Bias Watch

Hare-brained scheme in Michigan seeks to erase LGBTQ+ identity in schools

Missouri, LGBTQ, safe space stickers, teachers, schools
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A newly formed far-right wing group in Michigan is taking a page out of the election-denial playbook with a plan to flood Michigan school boards with false documents akin to the fake electors scheme in 2020, which sought to award made-up electoral votes to Donald Trump and hand him the presidency.

In this case, the goal is to erase all references to LGBTQ+ identity from Michigan public schools.

The scheme, concocted by a new group posing as a state-sponsored education initiative, was first reported by Judd Legum with Popular Information and revolves around a fake “opt-out” form the group plans to distribute to Michigan parents in February.

That paperwork, which organizers have crafted to appear “official”, purports to give parents the option to opt their children out of any instruction, policy, program, event or discussion that references LGBTQ+ identity, from traditional sex education classes and gender-neutral bathrooms to non-heterosexual storylines in novels and proximity to gay Pride flags or rainbow-themed stickers.

The Great Schools Initiative (GSI), founded by three Michiganders in September 2022, seeks to exploit Michigan schools’ sex education class opt-out that gives parents the choice of pulling their kids from traditional sex-ed instruction “without penalty or loss of academic credit.” By law, if parents think their children have not been sufficiently shielded from that instruction, they can embark on an appeals process all the way up to the Michigan Supreme Court.

GSI’s founders hope to fool parents, administrators, school district lawyers, and judges into thinking parents’ complaints based on GSI’s form are the same as those based on the letter and spirit of the actual opt-out policy.

The group’s founders include Nathan Pawl, the CEO of a network security company, and Monica Yatooma, a director at a medical waste company.

GSI is funded by far-right wing advocacy group The Thomas More Society, which itself is financed by a group of mostly secret donors, among them the Leo J Dreiling & Albina Dreiling Charitable Trust, a family foundation that donated $250,000 to The Thomas More Society in 2021.

In a January 19 Zoom meeting and presentation, GSI co-founder Pawl outlined the strategy. The group’s goal was to have “20, 30, 50, or 100 parents per school” start “dropping off the opt-out forms” next month. The uprising will “be too much for them to handle,” and in order to comply with GSI’s opt-out form, which Pawl mistakenly believes school districts in the state would be obligated to do, the only option would be “to transform our schools.”

At a meeting on October 26, held at Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church in Southfield, MI, The Thomas More Society’s Erick Kaardal said GSI would pursue “asymmetrical lawfare” to overwhelm the public schools.

It’s the same tactic Kaardel and The Thomas More Society tried in 2020 with their support of efforts to overturn the presidential election. Kaardel sued former Vice President Mike Pence, the United States Senate, and dozens of other entities on behalf of a large collection of fringe groups demanding the certified results of the election be thrown out.

State legislatures were encumbered from executing the will of the people by unauthorized state officials, the lawsuit stated, including submitting so-called “alternate slates” of state electors who voted in favor of Donald Trump.

“This wholesale delegation of legislative authority operates contrary to the Constitution by inviting ‘cabal, intrigue and corruption’ rather than operating to prevent the same,” the filing stated without a hint of irony.

The lawsuit was dismissed with a stinging rebuke.  

Editor’s Note: This article incorrectly identified one of the founders of GSI. It has been corrected.

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