Will religious group really sue NJ school over transgender bathroom policy?
As another New Jersey school district adopts a policy for its transgender students — allowing them to use the bathrooms and locker facilities that match their gender identities, rather than their at-birth sexes —what will be the next step for religious groups that stand in staunch opposition?
The Pascack Valley school board voted 6-1 on Monday to approve its transgender policy, similar to ones in about a dozen other New Jersey schools.
Some opponents of the policy who spoke at Monday's school board meeting identified themselves as members of the Liberty Counsel, a group that describes itself as being dedicated to "issue advocacy for the sanctity of human life, marriage and the family unit, religious liberties, Israel and Judeo-Christian values." It's described as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The counsel earlier told the Bergen Record it would consider legal action to "prevent irreparable harm to cherished liberties."
Spokesman Mat Staver told New Jersey 101.5 he had not yet spoken to anyone who attended Monday's meeting.
"There are parents as well as young girls concerned about the impact that this policy will have on their privacy and safety," Staver said. "We will be getting a meeting together on the phone individually as well as group wise to talk to make a decision about the next step.
Prior to Monday's meeting, Staver said, members wanted to prevent the policy from going into effect through any means possible — political or legal.
"We'll look at the options and consider what the next move will be very soon," he said.
Staver said that his group has been contacted by a number of communities around the country with similar concerns to the ones raised at Pascack Valley, but hasn't taken any legal action.
Greg Quinlan of the Center for Garden State Families was asked to leave the meeting after he began shouting at school board president Jeffrey Steinfeld, who is an attorney with an office in Hackensack, according to multiple reports.
"I was confronting him on his conflict of interest being on the school board" because he works with clients charged with sexual offenses, Quinlan told New Jersey 101.5. Steinfeld's website also promotes his work on immigration and criminal law, as well as juvenile and municipal court matters.
Quinlan said a trangender policy like Pascack Valley's is "impractical" and one that cannot be enforced or practiced the way it is conceived.
"There are too many factors here and this is violating everyone's rights and putting everyone at risk including the transgendered individual because they are enabling a mental illness," Quinlan said.
The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not consider gender nonconformity, in itself, a mental illness. Its description of gender dysphoria includes "the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition."
School districts in East Rutherford, Rutherford, North Arlington, Tenafly and Westwood adopted transgender policies similar to Pascack Valley's this year. Bogota, Carlstadt, Clifton, Harrington Park, Mahwah, Pequannock, Upper Saddle River and Woodland Park also have policies in place. None have yet returned messages left Tuesday seeking comment on how the policy worked for them once implemented.
The Toms River School District, which tabled voting on a transgender policy in February has immediate plans to revisit the policy.
"The policy is still under review," business manager William Doerling said in a statement.
Shawn Hyland, a graduate of the Toms River School District and founder of Move the Earth Ministries, started an online petition on change.org that opposes the proposed policy. Hyland said he wrote a letter to the district after several parents told him they felt uncomfortable with a provision in the policy that would students, based on their individual needs, access bathroom and locker rooms that do not conform to their at-birth sexes.
Toniann Antonelli contributed to this report