A recent Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) newsletter advises school districts to allow students to use the bathroom of their choice based on gender identity rather than biological gender.
When asked about the document, an OSDE spokesperson said that section of the newsletter “came from a non-governmental entity and not the OSDE nor any other governmental body” and its inclusion in the agency’s newsletter “was in no way an endorsement or a directive from OSDE.”
Among other things, the OSDE newsletter included a section devoted to “LGBT-Inclusive Schools & Classrooms” that advised, “Allow transgender and intersex students to use the restroom in which they are most comfortable, whether it’s the gender-neutral restroom or the restroom that corresponds with the student’s self-identified gender.”
The agency newsletter was sent to all federally required Title IX coordinators in Oklahoma school districts in August 2019.
The newsletter’s message appears to comply with a directive handed down by the Obama administration in 2016 that was subsequently rescinded by the Trump administration in 2017.
In 2016, the final year of the Obama administration, a letter sent to school districts by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education advised that the prohibition on sex discrimination in educational programs contained in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 “encompasses discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.”
The Obama administration letter advised, “A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity.”
Lawsuits challenged the directive with divergent results. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded the term “sex” in Title IX was ambiguous and could be defined to include transgender students (such as biological males who identify as female). But a federal district court in Texas held the term “sex” in Title IX referred to biological sex and issued a nationwide injunction on enforcement of the Obama-era guidance document.
In February 2017, the Trump administration issued a letter saying the Department of Education and Department of Justice “have decided to withdraw and rescind” the Obama-era guidance document “in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved. The Departments thus will not rely on the views expressed within them.”
The OSDE newsletter’s language on “LGBT-Inclusive Schools & Classrooms” was taken, almost word for word, from the “Teaching Tolerance” project of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The SPLC project includes a “Toolkit for ‘Gender Spectrum’” that advises, “Gender-fluid young people navigate a variety of gender-specific spaces throughout their day at school. From seating charts based on gender to dress codes and roles in school activities, we ask students to put themselves into boxes labeled ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ all the time. To break away from these boxes and labels, consider hosting a gender-neutral day in your classroom.”
Another page on the project’s website includes a quote declaring, ““Binary notions of gender, biology and sexual orientation exclude large swaths of human diversity.”
After the Trump administration withdrew the guidance directive on school bathroom policies, Teaching Tolerance responded with an article: “Dispelling Six Myths About Transgender Identity.” That article said that permitting transgender individuals to use the restroom or locker room that matches their gender identity does not violate the privacy rights of non-transgender people, saying arguments to the contrary rely on “false assumptions.”
The idea that “seeing anatomical features typically associated with another gender violates your privacy” relies “on an interpretation of privacy that exceeds its accepted meaning,” the article stated.
“Privacy is generally thought of as a right to keep certain information or aspects of ourselves from being disclosed,” the Teaching Tolerance article states. “It is not a right to never see bodies that are unfamiliar or look different from one’s own.”
In an e-mail, Carrie Burkhart, assistant executive director of communications at the OSDE, said the agency newsletter’s material on creating LGBT-inclusive schools “should have clearly attributed that the recommendations in question came from a non-governmental entity and not the OSDE nor any other governmental body.”
Burkhart also noted that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister publicly criticized the Obama administration’s 2016 edict. In a statement issued at that time, Hofmeister called the Obama administration’s bathroom directive “an outrageous overreach by the federal government” and said it “nearly defies belief that the Obama Administration now wants to direct how Oklahoma schools and districts operate our bathrooms.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which is responsible for the Teaching Tolerance project material included in the Oklahoma Department of Education’s Title IX newsletter, has long been criticized for labelling a wide range of organizations as “hate” groups similar to the Ku Klux Klan. In several prominent instances, groups have apparently been given the “hate” label because they advocate traditional Christian teachings regarding sexuality, even though those positions remain the official teaching of major denominations such as the Catholic, Baptist, and Methodist churches.
In some instances, the SPLC’s activities have been easily caricatured, including a map released in 2017 of more than 1,500 Confederate symbols the SPLC claimed hold “the potential to unleash more turmoil and bloodshed.” The SPLC stated, “It’s time to take the monuments down.” On the list of alleged Confederate monuments was the entirety of Jackson County in southwestern Oklahoma, which was placed on the target list because the county was reportedly named after Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.
In other instances, the SPLC has been criticized for failing to practice what it preaches and for questionable financial practices.
As far back as 1994, the Montgomery Advertiser reported that former SPLC staffers said “blacks are treated like second-class citizens” at the SPLC. Twelve of 13 black former center staffers contacted by the paper said they had “experienced or observed racial problems inside the Law Center.”
In 2019, former SPLC employee Bob Moser wrote in The New Yorker that most black employees at the SPLC “were administrative and support staff” while the higher-paid professional staff “were almost exclusively white. Just two staffers, including me, were openly gay.” Moser worked at the SPLC from 2001 to 2004. Over time, he wrote, it became “hard” for many of the center’s employees “not to feel like we’d become pawns in what was, in many respects, a highly profitable scam.”
In 2018, the Washington Free Beacon, citing financial statements, reported that the SPLC had $92 million in offshore investment funds.
In 2019, Dees was fired from the SPLC amidst allegations of misconduct.