A high school history teacher in California has admitted to helping students change their gender identity without their parents' knowledge.
Olivia Garrison, who is nonbinary, told the New York Times that they felt it was their job as a teacher to 'protect kids' - 'sometimes from their own parents.'
'My job, which is a public service, is to protect kids,' Garrison said. 'Sometimes, they need protection from their own parents.'
Garrison teaches at Del Oro High School in the Kern High School District (KHSD), which has a form that allows students to change their preferred name and gender marker without a parent's signature.
The history teacher, who has previously posted on TikTok about their 'queer safe space classroom,' was one of the dozens of educators, public officials, and parents the New York Times spoke to about gender transitioning in schools.
Clementine Morales, a former student of Garrison's who is now 19, told the Times they came out as nonbinary at school when they weren't able to do it at home.
'I had to look for parental figures in other people who were not my parents,' Morales said.
Schools have come under pressure to address the needs of transgender youth, but dozens of parents whose children have socially transitioned at school told The Times they felt 'villainized by educators who seemed to think that they knew what was best for their children.'
Jessica Bradshaw of Torrance, California, told the Times that she learned about her 15-year-old's social transition after reading their preferred name on a worksheet.
'There was never any word from anyone to let us know that on paper, and in the classroom, our daughter was our son,' she said, who accepted her child's decision, but resented that the school had made her feel like a bad parent.
'It felt like a parenting stab in the back from the school system. It should have been a decision we made as a family.'
The student told the Times that his school had provided him with a space to be himself that he otherwise lacked.
He said he had tried to come out to his parents before, but they didn't take it seriously, which is why he leaned on his school for support.
'I wish schools didn't have to hide it from parents or do it without parental permission, but it can be important,' he said.
'Schools are just trying to do what's best to keep students safe and comfortable. When you're trans, you feel like you are in danger all the time. Even though my parents were accepting, I was still scared, and that's why the school didn't tell them.'
The student attends a public school that is one of many that allows students to socially transition without permission from their parents.
The social transition could include a change in their name, pronouns, or gender expression.
The guidelines on social transition vary among school districts and by state. Some states, including California, New Jersey, and Maryland advise schools not to disclose information about students’ gender identity without their permission.
But there are several other states with antidiscrimination guidance that is open to interpretation.
Jeff Walker, a father in Alabama, and another parent to a transgender student, told the Times that he worries for other gender-nonconforming youths whose families are not open to transition.
'Not all children in this area have safe spaces at home,' Walker said.
The New York Times also spoke to Dr. Erica Anderson, a psychologist who has helped hundreds of young people transition.
Anderson, who is transgender, filed a brief in support of parents in a Maryland lawsuit claiming the district's policy violates their rights, the Times reported.
She wrote that transitioning socially is 'a major and potentially life-altering decision that requires parental involvement, for many reasons.'
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