Election 2024

Transphobia rules education segment of 2nd GOP debate

Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis participates in the first debate of the GOP primary season hosted by FOX News at the Fiserv Forum on August 23, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo: Getty Images

Transphobia was on full display at the second Republican presidential debate as longshot candidates discussed so-called “parent’s rights” and gender-affirming care for trans youth.

Anti-LGBTQ+ responses came from former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Pence dodges question on stopping anti-LGBTQ+ violence

The Fox News co-moderator asked Pence, “The Department of Homeland Security warns that violence against LGBTQ+ people is on the rise and intensifying according to a recent study, members of that community are nine times more likely to be victims of violent hate crimes. As president, how would you protect this community from violent attacks and discrimination?”

Pence responded, “I’ll stand up for the safety and the civil liberties of every American from every background.” He has consistently opposed any expansion of LGBTQ+ civil rights throughout his entire political career. He then offered no more specifics before pivoting to discussing how some schools require a parental permission slip just to give children a Tylenol pill.

“But you could get a gender transition plan without notifying your parents? I weighed in with a foundation,” he said, referencing his transphobic group Advancing America Freedom. “That’s not bad policy — that’s crazy.”

“We’re going to stand up for the rights of parents, and we’re going to pass a federal ban on transgender chemical or surgical surgery anywhere in the country,” Pence continued. “We’ve got to protect our kids from this radical gender ideology agenda. And we’ve got to empower parents at the state level with the ability to choose where their kids go to school, whether it’s public, private, parochial, or home school. You empower parents, and our schools will straighten up and reflect our values and focus on the basics faster than you could possibly imagine it.”

Haley uses anti-LGBTQ+ dog whistles

In another exchange, a co-moderator asked Haley about school choice, which Pence mentioned in his answer. School choice is a Republican effort to downgrade public education and redirect taxpayer funds away from public schools and into religious, private, and home schools instead.

Haley said that American students have been underachieving in reading and civics and need to be caught up. She then used Republican anti-LGBTQ+ dog whistles about “parent’s rights.”

“We need complete transparency in the classroom. No parent should ever wonder what’s being said or taught to their child in the classroom,” she said. “We need to make sure that we have school choice so that there’s competition. We need to move all the programs from the federal government down to the states and let states decide what education looks like in their states.”

The so-called “parents’ rights” movement seeks to shut down racially- and LGBTQ+-inclusive learning environments, calling such inclusion a form of “woke indoctrination.”

Later she added, “We’ve got to get parents back included. We’ve got to quit spending time on this DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and CRT (critical race theory) and instead focus on financial literacy, on digital literacy, and on making sure that our kids know what they need to do to have the jobs of the next generation.”

DEI and CRT, two right-wing targets of “woke indoctrination,” often mean opposition to LGBTQ+- and racially-inclusive education. Some states have banned books that discuss racism or have LGBTQ+ characters. Several states have passed laws against CRT instruction in schools. CRT is a college-level critical framework for analyzing institutional racial injustice throughout history.

DeSantis touts Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law

The moderator then asked DeSantis about his Department of Education’s standards for teaching African-American history which stated that slavery taught Black slaves beneficial skills. After blaming the bad press over the standard on Vice President Kamala Harris, he said, “We need to stop playing these games. Here’s the deal. Our country’s education system is in decline because it’s focused on indoctrination. Denying parents rights. Florida represents the revival of American education.”

“We didn’t just talk about universal school choice we enacted universal school choice,” he said. “We didn’t just talk about Parents Bill of Rights. We enacted the Parents Bill of Rights. We eliminated critical race theory and we now have American civics and the Constitution in our schools in a really big way.”

The Parent’s Bill of Rights that DeSantis spoke of is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.’ It forbids LGBTQ+ instruction in K-8 classrooms, and only “age appropriate” queer instruction in 9-12 classrooms.

Ramaswamy goes full transphobe

Next, the co-moderator said to Ramaswamy, “Over 10.7 million students and over 18,000 public schools nationwide have the ability to change their identity without parental notification. [Former New Jersey] Governor [Chris] Christie told Stewart last week that he would pass a federal law to protect parental rights. Would you try to do the same?”

Foremost, the question is misleading. Many of the referred-to schools’ merely have policies allowing students to use pronouns, names, bathrooms, and locker rooms matching their gender identity without requiring the child to be outed to their potentially unsupportive parents.

Nevertheless, Ramaswamy responded, “I have to be very clear about this. Transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder. We have to acknowledge the truth of that for what it is…. In school, parents have the right to know.”

“The very people who say that this increases the risk of suicide are also the ones saying that parents don’t have the right to know about that increased risk of suicide,” he continued. “And I’m sorry, it is not compassionate to affirm a kid’s confusion. That is not compassion. That is cruelty.”

He continued, “And the fact that we allowed that to happen in this country is barbaric, so I will ban genital mutilation or chemical castration.” He then pledged to pass a federal parent’s rights law. Ramaswamy supports signing a federal bill that would ban minors from accessing gender-affirming healthcare. He has also criticized the LGBTQ+ movement for being a “cult” that is imposing its belief on kids and said he doesn’t want schools to accommodate trans students.

At the debate, he then said that he met two young women, Chloe and Katie, who are in their 20s and now regret getting double mastectomies and a hysterectomy. These two women are Katie Lennon and Chloe Cole, “de-transitioners” who have become right-wing media darlings for speaking against gender-affirming medical procedures for trans youth. Mastectomies, hysterectomies, and other irreversible surgeries aren’t conducted on trans minors.

In reality, a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that only 0.00002% of the U.S. adults who identify as transgender have permanently de-transitioned. This represents a very small minority.

DeSantis, the closest-polling candidate behind current frontrunner former President Donald Trump, is still more than 35% points behind him. The debate hardly mentioned him even though he is widely expected to win the Republican nomination.

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