An anti-bullying program by Northland Family Help Center held for seventh graders at Mount Elden Middle School is raising the hackles of some community members after it included descriptions of different gender identities.
Two handouts from the presentation created a controversy on local radio talk show host Jeff Oravits' show. The handouts include a description of gender identity as a universe with the male and female genders being “just two out of the many genders that exist in our amazing world.”
The second handout included a “genderbread” person, which is available online, that defines gender identity, gender expression, biological sex and sexual orientation.
Flagstaff Unified School District Relations Coordinator Karin Eberhard said the information in the presentation was designed to teach students that there are others out there who may be different and that students should not make fun of others because of their differences.
“The information was given in the same way as any other type of bullying, such as internet bullying,” she said.
Gender identity is just one more way that students can be bullied in school to leave it out of the presentation would have been disingenuous. Eberhard said. The hope was that students would take the presentation as a whole and realized that even though another student may be or act different that that is OK and they shouldn’t be bullied for it.
Eberhard said the section on gender identity was about 10 minutes out of one of four 50-minute sections in the anti-bullying program. The presentation was approved by the school administration. Parents were notified of the program through a permission slip which had to be signed in order for their student to attend the program, she said.
Northland Family Help Center was contacted about the program but did not immediately respond.
The permission slip states that “gender socialization, sexual harassment vs. flirting, the definition of and importance of obtaining consent (and) Arizona laws regarding sexual assault” may be discussed as part of the program, along with other topics.
The permission slip also states in bold type, “Students are free to refuse to answer any questions or participate in any presentation or activity and may withdraw at any time.” It also includes a phone number for parents to call if they have any questions.
The presentation is not part of the school’s regular sexual education curriculum, which also requires a permission slip. That curriculum focuses on sexual health and does not address gender identity, she said. Students who did not attend the presentation were watched by a certified teacher in another room.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the district had fielded two calls from adults. Eberhard said she wasn’t sure if the calls were from parents with students in the district because they didn’t identify themselves.