A child’s name is one of the very first parenting choices moms and dads make. Until very recently, there was no question about who gets to decide this fundamental piece of a child’s identity. But progressive activists in schools are working overtime to destroy this social norm by allowing teachers to switch a child’s name and pronouns without the parents’ knowledge or consent.
The hijacking of naming rights is more widespread than you might think. In Michigan, a State Department of Education official encouraged educators to use a student’s chosen name and pronouns without notifying the parents. A school in Indiana did the same thing, as did a district in Ohio. Irate parents in Fairfax County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Ludlow, Massachusetts uncovered schools hiding children’s names and pronouns, too.
Under policies like these, parents may have no idea that their child is questioning his or her gender identity. This robs parents of the opportunity to support their child or to address what may be causing the child’s gender discomfort. Statistically, the root cause of the child’s anxiety or body dysphoria is unlikely to be that the child is transgender. Indeed, when the parents took a wait-and-see approach rather than delaying puberty or beginning medical transition, most children who expressed body dysphoria or anxiety about biological sex grew out of it.
The Child’s Given Name Act would restore control over a child’s name to parents, with which it rightfully belongs. The model legislation, recently drafted for consideration in upcoming state legislative sessions, would require schools to obtain a parent’s written consent before referring to a student by a name other than his or her birth name, or with pronouns other than those matching the child’s biological sex.
The Act protects free speech as it is defined by the Constitution and the Supreme Court. In instances in which the parents agree to let the child use a new name and pronouns, it protects school employees from being forced to use the new identifiers where doing so would violate an employee’s religious beliefs.
But it recognizes that, under Garcetti v. Ceballos, a teacher has no constitutional right to use a child’s chosen name and pronouns against the parents’ wishes. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that speech uttered in one’s official capacity as a government employee is not protected by the First Amendment.
The bill’s respect for religious freedom and parental rights runs contrary to President Biden’s and Secretary Cardona’s proposed Title IX rule. Their proposed rule would rewrite the definition of “sex” as used in Title IX to include “gender identity.” It would require school employees to treat students in accordance with their chosen gender identity, not their biological sex. Teachers would have to use students’ preferred names and pronouns, even if doing so violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs. Under the proposed Biden rules, schools that do not enforce this compelled speech mandate will be at risk of losing federal funding. The Child’s Given Name Act would right one of the wrongs of the proposed federal rule.
Changing a child’s name and pronouns may seem like a tolerable concession to the Left, at least compared to allowing minors to seek “gender-affirming care” without their parents’ permission. Surely, making changes on paper is far less risky and potentially damaging than making changes to a minor’s body. But social transition is a step not to be taken lightly, and certainly not to be taken without parental consent. Dr. Hillary Cass, former President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the UK, said it best when she described social transition as “an active intervention” with potentially serious psychological effects, and “not a neutral act.” As with any intervention in the life of a child, parents have a right to know about it and to refuse intervention, if they choose.
The Child’s Given Name Act may have one unfortunate side effect: It presents a bureaucratic hurdle for children with nicknames, who would need to obtain parental permission to use those nicknames at school. Nicknames derived closely from a student’s given name should not be a matter of governmental concern, though parents still deserve to decide what their child will be called. There is an easy antidote here: Ask parents for any approved nicknames on the forms they fill out at the start of the school year. If Timothy wants to go by Timmy, his parents likely would not object. But if Timmy wants to go by Tammy, the permission slip he brings home from school could be the first indication his parents have that he is feeling uncomfortable about his gender.
It’s a sad commentary on the state of education that a bill like this one is necessary. It would be sadder, though, to force parents to wonder what name their child is called for seven hours of the day.