Republicans are as eager as ever to find new ways to demonize and isolate LGBTQ+ people, including—and especially—youth. We’ve watched Republicans rally against trans youth (and specifically, trans girls) having the opportunity to participate in sports teams that match their gender identity, in addition to trans youth using bathrooms and locker rooms they feel most comfortable in. We’ve followed the ongoing Don’t Say Gay bills (and laws) and the coordinated anti-queer and anti-people of color book ban efforts happening in both public school classrooms and public libraries.
Republicans are also, perhaps unsurprisingly, rallying against inclusive sex education in public schools. Our latest example comes to us from Michigan, where conservative groups like Moms for Liberty and Let Them Be are trying to encourage parents to opt their students out of LGBTQ-inclusive sex education in public schools, as reported by Romper.
Something to note? Parents can actually already opt their minors out of sexual education in the school district. So what’s the change? This new mission (called the Great Schools Initiative) goes far beyond what’s taught in health classes: Parents could “opt-out” students from seeing a Pride flag or Pride stickers in the classroom, regardless of the subject, for example. And somehow, it doesn’t stop there.
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Supporters of the so-called Great Schools Initiative (GS) want parents to be able to opt students out of hearing Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) groups mentioned during school announcements or a public platform within the school. It would also allow parents to pull students from discussions involving pronouns with teachers or staff.
Is there more? Oh, yes, per Popular Information. In the name of “parental rights,” GSI activists want parents and guardians to be able to guarantee their child won’t be exposed to things like Pride Week at school or schoolwide activities that include conversations or educational opportunities about queer history and queer identities.
They also don’t want books available in classroom libraries that include storylines or references to queer people, including same-sex relationships, trans folks, and any sort of sexual activity. They also don’t want teachers to discuss gender-neutral bathrooms, much less direct anyone to use one.
And again: This is in public school districts. And if you’re wondering how parents can really accomplish this—how does one spare just one student from a schoolwide Pride event, for example—I think it’s a reality that these folks don’t want it to make sense. They want people riled up.
Thankfully, plenty of people in Michigan see this “parental rights” discourse for what it is: smoke and mirrors.
In an interview with The Michigan Advance, parent Brittnee Senecal stressed that anti-queer policies such as these will “harm people” and “put children’s health and safety at risk.” Senecal, who serves as a member of the Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools, added to the outlet that if these hate groups succeed, it’s possible we’ll see a worsening effect of “real-world challenges,” like teen pregnancy.
Notably, these GSI folks aren’t pushing this issue as an attempt to change state law … yet. Instead, they’re trying to circulate a form that would let parents opt out of queer-inclusive sexual education, but would actually accomplish the points addressed above. It’s a roundabout way of trying to silence LGBTQ+ students and staff and to send a message to queer youth (and allies) that there’s something inherently wrong or inappropriate with them.