Maria Keffler is a former teacher herself. But when she recently found out, by accident, about new LGBT policies her children’s school district was considering instituting, Keffler was shocked. Now she’s speaking out—and urging other parents to do the same. Read the transcript of the interview, posted below, or listen to the interview on the podcast:
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Kate Trinko: We’re joined by Maria Keffler. She’s a former middle school and high school teacher. She’s also the parent of three kids now, and a parent who is concerned about the sex ed and transgender policies. She’s worried her local school district in Northern Virginia is promoting to her kids and others. Maria, thanks for joining us.
Maria Keffler: Hi. Thanks for having me on.
Trinko: Recently, in The Washington Post, you wrote an op-ed about how transgender activists are trying to change the curriculum taught to elementary students in Northern Virginia. How did you become aware of this happening and what motivated you to take action?
Keffler: A friend was looking around the Arlington Public Schools website, looking for some summer school information, and she stumbled across a link for a meeting about transgender, nongender-conforming student policy that was happening that evening.
She called me and said, “Hey, I saw this. I don’t know what this is. Do you want to come with me?” We went that night.
It was a school board working meeting where they had a group of interested community members sitting around a table discussing what should be involved in this policy. We were not allowed to talk or to contribute. We were just nonparticipating observers because we weren’t on the agenda.
We were really shocked by what we heard. There were a lot of people around the table from AGIA, the Arlington Gender Identity Allies, who are a local group who are working to get policies that are supposedly anti-discrimination policies for transgender students, which sounds great.
We all agree no one should be discriminated against. Everyone should have a fair education. Everyone should be treated well. Everyone should be comfortable in their surroundings. These policies go way beyond anti-discrimination.
One of the things we heard around the table that disturbed us the most was this feeling, or this idea that parents are a threat, and these kids need to be shielded and hidden from their parents. If the kids come out as gay or transgender and don’t want their parents to know, they need to help keep this from parents and hide it. That was really troubling for us.
Trinko: Did they say what ages? Could, theoretically, a 5-year-old say they felt like the opposite gender and the school would hide it from the parents?
Keffler: Yes, if the child doesn’t want [the parents] to know. These policies are to be applied K through 12 in the Arlington public school system.
A principal who was at the meeting, an elementary school principal, said elementary school principals are working hard to get transgender materials into the libraries and into the classrooms. This was the principal at my daughter’s school.
I know that the topic of transgenderism came up in her class. She’s in fifth grade. She was the only person in the class, including the teacher, who expressed any concerns. “My family doesn’t really think this is a great thing.” She was told that everyone else did not agree with her.
Trinko: Wow. Really brave of her to say anything.
Keffler: I was really proud of her, but I don’t want her in that position at the age of 11.
Daniel Davis: You mentioned the curriculum and material. What kinds of stuff are being taught?
Keffler: On Feb. 28, just three days after this meeting that I sat in on, Ashland Elementary School invited a transgender activist in. They did a reading of the storybook “I Am Jazz,” which is a transgender storybook. It’s geared for kids ages 4 and up, about a boy who transitioned to being a girl, medically and surgically.
This activist read this story to two classes of kindergartners. The parents were told via a letter that came home just a few days ahead of the event. It was a very long, celebratory kind of disingenuous letter that just expressed, “We’ve got this great event, this great experience for your kids. We’re so excited about these special speakers coming in.” The word transgender was in the letter once, buried in the middle of the center paragraph.
Anyone who’s a parent, who has kids in the schools knows you get a lot of paperwork home. On Friday afternoon, you’re just not reading all of it. This event happened the next week. Most parents had no idea that it was happening. It was very strategic. That was on Feb. 28.
The meeting that I attended on February 25th, three days prior, one of the AGIA parents around the table had said, “We are going to make a story reading of ‘I Am Jazz’ happen.” It was planned and it was done.
Davis: In your Washington Post piece, you also wrote that California and Northern Virginia are serving as laboratories for these kinds of policies. How is that the case?
