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How comments will help decide LGBTQ proposal

Posted at 7:26 PM, Mar 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-29 07:12:57-04

The State Board of Education's proposal to let students choose their own gender identity has already drawn more than 4,600 comments from the public.

In comparison three other proposals on the board's website have a combined total of 49 comments. That's part of the reason the board is giving the public an extra month to make their opinions heard.

The proposal suggests letting students choose their gender identity including the bathroom they use and the sports teams they play for.

When her son transitioned to his current gender Nicole Ellefson pulled him out of school because there weren't enough protections in place.

"We were really concerned about his safety," she explained. "I can't tell you how heartbreaking it is."

It's unsettling for Ellefson that a policy aimed at making schools safer for LGBTQ students is getting lots of attention online, and most of it isn't positive.

"We're going to fix and listen to the public and respond to the rightful concerns of parents," said State School Board President John Austin.

Austin is stressing the current proposal is just a draft and the guidelines as written now would be voluntary. Plus he says one of the reasons the board is looking at implementing them is Title IX, a federal law requiring gender equity in public education.

"We're not recommending that everybody be thrown together willy-nilly in bathrooms," he said. "We're recommending and we want to make this much more clear that every young person, gay or straight or transgender has a comfortable, safe place for the bathroom."

But Austin says more protections are needed for LGBTQ student, especially since they're nearly 4 times as likely to commit suicide and twice as likely to be physically bullied at school.

"We as Michigan do not want to send a message that we're anti-gay and we don't believe these kids exist and don't have the same right," Austin said. "What kind of message do we want to send about whether whether we celebrate, elevate, support these young people or do we want to shove them back in the closet and or put them at risk of ending their lives?"

If the State Board of Education passes the guidance as is, some Republican lawmakers say they'd be willing to block it in the legislature.

"I want a clarification that parents will be involved in any decision making," said Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge).

Jones says he doesn't want students to be bullied and he believes the best way to avoid that is having a separate, gender neutral bathroom.

"A proposal to put boys in the girls bathroom or showers, I would object to that," Jones said.

Ellefson calls that a step backwards.

"The level of hatred and bullying that each of these kids are experiencing everyday, if anyone of us had to live and walk a day in that person's shoes I think that they would be appalled," she said.