F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

The debate over accommodating transgender students in New Hampshire schools — which we saw take place at a Gilford School Board meeting on Monday night — doesn't have to be a zero-sum proposition.

There are those who feel strongly that allowing transgender students — a biological boy who now declares themselves to be a girl, for instance — to use shared bathrooms and locker rooms designated for the gender with which they identify is the right thing to do.

At the same time, there are others who are uneasy with the idea of allowing a student with the physical properties of a male who has now declared themselves to be female to use shared female facilities.

That debate has played out across New Hampshire and the Lakes Region in recent months, and will continue as more school boards work to bring their districts into compliance with a new state law that gives transgender the right to sue school districts for discrimination.

“We’ve given it a good amount of thought at open policy meetings and taken consideration of that input and made adjustments to the policy,” Gilford school superintendent Kirk Beitler said Tuesday. “Our practice has been to be inclusive of children and act out of concern for children.”

While the discourse at public meetings was respectful, the social media discussion was harsher and less tolerant.
That's unfortunate.
Things break down when those who hold one point of view believe they are so in the right that they deem those with whom they disagree not even worthy of being heard, and they vilify those who dare express contrary thought. That is the worst sort of identity politics, regardless of your position.

Everyone loses when society's contrarians are reluctant to speak out because they fear being shouted down, excoriated, or accused of bigotry or ignorance. Those who question aspects of inclusion policy shouldn't be afraid to speak out. At the same time, neither should they assume that making schools friendlier places for all students marks the demise of the educational system as they knew it. Such characterizations only undermine the validity of their own cause.

We believe it is possible to favor a policy to empower transgender students while also having misgivings about the effects such a policy might have on other students. Raising such questions doesn't automatically make someone unconcerned about students' welfare, and neither does embracing such a policy.

A good starting point in any debate about schools is to assume that those who favor something different – be it more foreign language teachers, a leaner budget, or changes to the curriculum – have the best interests of students in mind.

When it comes to public discourse over sensitive issues like gender, we should, as Fitzgerald suggests, strive to hold opposing ideas simultaneously. From there, people should be very slow to assume that those with whom they disagree have less than honorable motives, and we must insist on the highest standards of proof before drawing any such conclusion.

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