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N.Y.C. Parents Rebuked for Questioning Transgender Student-Athlete Rules

This spring, a group of elected parent leaders in New York asked the city to review education department rules allowing transgender students to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

The parent council — representing the diverse local District 2 that weaves through the West Village, Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper East Side — said that the current policies present “challenges to youth athletes and coaches” and fail to consider the “well-being of girls.”

The schools chancellor, David C. Banks, called the proposal “despicable” and “no way in line with our values.”

Democratic officials also have responded to the parent council swiftly, and angrily.

In a letter made public on Monday, a coalition of 18 Democratic elected officials from New York called the proposal “hateful, discriminatory and actively harmful” to the city’s children. As officials in more conservative jurisdictions move to bar or restrict transgender athletes from competing, the resolution and ensuing backlash in New York illustrate how charged the issue is in one of the most heavily Democratic cities in the country.

The elected officials include Representative Jerry Nadler, Assemblyman Tony Simone, State Senator Liz Krueger and five City Council members.

The officials argued that while some parents say they were “simply asking for a conversation,” the resolution “was based in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric” that has helped fuel harassment and mental health issues for young people. They demanded that the council formally rescind the resolution.

“The message to trans students that they are not welcome has reverberations, and the consequences can be dire,” the group’s letter said, adding that elected parent leaders “must be fighting for every student” and “not attack, ridicule, or marginalize the vulnerable.”

The Manhattan borough president, Mark Levine, a Democrat, announced earlier this month that one parent who voted in favor of the review would be ousted from his position on a local community board. He also signed the letter.

But opinions on this issue don’t necessarily break neatly along political lines.

There is limited polling on how New Yorkers view the issue. One Siena College poll last month found that about two-thirds of registered voters statewide — including 83 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of independents — support requiring high school athletes to “only compete with others of the same sex that they were assigned at birth.”

The poll also found that about 52 percent of Democrats supported the policy, in line with national surveys.

The argument in Manhattan comes as parent councils across New York, which represent the public school system’s 32 districts, have increasingly battled over a wider menu of divisive issues.

The resolution in District 2 — which passed in an 8-3 vote — drew a backlash from some local families, in part because the parent council’s purview includes Greenwich Village, which is home to Stonewall Inn, widely considered to be the birthplace of the L.G.B.T.Q. rights movement.

It is unclear, though, how many of the New York City school system’s some 45,000 student-athletes are transgender, or whether the issue has affected sports teams in the city.

The parent leaders who passed the resolution in District 2 said that the school system’s gender policies — which were adopted in 2019 — could lead to potential problems. At a meeting, some parents worried that their children could be disadvantaged or injured if transgender girls joined girls’ teams.

“This is an issue where our definitions of gender are continuing to evolve,” the council’s president, Leonard Silverman, said during the meeting.

“We can stick our head in the sand, and we can refuse to acknowledge that there are differences in athletes,” he said. “Or we can try to have an honest, open, transparent discussion about these issues.”

Other families questioned whether the parent council’s desire to review the polices about transgender athletes represents broader views within the district. The group received dozens of messages in opposition and only a handful in support in the lead-up to their meeting on the resolution, according to Gavin Healy, a parent on the council who voted against the proposal.

Alaina Daniels, a transgender educator who runs a local after-school program, said at the meeting that the proposal was part of a bigger threat. “Trans existence has long been a story of survival in the face of obstacles,” they said, adding, “We’re under attack in this very room.”

Mr. Simone, the assemblyman who signed the letter opposing the resolution, said in an interview on Monday that he was “personally outraged” by the council’s recommendation.

He said it “creates a conversation that is not needed,” and noted that city data shows one in three transgender youth in New York have “seriously thought about taking their lives.”

“I think they should be debating school issues,” said Mr. Simone, who represents parts of Manhattan including Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen and Midtown. “But this is not one of them. This is clearly a bigoted, targeted attack on one part of our community.”

The schools chancellor, Mr. Banks, has said that the city’s Education Department will not change its policies. He has criticized parent leaders for sending what he called an inappropriate message to transgender students.

“The language that we use as adults really matters,” Mr. Banks said at a town-hall meeting in Manhattan earlier this month.

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