Keffler: Those aren’t my words. Those were David Aponte’s words. He was the co-chair of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. He was the co-chair of the local chapter. He was quoted saying that in a Washington Post interview last year, I think it was June 23, 2018. He was talking about taking GLSEN’s policies.
GLSEN has written a model district policy. This is what they would like to see in every school system in the United States. They were applying that wherever they could to see what happens with kids when we apply these policies where we teach lesbian, gay, transgender issues, as early as 5 years old. How does that work out? Laboratory was his word. I’m pretty horrified about that. I didn’t sign anything giving consent for my kids to be experimented on.
Trinko: Have you been talking to other parents about this? I know you mentioned you went with another parent to the initial meeting. Is there concern among parents, or do most of them not care?
Keffler: There’s a lot of concern. Most parents have no idea this is happening. We have formed the Arlington Parent Coalition. It’s growing. It’s a growing group of parents. I’d say we have between 80 and 100 people involved right now who are calling us, writing to us, saying, “What can I do? What’s going on? What is happening?”
We had a very hard time getting information from the school system about this. We had to file a formal request before we were finally able to see the policy, which three days before I got the fulfillment of that request, I was told that it hadn’t even been written. It has. We put that out to our parents so that they could see what’s happening.
No, most parents don’t know that it’s happening. It’s being done very surreptitiously. The Arlington Parent Coalition is trying to get the word out, trying to make it known, trying to get parents involved. They are trying to finalize this by June and implement it in the 2019-2020 school year.
Davis: Tell us about the role of these larger national organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign. These are extremely well-funded groups. What kind of role are they playing to try to get this stuff through at the local level?
Keffler: This is very much a national, strategic operation. They have written these policies at the national level. The amount of material that’s out there is staggering.
When I look at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, genderspectrum.org, GLSEN’s website, they have got curriculum materials prepared for teachers to download. They’re sending it out. They’re coming into schools and asking teachers, “Hey, can I put a safe space sticker on your room? Are you a safe space for homosexual kids?” What’s a teacher going to say to that? You see these stickers everywhere. Posters, app, the gender bread person, the gender unicorn, all of this material that they’ve generated to make it very easy to push it out into the school systems.
The genderspectrum.org actually has, it looks like a war room chart, where they call it “entry points.” There’s four entry points to get transgender theory into schools. There’s the interpersonal, instructional, institutional, and there’s a fourth that I can’t remember off the top of my head. It’s very strategic, very detailed. They call them entry points. To me, entry points are what a thief uses to break into your house. It feels very much the same way to me.
Trinko: House Democrats are currently pushing the Equality Act, legislation that, if enacted, could have ramifications for how public schools teach about gender identity and sexual orientation. What do you think about this legislation?
Keffler: I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it has a nice name, Equality Act. Who doesn’t like equality? It’s really not equal at all. We’re talking about a very, very small subset of people—0.7% of the population identifies as transgender. That’s 7 in 1,000 people. Fifty-two percent of the population are female.
If this Equality Act passes, the preferences that are given to transgender people—and again, I want to reiterate, nobody wants to see transgender people treated badly. Nobody wants to see anyone discriminated or harmed. Giving those preferences, changing the language so that gender identity takes the place of biological sex, that completely obliterates the category of female.
Already in our schools, kids who identify as the opposite sex are allowed to use whatever bathroom they want. A boy who says, “Hey, I feel like a girl,” gets to go into the girls restroom, gets to go into the girls locker rooms.
An early draft that I saw of the Arlington policy put forth by AGIA, this is their wish list, said that if kids go on overnight trips and they’re staying in hotels, the child who has changed their gender, say a boy decides that he is actually a girl, gets to sleep in the girls room as long as the girls agree to it.
The parents can’t step in and say “no.” That puts a child in the position of having to stand up and say, “I’m not comfortable with this.” The parents can’t say anything about it. That is not currently in the policy that’s on the table, but that was what AGIA was hoping to get into the policy. That takes parental protections completely away.
