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Our school boards are failing transgender children

York Dispatch editorial board

Our schools have enough problems already between short staffing, pandemic-driven learning deficits, deteriorating student mental health and rising levels of bullying and vandalism. Meanwhile, several of our districts are struggling with crumbling infrastructure and curriculum updates that are many years delayed.

If you’ve been reading The York Dispatch, you’re already familiar with these and other challenges facing our schools.

Yet, somewhat inexplicably, several of our local elected school boards have decided that bullying their LGBTQ students — and, more specifically, transgender kids — is a top priority.

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On Wednesday, South Western’s school board is expected to take up a proposal that would force its trans students to use the bathrooms that correspond with their birth certificates — similar to the openly discriminatory policy Red Lion handed down in December.

“This subject is one that we will be working on for some time to arrive at a workable solution for all involved,” Ray Mummert, South Western's board president, told York Dispatch reporter Meredith Willse, declining to provide further specifics.

South Western High School in Penn Township, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As disappointing as this is, it’s not all that surprising.

Republican state lawmakers nationwide have handed down 452 anti-LGBT bills (and counting) so far this legislative cycle according, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

That includes three bills in the Pennsylvania Statehouse that bear marked similarities to recent legislation passed in Florida, Kansas and West Virginia, respectively:

  • HB319, Pennsylvania’s version of the “don’t say gay” bill, would — among other things — prohibit classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity through the 5th grade and includes so-vague-that-it-could-apply-to-just-about-anything language requiring any instruction to “be age appropriate.”
  • HB216, sponsored by York County’s own Dawn Keefer, would bar trans women from competing in women’s sports.
  • HB138 would insert itself into the private discussions between parents and their doctors, effectively banning any gender-affirming care.

To be clear, issues around gender identity — and, particularly, how transgender youth seek care — are complicated. There’s ongoing debate within the LGBTQ and the medical communities over when, and how, to care for young people who self-identify as trans and nonbinary.

We’d recommend reading a recent Slate article by Evan Urquhart if you’d like a more thorough and nuanced take on the debate over health care for trans youth.

A girl shouts in support of protesters of Kentucky Senate bill SB150, known as the Transgender Health Bill, gathered on the lawn of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, March 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

There’s not a whole lot of nuance to the positions being espoused by conservative legislators and school administrators, however. The rhetoric has all the makings of a moral panic, with little concern for the children they claim to be protecting.

Our position is simple.

Trans children are children.

They deserve just as much love and dignity as any other child.

Their right to an education, to healthcare and simply to exist is not a matter of public debate.

Our schools and our elected officials do real damage when they openly debate the rights of LGBTQ people.

South Western’s next board meeting is at 7 p.m. April 12 at 225 Bowman Road in Penn Township. It can also be streamed on the district's YouTube channel at