You can hate Arizona Sen. John Kavanagh, but he's right about schools and pronouns

Sen. John Kavanagh sits at his desk during the opening session of the 56th Legislature on Jan. 9, 2023, in Phoenix.
Sen. John Kavanagh sits at his desk during the opening session of the 56th Legislature on Jan. 9, 2023, in Phoenix.

Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of the column misspelled Phoenix New Times.

To the chattering classes, Senate Bill 1001 looks like just another bigoted attack on LGBTQ people by one of the old reptiles in the Arizona Legislature.

The Arizona news media have largely framed Sen. John Kavanagh’s bill as an assault on school children who do not identify with their gender “assigned at birth.”

Judging by the tone of coverage, the bill is transphobic on its face, and Katie Hobbs’ chief of staff has already tweeted that it is “dead on arrival” should it ever reach the governor’s desk.

This is all muscle memory for liberal media and Democrats. Both have long regarded Kavanagh as the kook in the Capitol attic. Ten years ago, Phoenix New Times was asking in a headline, “Is John Kavanagh Arizona’s Worst Legislator?

Thus, it will likely come as shock to all that Kavanagh is on to something important, and they (to put it in their own vernacular) are on the wrong side of history.

Kavanagh's bill is about parental rights

Kavanagh’s bill isn’t an assault on transgender youth, but a defense of parents’ rights to know when public schools start the process of transitioning their child to another gender.

The bill would prohibit public school officials from referring to a student under age 18 by a first name or pronoun that doesn’t “align” with “the student’s biological sex” unless – and this is the key part – they have written permission from the parent.

As amended, nicknames associated with the student’s name of record would be allowed.

'Lives on the line':Students gather to protest anti-LGBTQ bills

Further, school employees would never be forced to refer to a person by a pronoun “that differs from the pronoun that aligns with that person’s biological sex” if it violates the employee’s own “religious or moral convictions.” More on this second part later.

The first part of the bill on parental consent is not a solution in search of a problem. The problem is real. Parents across America have been cut out of the decision-making process when schools start calling their children by different pronouns and inviting them to use opposite sex bathrooms.

This isn't a theoretical issue

If you need proof, The New York Times – no friend to Kavanagh and his strong brew of socially conservative politics – talked to dozens of parents who were left in the dark when schools started helping children change their gender identity.

This public school secrecy has provoked lawsuits in Massachusetts, Florida, Wisconsin, Kansas, Virginia and Maryland, the Washington Post reports. Kavanagh’s bill would attempt to preempt the problem before it rises in Arizona.

In other states across the country, “parents of all political persuasions have found themselves unsettled by what schools know and don’t reveal,” The Times reported.

“Unsettled” is putting it lightly.

Many parents are furious that schools have decided they can’t be trusted with information essential to the development and future well-being of their child. “It felt like a … stab in the back from the school system,” one parent told The Times. “It should have been a decision we made as a family.”

Approach to transgender care is changing

No doubt, many of these public schools are well meaning when they defer to children who don’t want their parents to know. They fear the child may face abuse at home. But they are wrong to cut out parents.

What should infuriate everyone in our society and provoke much tougher coverage of the public schools is that modern medicine is moving away from the “affirmative care” model of treatment that undergirds schools’ foolish practice of leaving parents out of the loop.

“Affirmative care” (as opposed to “watchful waiting”) assumes that if children say they are not the gender by which the world now sees them, that’s enough to lead them to the on-ramp of gender transition, which can mean a lifetime of drug treatment – first with puberty blockers and then cross-sex hormones and possibly body-altering surgery, such as double-mastectomies.

Affirmative care is still the standard in the United States, but a number of leading authorities in U.S. transgender medicine, including doctors and therapists who are themselves transgender, have begun to cast serious doubt on its efficacy.

Further, in western Europe, some of the most progressive nations in the world, including France, Sweden, Finland and England, have moved away from affirmative care to a far more cautious approach to treating youth who struggle with gender.

Schools should not start a social transition

Americans need to know this because it tells us why it’s wrong for public schools to begin without parental knowledge or input the social transition of a child who exhibits signs of gender dysphoria.

