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One of the most controversial and reviled of Catholic documents is Pope Pius IX’s 1864 “Syllabus of Errors,” a long list of popular opinions that the Roman pontiff strongly condemned. Placing the document within its proper historical context, Pius XI was concerned by developments in such countries as the United States, where Catholic education was increasingly restricted under what were called “Blaine amendments.”

Among the “errors” Pius IX assailed in the document is the belief that “all public institutes intended for instruction… on the education of youth… should be fully subjected to the civil and political power at the pleasure of the rulers, and according to the standard of the prevalent opinions of the age.”

For such declarations, the pope was labeled by many as backward, ignorant, irrelevant, and absurd. Yet in light of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s “Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia Public Schools” perhaps Pius IX, who was concerned not only with religious freedom but protecting parental duties, was on to something.

Virginia’s “model policies,” drafted with input by various educational professionals and students, include, as the Prince William-Manassas Family Alliance notes:

  • Failure to use a transgender student’s preferred pronoun could subject teachers or students to disciplinary action.
  • Schools should help students make decisions about “gender identity” without parents being informed.
  • Students should be allowed to use the same changing facilities or overnight accommodations as those of a different biological sex based on “gender identity.” To do so would not require any substantiating evidence or that such identity has been asserted for any required duration.
  • School staff is warned not to question anyone entering a restroom.
  • School staff may need to report parents if students are “abused, neglected, or at risk of abuse or neglect” if they are being non-supportive of a child’s assertion of gender identity different than their sex at birth.

These policies follow the enactment of two bills by the Virginia General Assembly in 2020 (HB 145 and SB 161), which require the Virginia Department of Education to “draft model policies for the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools.” Those new laws mandate that school boards adopt newly developed policies like the above for the 2021-2022 school year. The staff of advocacy groups Equality Virginia and Side-by-Side claim the policies are what is “best for them [the students] and for their families.”

Some Virginia-based organizations have argued that perhaps such things are not in the best interest of Virginia families. The Virginia Catholic Conference notes:

If VDOE approves the draft policies, they would undercut parents’ involvement in the life of their children at school, and endanger the bodily privacy and safety of all students. Take action to protect children and parental rights in public schools. … Schools should not be accommodating the especially harmful view that youth is an appropriate time to be encouraging, in some cases, irreversible ‘gender transitions.’

The “model policies” represent an attempt by the state not only to aggressively intervene in the privacy of Virginia families but pit children against their legal guardians. “Even if your parents don’t believe you…. Nothing invalidates who you are,” says trans activist Gavin Grimm during a round-table YouTube video in which Virginia First Lady Pamela Northam participated.

Grimm, it’s worth noting, is a transgender student who sued his county school board with support from the American Civil Liberties Union because of their “discriminatory” bathroom policy. Yet the proposed “inclusive” policies — which implicitly suggest that parental concern about gender dysphoria among elementary school-aged children could constitute abuse or neglect — also represent a revision in how the state understands its responsibility towards children.

As Abigail Shrier argues in her recent book “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters

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,” there is a not-insignificant difference between the gender dysphoria experienced by an independent adult and that experienced by a young child under the care and guardianship of adults. In the former case, decisions to identify as someone different than his or her biological sex and even undergo various chemical treatments and surgeries may ultimately be regretted and mourned, but they remain decisions made by someone viewed as legally responsible for his or her own choices.

Not so in the latter. Children live under the guardianship of adults (such as parents or grandparents) precisely because they lack the maturity, prudence, and experience to make safe, responsible decisions for themselves.

When gender dysphoria is in the mix, those decisions can have life-long consequences. For females who decide to transition to males, Shrier offers a long list of concerns. “Transgender-identified women are given a dosage of testosterone ten to forty times greater than their bodies would normally bear to produce the changes they seek,” increasing the risk of heart attack by as much as 500 percent.

Many biological effects caused by hormone therapy cannot be reversed — ever. “Long-term effects include heightened rates of diabetes, stroke, blood clots, cancer, and, as we’ve seen, heart disease. In general, mortality risk rises,” Shrier notes. Gender transitions also involve major surgeries that can result in sterility and other irreversible negative biological effects. Nor is there any evidence from long-term studies that medical transitions reduce gender dysphoria or suicidality.

Even more concerning is there is little scientific research investigating those who regret their gender transitions and seek to reverse them, nor is there the resultant psychological outcomes stemming from such regret. “The mental health establishment seems not to want to know about them,” observes Shrier, noting that the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-5 has absolutely no criteria related to remission regarding gender dysphoria.

Parents, rightly, might then be concerned about their grade-school-aged children being exposed to transgender ideology in their schools. True, perhaps as adults, their children will decide to pursue a transgender life in all its intricacies. Yet it’s another thing entirely to have such ideas impressed upon kids whose frontal lobes are severely underdeveloped, who are trying to navigate complex, difficult relationships with peers, and who (we should remember) are in a state-run institution oriented primarily towards educating them to be intelligent, productive citizens.

Shrier argues that the American family “finds itself set in a society that increasingly regards parents as obstacles, bigots, and dupes.” Virginia’s “model policies” certainly seems to be a piece of that societal transition. Pius IX warned that we should fear a society in which the education of our children is subject not to the decisions of parents, but the whims of the state. Will the Old Dominion, who once so doggedly protected such freedoms, prove his fears right?

Casey Chalk is a Senior Contributor at The Federalist, columnist for The American Conservative, Crisis Magazine, and The New Oxford Review. He has a bachelors in history and masters in teaching from the University of Virginia, and masters in theology from Christendom College.



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