Proposed gender identity policy sparks public debate

Posted at 12:50 AM, Sep 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-15 00:50:53-04

As the Buffalo Public School Board works to enact a Gender Identity Policy one thing is clear, creating a policy that is fair and respectful to all students goes beyond deciding what bathroom students should use.

So many people signed up to comment at Wednesday's school board meeting, the board opted to move up the public comment period up on the agenda.

Opponents of the Gender Identity Policy in any form cited religious beliefs, as well as concerns over the privacy and safety of non-transgender students.

Robert Jenkins has several grandchildren in the Buffalo Public Schools, he said he believes people with "identity issues" are trying to force their "personal differences and desires" on the general public.

"The present accommodations have worked well for decades in our schools, Jenkins said. "Why should we open Pandora's box and force changes on the masses that affects a few in comparison."

Despite some adamant objections, many who chose to spoke at the meeting claimed to support the policy, but most thought the policy needed certain changes before it becomes final.

Adrienne Hill is a local LGBT advocate who has been following the evolution of the district's draft policy and the community's reaction to it. She said she supports most of the current policy as it is written, especially the parts that allow for students to change their names and use the restroom and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, not their biological sex.

Still, Hill said she cannot support the policy in its current form because it does not include any guidance for teachers and staff on how to be in compliance with the new policy, nor does it specify what will happen to faculty that fails to follow the policy.

"All it says in terms of enforcement is just a list of links on what transgender means," Hill said. "'Google it' is not an implementation policy."

Despite concerns over the policy's actual language, supporters of the policy uniformly expressed the desire for all students to feel safe and secure while they're at school.

"Though someone who is transgendered may appear to be one thing, they really aren't on the inside," said Fran Bailey, a local transgender woman who came to the school board meeting in support of the policy. "Until they're able to express themselves openly without bullying or harassment.

The school board plans to formally review the current draft of the policy next week during a committee session where they will revise the policy based on feedback from the community.

"We believe in a school district that will be a place that is free from discrimination of our students, and we want to make sure the policy reflects those objectives and answers as many of the questions around this issue as we can," said Will Keresztes, Chief of Intergovernmental Affairs for Buffalo Public Schools. 

 Right now, there is no timeline for when the board will vote on the final version of the policy.