The Mayo Clinic defines gender dysphoria as “the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.”

Decades ago, advanced nations in western Europe and North America began following what is called the Dutch protocol after doctors in The Netherlands aggressively launched the treatment of gender transition with early childhood intervention and puberty blockers.

In recent years the research behind the Dutch protocol and the affirmative care model have faced hard scrutiny from frontline doctors and therapists who are blowing the whistle on both.

What they have found is that many of the children who were diagnosed with gender dysphoria were also suffering from a wide spectrum of mental and emotional problems that were going untreated and thus provoking doubts about gender. Many of these patients turned out not to be transgender.

In other words, U.S. public schools that begin transitioning students with new pronouns could be working against the psychological and emotional needs of the child. To do that without the input of parents or their children’s therapists is an abomination.

Wisconsin teacher says, 'I'm your mom now'

Adding gas to the fire, The Times‘ story described this evidence from a lawsuit filed against a Wisconsin school district: A teacher had posted a flyer at school that read, “If your parents aren’t accepting of your identity, I’m your mom now.”

To which every parent should respond, “Great, you can start paying for her clothes and food and start saving for her college education. You can drive her to school and the pediatric clinic and hold her hand when she’s sick. Oh, and by the way, we just spent $278 on new eyeglasses. Where do we forward the bill?”

The affirmative treatment of juvenile gender dysphoria in the early 21st century appears destined to become one of the great medical scandals of the century. Every year brings more and more young people who regret their transition. And they’re arriving with lawyers.

The Times of London reports that as many as a 1,000 families are expected to join a medical negligence lawsuit “alleging vulnerable children have been misdiagnosed and placed on a damaging medical pathway.”

U.K. whistleblowers and media are about four years ahead of the United States in exposing this scandal, but when it blows here the fallout is likely to strike the political left that has promoted the trans-activist agenda at every turn.

The political implications of icing out parents

To understand the political implications of this, read the comments on the aforementioned story in The New York Times, a newspaper whose readership is by-and-large liberal.

Here are just four samples of what Times readers chose as the best reader comments:

  • “This is where you lose people like me, the self-identifying liberals. As a parent of young adults, I can’t fathom the idea that I would not be included in the discussion of how my child identifies at school.”

  • “Dear Fellow Democrats, Do you want to win elections? 1. We win on abortion rights. 2. But we will lose on gender identity. Especially if we allow the state (the school system) to trump the rights of parents over their minor children, and to hide things from parents.”

  • “Concealing the name and pronoun changes of an 11-year-old from the parents? Utter madness. I’d be homeschooling these days.”

  • “I’m on the left, live in a liberal borough, and have a non-binary child in a public school. It’s laughable that school administrators and counselors think that they can (make) more informed decisions than parents. Their overreach is disturbing. I don’t like (Florida Gov. Ron) DeSantis at all, and I will not vote for him, but he’ll win (the) presidency on this issue alone.”

Must employees be forced to use pronouns?

The second part of Kavanagh’s bill proposes that school employees should not be forced to use students’ new names and pronouns. I think Kavanagh should have left this out, though I understand the logic.

Bill critics have argued this contradicts the first part of his legislation. If parents have granted schools permission to use the child’s new pronouns, doesn’t this violate the parent’s rights?

No. Parents have the right to know the school is accommodating their child’s change of gender. Parents should not have a right to compel school employees to use those pronouns.


Because transgender activists, a tiny fraction of transgender adults who represent roughly 0.5% percent of the U.S. population, demand that everyone bend the English language to accommodate them.

This might have been practical had they proposed a simple way to do this. They have not. They want everyone to adapt to their garden of proliferating pronouns. To do otherwise is to risk “misgendering” them and causing grave offense.

Kavanagh should've left this part out

Nonetheless, if I were Kavanagh, I would have left school employees out of the bill. It complicates the issue of a parent’s right to know, which should be obvious.

Schools should not be deciding that a child’s gender dysphoria means the child is transgender. It’s not up to schools to make those medical diagnoses and then begin the social transition to a new gender.

That requires a professional therapist and, without question, the involvement of parents.

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Sen. John Kavanagh is right about schools and pronouns