New Kansas Law negatively impacts students hoping to determine pronouns



“I just honestly hate myself and hate my parents for not being okay with it,” freshman Charlie Smith* said. “The reason why I hate myself it’s just because I feel like I disappointed my family. At school, I don’t feel comfortable when teachers use the wrong pronouns, but I just have to deal with it no matter what.”
Kansas House bill 2567 was signed by Governor Kelly on May 16, 2022. Section 27 states that “a non-academic test, questionnaire, survey or examination containing personal questions is not allowed without parental permission.” This section of the law prohibits teachers from having students fill out forms that include questions about preferred names and pronouns.
“I could see, mainly in teenagers whose parents don’t support them, especially if they’re already struggling “out” as it is, it can really increase what they might be struggling with,” Smith said. “And then they find out, my parents don’t support me on this, which breaks even more the bond that I have with them.”
Smith has a unique story of how their parents found out they are not cisgender and that they were using different pronouns at school than they did at home. They expressed concern for other students in a similar situation. Some students were able to find comfort at home, those like Smith, found allies in Room 636 with the Gender and Sexuality Alliance.
At a recent meeting of the GSA, student members discussed the difficulties they encounter at school. Without the private communication in a teacher survey, students must initiate that potentially stressful exchange. Some noted that when they don’t know how a teacher will react to them using a different name or pronouns, it is difficult to start that conversation. Coming out to a teacher was especially hard if the student is not “out” yet. Unfortunately, kids who can use their preferred name and pronouns in the classroom are sometimes called slurs, laughed at, and given dirty looks quickly and quietly enough for a teacher not to notice. Others who may want to identify themselves as a part of the LGBTQ+ community see these exchanges and must then summon courage to approach a teacher.
The GSA is a safe space for those who are comfortable enough to go to the meetings, but not everyone that needs that comfort is able to get it. Some feel they can’t join because they are burdened with schoolwork that needs to be done during AST. Others are fearful about joining because they don’t feel comfortable with so many people knowing, they are a member of the LGBTQ+ community. HB2567 stands up for parental rights; it has complicated life for some teens.
“This legislation prohibits teachers from surveying students about pronouns or other preferences of that nature,” said principal Dr. Katie Bonnema. “But it does not prohibit a teacher from acknowledging a student’s preference if it’s shared with them personally.”
Many students and staff lack clarity about the school’s policy and believe teachers are required to report any disclosures to counselors who would then be required to call parents. This assumptions leads to teachers taking inappropriate steps after a student asks them to use a different name or pronoun. The awkwardness, randomness and confusions lead to students feeling unsafe and uncomfortable in school. Student concerns about pronouns and protecting the vulnerable are mirrored by staff members. A counselor* explained the directions the counseling staff hopes teachers will adhere to.
“The direction that we were given as staff, is, if a student comes up and asks to have pronouns or a name that differs from what is in our Synergy system, then teachers are allowed to use that and respect that because we want the students to feel comfortable in our building,” a counselor said.
Although some staff members continue to misinterpret administrative directives regarding requests for unique pronoun usage and name changes, thecounselor added that there were strategies in place to help students feel more comfortable.
“So, there’s a number of things that probably need to be addressed, first would be talking to our staff about our LGBTQ community, and how to support our students in that community,” the counselor said. “It’s hard with the student population so I would hit the GSA first, just because they know who their friends are that live in those pockets of communities that may not have been able to come ‘out’ yet. Then if teachers know the true intent of the district’s interpretation of the law they can say ‘hey, I know you’re struggling or I know that you’d like somebody to talk to you, here’s what that looks like.’”
The compassion displayed by the counseling staff and many staff members benefits kids. Teachers and staff not being able to ask students their pronouns put kids in the awkward position of having to take the initiative to approach adults even when they don’t feel safe. The quandary of the new restrictions leaves both staff members and students looking for workable solutions.
“Obviously we can’t just break the law. But like, what can we try to do? I would like to say talk some sense and that wouldn’t work,” said Smith. “‘Cause if I did anything my dad, still no matter what, wouldn’t accept it, but counselors could give them [parents] stuff to look at, research and access to information on how they see this negatively affecting people.”
The staff meetings, school district protocols and teacher strategies discussed by staff members impact students directly. Yet, teens often know more about this issue than adults. They can be an invaluable resource and consideration should be given to include them in discussions and planning of policies that directly affect them.
“Kids are treated as if they know nothing about their identity until the moment, they turn 18,” freshman Jesse White* said. “A lot of the time, kids will know, or at least have a vague idea of who they are from a very young age, like five-years-old. But they’re still treated like, ‘oh, you’re not 18 yet, you don’t know s***.’ It’s just very harmful because part of growing up is exploring your identity. But it’s just treated like, ‘no, you can’t know anything about who you are’. Yeah, kids are seen as people that don’t know anything about anything. And so, parents end up having more control over their life.”
Teens want to have more of a say in who they are. Laws like HB2567 give parents more control over their child’s identity than the children themselves. To help kids feel safer being their authentic selves at school, BV West has a no tolerance for discrimination policy (that touches on gender identity, among other things), but not many teachers have the knowledge to highlight its importance or are now confused about how to handle pronoun and name changes. Unless discussed with students in classes or Advisory, there is no awareness that the policy exists, or how important it is.
“Well, I am okay, so I asked a teacher that I have recently. And she said, I had to talk to my dad about it,” Smith said. “And he basically just did not approve it. And he was like, ‘oh I’m not going to use those pronouns for you because it doesn’t make sense.’ He even said, ‘I understand people who are transgender to use those pronouns, but other people who use they/them pronouns for like nonbinary people.’ He does not understand, so I can’t use those pronouns at school, and that’s because he doesn’t approve. So, because my teacher said that I needed at least one parent to approve, and I can’t talk to my mom about it. So yeah, I can’t use those unfortunately.”
While teachers appear to have mixed messages about how to support students when it comes to personal gender information, students are caught in the middle of trying to be their authentic selves and feel protected from judgment at school or at home. Bonnema expressed support for students struggling with communicating their identity in either setting.
“So, if the student is not ‘out’ yet at home but is asking a teacher to refer to them by a different name, or pronouns in a class, that kind of puts them at risk by any one of the humans in that room to be outed,” Bonnema said. “We want to make sure we’re supporting them through that process, helping them connect with family and be able to help them prepare for that hard conversation.”
Some non-binary students appear to be trapped in the very definition of a “generation gap.” Parents can be confused, and even hostile, to the realities of their children not being a stereotypical teenager.
“It’s honestly, stupid. It’s just stupid how a parent has to be approved of it before,” Smith said. “Honestly, anyone. Parents just don’t understand, especially with parents that were taught differently as a kid. This is not okay.”

*Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, some of the sources for this story have chosen to remain anonymous.