Good parents tell their kids, “Hey, if you’re in a position where someone’s asking you to do something you don’t want to do, you can tell them, ‘My mom will kill me if I do that. My dad will not let me do that.'” This takes that away. Children can’t stand behind their parents anymore if this sort of thing becomes policy. It’s a terrible idea.
Trinko: You mentioned your one child feeling that they needed to speak up in fifth grade. Have your children had other experiences where they felt they had to defend their beliefs in these areas in these schools?
Keffler: My son told me that he has been called a homophobe because he has expressed his belief in traditional marriage. He said, “I just don’t talk about it anymore. … My friends don’t really talk about it, so we just don’t talk about it.” He has been called a homophobe at school.
Davis: … You mentioned how this is really under the table. Most parents do not know about this. It’s very strategically hidden. You said you’ve got a bunch of parents, 80 to 100 I think you said, who are active.
Eventually, all the parents will know about this because their kids will be coming home saying, “I think I want to go on puberty blockers,” or something. If and when that time comes, are you optimistic that there will be a blowback, that a majority, or at least a large portion of parents will get involved because they just are concerned for their kids?
Keffler: I hope so. I really hope so. There’s a lot of fear around this because the community advocating for this, the trans activist community, is very aggressive, very intentionally suppressing debate.
Our arguments across the board have been worrying about parents’ rights and about girls’ protections. That is all we have argued so far from the Arlington Parent Coalition.
What we keep hearing is, “You’re a hate group. You’re homophobes. You’re bigots. You’re religious zealots.” I’ve asked a number of people who have said that, “If you see that on our website, or in any of our materials, will you point that out to me? We’re concerned about parents’ rights and girls’ protections.” A lot of people are scared to bring it up. They’re scared to speak up.
I talked to a middle school teacher just last night who is very concerned about this. He sees kids in his class who are expressing gender dysphoria.
He says, “It breaks my heart, but I’m afraid to say anything because if I don’t affirm it, I can lose my job. I could be that next teacher on the news that’s being sued for not affirming it.” That’s a horrible position to be in, to feel like you can’t even care for the children who are in your circle for fear of what’s going to happen to you if you do.
Trinko: As a former teacher yourself, does it surprise you that the school districts are doing this?
Keffler: Yes and no. There’s a lot of political and cultural pressure for this. It’s a business. It’s a big business. The medical community, unfortunately, has a stake in it when it comes to pharmaceuticals that are being pushed.
There’s a business around this. There’s a lot of cultural and political push for it. It doesn’t surprise me that the school system is capitulating to political and cultural pressure. It makes me very sad as an educator to see them throwing psychology principles, educational principles out the window.
Children at the age of 3, 4, 5, 6, they’re role playing. A boy will wear a dress because his best friend is a girl and she’s wearing a dress. Now, if a boy does that, he’s told, “Oh, you’re actually a girl. You need to transition.”
In adolescence, for heaven’s sake, at puberty, you’re trying to figure out who you are. I told my kids when I was going through middle school I thought maybe I’m an athlete, so I tried out for basketball. All three of them laughed at me. “You thought you might … ” “I know,” I’m like, “I know.” Now you know me. I’m not an athlete. I didn’t know.
They’re trying on these different roles, finding out where am I in the world. As soon as they strike upon, “I wonder if maybe I’m gay? I wonder if maybe I’m transgender?” “Yes! Yes, you are. Anyone who tells you differently is a homophobe and a bigot.” That’s not OK.
Davis: Maria Keffler, I really appreciate you coming in and taking the time. If there are other parents listening who maybe live in your area who want to get involved, how would they do that?
Keffler: Send us an email, [email protected] We’ll get more information out to you.
Davis: Great. Thank you so much.
Keffler: Thanks a lot.
This transcript has been updated to correct that only 0.7% of the population identifies as transgender, not 7%.