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Republicans are using an anti-LGBTQ playbook to squash cultural studies programs

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Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Photo: Shutterstock

Trump’s Department of Education has threatened to pull hundreds of thousands in federal funds from the Duke-University of North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies because the consortium doesn’t emphasize “positive aspects” of Judaism and Christianity in the region enough for Trump’s liking, according to The New York Times.

It’s rare that the federal government ever steps in to disrupt college educational programs, but the move by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos represents a larger Republican aim to stop “perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education.”

Related: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says she knew her actions would harm trans students

As gay political analyst Mark Joseph Stern writes at Slate, “[The Department of Education] puts forth no evidence that the consortium depicts Judaism — or Christianity or any other religion — negatively. Rather, the agency seems to believe that a mere focus on Islam inherently demeans other religions.”

Disturbingly, the administration’s call here for “balance” echoes earlier moves by GOP officials to end educational programs about LGBTQ and Latinx people.

In 2007, Arizona GOP legislators passed a law banning ethnic studies classes — a law that was later struck down on free speech grounds — in response to a Mexican-American studies high school course that they felt taught an “anti-American” “kind of destructive ethnic chauvinism.”

In 2014, “South Carolina Republicans slashed funding for colleges that assigned LGBTQ-themed books,” Stern writes. “A GOP legislator explained that the literature ‘was about promoting one side’ over the other.” In 2016, a Wisconsin Republican legislator opposed a public university’s course on “The Problem of Whiteness” — a class which examined the role of white skin color in identity politics — because it would increase “polarization of the races in our state.”

“Promoting,” in this case, means acknowledging that it even exists.

Stern worries that Duke University, the University of North Carolina and other schools might cave to conservative pressure to drop such courses (or not offer them to begin with) rather than face the public backlash, political battles and legal challenges that the GOP might raise.

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