Gender Ideology in 4-H Clubs

When I think about 4-H, I think about the time I spent in that organization decorating cakes and sewing pajama pants. These are not “stereotypically male” activities, but I took blue ribbons in both events at my county fair.

The directors of my 4-H program were also involved in a local homeschool co-op and local church ministries. The other students working on cake decorating skills and trying to sew without injuring ourselves were homeschooled and Christian.

It is not unusual for the entire membership of rural and suburban 4-H chapters to be entirely made up of homeschooled Christian students. The directors also reflect this demographic reality.

Recently the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture published a policy document directing the operation of all 4-H chapters. Within days the document was removed from the website and the governmental body has said that it wasn’t supposed to be publicly shared at this time. Why would the government say anything about the way 4-H chapters are run in the first place?

Because 4-H is actually a government program overseen by the Department of Agriculture.

This recent policy document came out after the Department of Agriculture adopted a nondiscrimination policy that specifically prevents any institution administering their programs from discriminating on the basis of “sex, gender identity (including gender expression), [or] sexual orientation.” 4-H chapters across the country had a brief look at the document before it was taken down from the Department of Agriculture website, but the exact same document exists online at the University of California Cooperative for Santa Barbara County website. That is where one of the four authors, Dr. Katherine E. Soule, works to positively transform the community by improving equality for marginalized groups.

As an effort to promote equality, and to avoid discrimination, the policy document tries to define all of the relevant terms and explain how they are to be applied. I encourage you to read the document.

The application of these definitions is internally inconsistent. At first the policy defines “sex” and “gender identity” as two separate things, but then it goes on to say that “4-H shall not” adopt policies that are based on “differences between transgender or intersex individuals and other individuals of the same sex (i.e. the same gender identity).”

In other words, sex and gender identity are the same thing when an individual declares them to be so. If an individual with a male sex has a female gender identity, then the 4-H chapter must treat that individual as if their sex is female. The gender identity supersedes the sex, and sex is now, in effect, defined by the gender identity.

This doesn’t work with the definition provided in the same document. It takes a huge shift to go from saying that “sex” and “gender identity” are two different things to saying that you must treat people as if they are the “sex (i.e. … gender identity)” they proclaim to be.

This policy doesn’t just require 4-H volunteers and directors to treat people as if they are the sex which matches their stated gender identity; it applies to youth members as well! This means that all 4-H participants will have to call individuals by the pronouns that match their gender identity (not their sex), will have to allow individuals into the sex-specific bathrooms that match their gender identity (not their sex), and must provide sex-specific housing arrangements (such as shared rooms) to individuals based on their gender identity (not their sex).

Nondiscrimination policies were designed to protect people from mistreatment. These policies don’t protect anyone from mistreatment; they impose an ideological position (that gender identity determines sex) on all 4-H participants. All individuals are permitted to join 4-H chapters everywhere and to participate in all events regardless of their gender identity. The only things that this policy addresses are those times when 4-H chapters have sex-specific bathrooms, locker rooms, and make sex-specific housing arrangements. If the authors of this nondiscrimination policy really believe that “sex” and “gender identity” are different things, then sex-specific bathrooms, locker rooms, and housing arrangements would not be a problem. This policy is not about correcting discrimination, it is about treating sex as though it is determined by gender identity.

As you and I continue to face the pressure to treat people in false ways (like using a female gender pronoun to address a male), we may be tempted to overreact. We cannot comply with the demand to tell lies. We must not deny biological reality. However, this does not mean that we should malign or mistreat individuals whose gender identity does not match their sex. We should continue to welcome these individuals to learn cake decorating and sewing skills right alongside us. We simply will not invite people of the opposite sex to use the sex-specific bathrooms, locker rooms, or beds right alongside us.