When it comes to LGBTQ rights, opponents always make it bout the children — or, more accurately, keeping the children in the dark. No wonder school boards are now the main battleground for the culture wars.
Across the nation, school boards have become the focal point for enraged conservatives to peddle misinformation about COVID, attack critical race theory and, of course, rant about trans children. As Vice puts it, “A good way to go viral right now is to act unhinged at a public school board hearing.”
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The question of mandatory masking in schools is the current focus of rants from parents and right-wing figures at school board meetings. But it’s also being jumbled up with teaching about racism and protecting trans students. It’s a grievance buffet.
A woman addressing a commission meeting in Johnson County, Kansas, said that “there is zero evidence that COVID-19 exists in the world” and vowed “you will not experiment on my children.”
Conservative commentator Clay Travis told a Tennessee school board that children were more likely to be hit by lightning than come down with coronavirus.
The result is an endless parade of ignorance, misinformation and just plain hatred.
“To allow a boy to pretend he is a girl, then use the girls’ bathroom and locker room and play on girls’ sports teams is insanity,” claimed Mark Egger while speaking at a school board meeting in Virginia, “and not only is it insane it’s also evil. A boy who thinks he is a girl is mentally ill and needs treatment for his mental illness.”
The meetings have become so volatile that police officers are now a common sight. Another school board meeting in Ashburn, Virginia, degenerated into chaos during a discussion about the rights of trans students, leading to cops arresting one audience member, while others heckled them.
The situation has become so bad that many school board members are simply giving up. Three members of a Wisconsin school board resigned on the same day, complaining that the board had “been dragged into partisan culture wars by some members of the board.”
Of course, that’s the point. Republicans see the culture wars as their ticket to winning more elections, with a little help from their voter suppression efforts.
That’s why politicians with national ambitions, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), have happily fanned the flames around school issues. DeSantis has barred schools from instituting any mask policy and is threatening to fine schools that refuse to follow his edict. His state is now has one of the highest case loads of COVID in the nation, leading one doctor to call it “a crisis of unprecedented proportions.”
In Tennessee, Republicans are also doing their best to stoke the anti-school board fury. Legislators there have introduced a bill aimed at teaching about racism.
The measure would prohibit courses that could make a student “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” In short, The White Boys Protection Act.
The resignations only play into the game plan. The Wisconsin school board members resigning left the door wide open for the remaining GOP members to stack the deck, and state Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R), the head of that county’s GOP party, has been actively seeking applicants. Dittrich also led the Wisconsin Legislature’s push to ban transgender girls from playing sports.
The religious right has mounted its own campaign seeking to recruit candidates to run for school boards.
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been going on for nearly half a century. Millions of Californians in the 1970s voted for a measure to ban gay teachers from schools. Anita Bryant built her homophobic reputation with a “Save Our Children” campaign.
How did that all work out? Anita’s granddaughter recently announced she’s getting married — to a woman.