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Sexual and Gender Identity Indoctrination in Elementary Schools Isn't a Conspiracy Theory

AP Photo/Denis Poroy

This is starting to remind me of the Critical Race Theory debate, in which leftists loudly insist that radical, racialized curricula do not exist. American school kids aren't being indoctrinated with CRT or CRT-adjacent poison, they claim, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar and probably a racist. This is a typical entry in the denialist genre, which has also been embraced by various Democratic political leaders: 


When quite a lot of evidence is marshaled demonstrating that CRT is, in fact, being pushed in schools (here's the latest update), the denialists either ignore said evidence and continue their mindless chanting – or they clarify that the racialized curricula in question is affirmatively good, actually. A similar phenomenon is playing out on sexual orientation and gender identity instruction. When Florida enacted its parental rights/LGBT law, opponents mischaracterized it repeatedly. But because the central provision most often discussed and debated (barring instruction on these issues in K-3 classrooms) is widely supported by the public, the critics lost the debate, in spite of their shrill, falsehood-laden campaign. I've written about why I ultimately found other elements of the legislation to be problematically vague, and despite having a substantive and respectful exchange with Gov. Ron DeSantis about it, some of those concerns remain intact.

Similarly-structured proposals in other states – which go well beyond focusing on shielding the youngest cohort of students from such material, or go much further in squelching even anodyne things such as, say, a high school teacher acknowledging his or her spouse in passing – are less defensible than Florida's version, in my view. Opponents took their first big crack at defeating these types of laws in Florida, and they did so stupidly. Their slogans and talking points were rife with inaccuracies and demagoguery, and they dialed the outrage up to eleven over a core policy that lopsided majorities of voters favor. Because of these missteps, they very well may be less effective in combating demonstrably worse versions elsewhere.

Another self-inflicted problem they've created for themselves is indulging in CRT-style denialism. They portray parents and political leaders concerned about sexual and gender identity classroom instruction for young children as weird paranoiacs. They pretend such things aren't happening, and that legislative pushback amount to random spasms of bigotry from bored culture warriors. But as we've seen on the racial front, many of these objections are not simply invented out of whole cloth. Some of this stuff is being advanced in elementary schools. Take, for instance, this report out of New Jersey: 


You can argue that it's perfectly acceptable to teach young children about gender identity in schools, if you wish. That's an unpopular position, but people are entitled to their opinions. You cannot, however, argue that none of this is occurring and that it's all a right-wing fever dream. After I shared the New Jersey example on Twitter – note that it entails statewide guidelines, not some one-off community – a reader reached out and shared this document from a school district in Massachusetts: 

"When Aiden became a brother" is a lesson plan for third graders, who are roughly eight years old. It is beyond reasonable for parents to want to oppose this sort of thing, and smearing them as hateful people whose views will "kill trans kids," or whatever (I reflected on the overheated rhetoric flying around on this front last week), is a very effective method of alienating them, getting crushed in the realm of public opinion, and ushering in a wave of  "anti-LGBT" legislation. On that score, I'll leave you with two observations that – whether some LGBT advocates want to hear them or not – channel what quite a lot of Americans are feeling at the moment: 


These sentiments can be hand-waved away as manifestations of bigotry, but that would be unfair and counter-productive. Some of the greatest successes of the LGBT rights movement were rooted in "leave us alone"/"live and let live"/"our love doesn't affect you" appeals to Americans' innate sense of fairness. Quite a lot of people who are broadly ambivalent-to-supportive on LGBT issues also do not want this material taught to first graders in public schools. They resent enforced celebration and retaliatory purges. LGBT advocates have spent a lot of time pushing back against "slippery slope" arguments over the years. Confirming some of those very warned-against fears, in very short order, isn't a great way to build lasting trust and mutual respect (which, admittedly, must be a two-way street; real bigotry and intolerance are still much too prevalent). The point is that pendulums swing. Pushing people very far, very fast – gaslighting them until the very moment the gaslighting is no longer operative – risks a pendulum swing. And when the swing arrives, it's yet another form of denialism to then look around, bewildered, and rage at the other side's "culture warriors" who've seemingly arisen out of nowhere to "attack" your community. 


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