Should 'gender identity' be protected?


Indiana's own Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Merrillville), like other House Democrats who spent much political capital on the health care reform vote, is hoping for a softball legislative schedule so he can focus on his top priority, re-election. However, a bill -- pushed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- that would give transgender individuals the same legal status as minorities will prove to make this election cycle anything but easy.

The House is sitting on a time bomb -- HR 3017, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Set to go off as early as the next few weeks, it could head to a full committee vote and then move like greased lighting to the House floor. The bill aims to force states to broaden their protection of minority-status individuals. Among other things, ENDA would make "gender identity" a protected minority; states, local governments and businesses with more than 15 employees would be forced to recognize it as such.

Most importantly, every public school in Indiana and across America would not be able to discriminate in hiring transgender teachers, and it would be illegal to reassign them from the classroom.

The law, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), would allow for all kinds of unwanted, though perhaps not unintended, consequences. Under ENDA, state and local governments would be forced to recognize gender identity as a protected minority status. Cross-dressers and those who have had surgical operations to alter their gender would share the same protections as minorities. Expanding the scope of traditionally protected minorities to these groups would engender all sorts of problems.

Take the case of a New York teacher undergoing a surgical transition to become female in 2006. Students of New York's Batavia High School were forced to remain in the class during the transition, and parents were refused the right to opt their children out of his class. The teacher claimed protection under New York's disability laws and therefore had to be accommodated by the school district. Students were told they had 30 days to learn how to properly address him or face punishment.

The federal government clearly oversteps its bounds when it places the privacy of a teacher above the right of the parents to look after the well-being of their child. This case is not isolated, and schools in Visclosky's district could face similarly sticky situations if ENDA is passed.

Right now, 38 states do not recognize gender identity as a protected status, but passage of the bill would strip Indiana of its right to legislate in matters of employee discrimination, education and morality.

Aside from the federal government trampling states' rights, what type of education are we giving our children when we present them with difficult questions regarding gender identity? Impressionable children should be protected from the confusing and unstable situation a transgendered teacher would bring to the classroom.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups and sympathetic members in safe seats are pressuring their colleagues to endorse this latest vehicle for social change. Just last week, Pelosi held a conference call with LGBT supporters to strategize on how move the bill forward. Can Democrats afford another costly battle when they are running scared from Americans who are not pleased with the direction Washington is taking?

Visclosky, charged with protecting his state's right to legislate in matters of education and employment, must battle this latest infringement.

Will he defend the children in his district and his state, or risk voter wrath in November?

Andrea Lafferty is executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, representing more than 43,000 churches.