Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano (R-Gettysburg) on Tuesday denounced guidelines the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has outlined for the treatment of controversial gender issues in public schools. 

The senator, who is running for governor against Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, particularly objected to recommendations that teachers consider utilizing nonconventional pronouns like “ne, ve, ze and xe” that some who claim to be neither male nor female have begun using to refer to themselves. Mastriano also criticized Governor Tom Wolf (D) and PDE for denying the link between biological sex and the gendered terms (i.e., male and female) that correspond to it. 

Wolf’s guidelines include a glossary listing terms like “genderqueer,” defined as “a broad descriptor many people use to indicate a person does not identify as either male or female,” and “gender identity,” which means “how we feel about our gender in our hearts and minds.”

“The department touts the left’s twisted vernacular as objective fact, while the governor’s Democratic allies demonize parents as too bigoted to teach their own children about these sensitive topics,” Mastriano said in his statement. “We can teach kids to be tolerant, accepting and kind to others – no matter what – without indoctrinating an entire generation.”

The two-term lawmaker and retired Army colonel said legislation is needed to stop Pennsylvania’s executive branch from foisting contentious gender policy on the state’s students. He cited his own “Parental Bill of Rights” which he introduced last November but which has not received consideration from the Senate State Government committee. 

Upon announcing that measure, he noted that 12 other states have laws recognizing the rights of parents or guardians to maintain primary control over their children’s upbringing, medical care and schooling. His proposal would ensure that parents could review all of their children’s scholastic records and all instructional materials to which the children would be subjected. It would also give parents the ability to opt out the student from curricular components the parent deems “objectionable or harmful.” 

Mastriano also mentioned legislation he is co-sponsoring with State Senator Scott Martin (R-Strasburg) that would ban Pennsylvania classrooms from teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation to students who haven’t reached sixth grade and require schools to disclose information on such instruction to parents.

Martin’s policy has passed the Senate with the support of all 28 Republicans, the chamber’s one Independent and none of 21 Democrats. The measure has yet to receive a committee vote in the House of Representatives. 

To Mastriano, the proliferation of gender-theory content in schools distracts from more important instruction in basic academic proficiencies, much of which students have missed as a result of school closures and remote schooling that were implemented after COVID-19 hit two years ago. 

“Our schools need to focus on closing the learning gaps that worsened as a result of the governor’s ill-advised pandemic school closures, not forcing elementary-age children to engage in inappropriate conversations about gender identity,” Mastriano said. “It is up to parents, not the state, to engage with their children on these complex social issues and I will never stop fighting for their right to do so.”

PDE spokesperson Casey Smith told The Pennsylvania Daily Star via email that the department is confident its gender guidelines are beneficial to students.

“The children who attend our schools represent the diverse backgrounds and cultures of our commonwealth, and that includes Pennsylvanians with various gender identities and expression,” Smith wrote. “It is incumbent upon us to support ALL learners, and make them ALL feel welcome in their schools and communities. This commonwealth was founded on the principles of inclusion and belonging, and we must ensure that we continue to make our neighbors feel safe.”

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].