.”

For students, social transitioning might look like using different pronouns, a different name, and/or using a different bathroom or changing facility.

Marlboro and Middletown had dozens of speakers during public comment that denounced the new policy. However, the audience appeared split over the policy at Manalapan’s BOE meeting, according to advocates.

What trans advocates and allies made clear at Marlboro and Middletown BOE meetings was outing students is a breach of confidentiality and risks the safety of the student.

Board Member Valentina Mendez gave a presentation on the new policy. Mendez explained that she’d present the policy through a slide show. “The Board believes that because Marlboro public school district is pre-k through eight district with no high school, the board believes that greater parental involvement is important, and required,” said Mendez.

The policy Mendez discussed she said had a “family centered approach.” This approach states that the school district “shall not discriminate against any pupil based upon gender identity and/or the pupil’s transgender status or for any reason.”

However, the policy then states that a school counselor will “notify and collaborate with a student” before discussing the students gender nonconformity or transgender status with a parent. But if a parent doesn’t agree with the decision, the Superintendent or designee should consult the Board Attorney regarding the student’s and family’s civil rights. The family is likely to have the final say, according to the new policy.

While Mendez emphasized supporting trans students through their transition, many of those in attendance said they didn’t feel the support. “It is so important for trans kids to feel like they can step up and take a star role in their communities, and make sure that they are heard,” said CJ Healy, a former Marlboro student. “Policies like this, that would require them to be outed to their parents, take away that leadership role.” Healy works with trans students and an LGBTQ organization out of the state.

Nearly 600 participants between online and in-person joined Middletown’s BOE meeting. Similar to Marlboro, many attendees were from Middletown, transgender or nonbinary, and against the anti-trans forced outing policy.

The Middletown, NJ BOE meeting was full

Those that couldn’t fit within the Middletown library were barred from entry. This led to increased tensions. It was difficult to hear over the mounting chants. “Let us in!” and “Save trans kids!” roared from outside the library for hours.

The new Middletown policy requires that forced outing will occur upon requesting “public social transition accommodation.” The policy erases the definition of “gender identity,” therefore making protections for sports teams or changing/bathroom facilities ambiguous for trans students, according to many activists.

“Despite arguments otherwise, numerous studies and data show that forced outing to parents is dangerous,” said Sharon Steinhorn, representing the League of Women Voters. “New Jersey should strive to ensure our schools are safe, inclusive, and welcoming to all.”

The board passed the policy almost unanimously. There was one “no” vote.

In Manalapan-Englishtown there was a different story. The Board Members were very vocal about their support for their new policy, and the audience tensions ran high. In fact, Board President Brian Graime had to call for a recess after an altercation at the back of the gym, but soon tensions settled.

When Graime asked if members of the Board had anything to share, Jesse Tosetti and David Ferber held the mic. “For weeks the Board of Education has received emails from both sides,” said Tossetti. I would like to say this 5756 policy that we are voting on does not out our children. It allows for the parents, the people that know their children the best to support them…”

The Marlboro, NJ BOE meeting was overcrowded
The Marlboro, NJ BOE meeting was overcrowded. Photo courtesy of Say Gay NJ group.

Most of the speakers in attendance did not agree, but some did. “I mean it doesn’t go far enough. We haven’t even had a debate on what trans is, and what that means.” Peter Houg said. The parent rattled off common LGBTQ slurs to make his point.

Advocates like Lex Friedman, a parent of children in Manalapan schools, disagree with the policy. They most disagree with the section that states, “for students in grades pre-k through five the responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the parent.”

“I’m a parent of three kids, I’d like to say, one of each, a daughter, a son, and a nonbinary kid,” said Friedman. “The Board’s policy correctly defines gender identity as a personal, internal, deeply held belief of gender. But, it incorrectly identifies the responsible party. Parents do not determine their child’s gender identity.”

The policy protects transgender students’ disclosure of their identity. However, the school will notify parents if a student asks for public accommodations if a child is trans, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming.

Meanwhile, in another nearby district, Colts Neck will go to a second vote on their own forced outing policy update to P5756 June 28.