If the reaction to Orange County Public Schools passing a policy preventing discrimination based on gender identity is any indication, transgender issues may have gone mainstream, but the topic remains extremely controversial.
Local 6 reported tensions ran high Tuesday in Orange County when hundreds of parents and students turned out over the plan. The policy also prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation, but adding gays and lesbians to the policy wasn’t as heavily debated as adding transgender individuals.
"It doesn't surprise me that that was a sticking point,” said Jennifer Marvin, a licensed mental health counselor who has counseled transgender children before.
Marvin also identifies as transgender.
"There are laws and rules that protect gay and lesbian people that don't protect transgendered people,” said Marvin.
The census doesn't track gender identity. As a result, the Census Bureau cannot say for certain how many transgendered people there are. But Orange County is joining a growing number of school districts across the country that have similar polices, including Osceola, Volusia, and nearly a dozen other districts in Central Florida.
Marvin said the key to successfully implementing the policies is respect.
“If they are presenting as a female, treat them as a female,” she said. “If they're presenting as a male, treat them as a male."
But some parents said school is no place for their kids to come face-to-face with transgender or gay students and staff.
"If a child chooses to identify with another gender, what does that mean to my student? And as a mom of my daughters, no one else is responsible for teaching them social policy, that's my job," said Vicki Mullens.
Volusia County passed the ordinance about a year ago and school officials are only aware of one transgendered student.