Park Day School, a private elementary school in Oakland, California, was one of the early leaders in this effort. In 2005, Park Day had already stopped asking children to line up according to sex when walking to and from class. Boys were welcome to play girls and girls play boys in school plays, and a unisex bathroom was added to every floor.
In fact, in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Admission Director Flo Hodes is noted as being a bit apologetic that she even still balanced incoming classes by gender. (A similar issue addressing trans students was recently profiled in the New York Times on the college admissions level at Wellesley College.)
Park Day’s changes didn’t happen overnight, but it would never have happened at all had the school not been open to viewing gender-neutrality not as a threat but instead as a proactive way to end discrimination and violence caused by gender stereotyping.
In some cases, schools have had no choice but to pay attention. In California, for example, the Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 prohibits discrimination and harassment in public schools on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
And teachers can be critical in carrying out this mandate, even in the youngest grades.
Here’s a sneak preview of how Mr. J—the teacher B was hoping to have in second grade—makes sure everyone in his class feels safe.
Mr.J’s Civil Rights*
I HAVE A RIGHT TO LEARN ABOUT MYSELF IN THIS ROOM.
This means that I will be free to express my opinions without being interrupted or punished.
I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HAPPY AND TO BE TREATED WITH
COMPASSION IN THIS ROOM.
This means that no one will laugh at me or hurt my feelings.
I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE MYSELF IN THIS ROOM.
This means that no on will treat me unfairly because I am different.
I HAVE A RIGHT TO HEAR AND BE HEARD IN THIS ROOM.
This means that we will listen when someone is talking. No one will yell, scream, shout,
or make loud noises.
I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE SAFE IN THIS ROOM.
This means no one will hit, kick, push, hurt or bully me in any way.
* with special thanks and appreciation to the “real” Mr. J