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Right-wing broadcaster targets decades-old LGBTQ+ school conference & gets it canceled

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Under the provocative franchise banner “Crisis in the Classroom,” right-wing local news giant Sinclair Broadcasting in January targeted a decades-old conference dedicated to addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ students and the faculty and school staff that educate them in private schools.

“There is, among a certain group of concerned parents, a belief that issues of gender expression and sexuality are not the appropriate purview of school conversation, discussion, and deliberation,” said Association of Independent Maryland & D.C. Schools (AIMS) executive director Peter Baily. “What happened this year… frankly, it’s never happened before in 25 years.”

Sinclair’s interstitial news offering, The National Desk, which sets the top-down conservative agenda for Sinclair’s local news broadcasts, ginned up the controversy with accusations that AIMS was “pushing an agenda” harmful to students and “in favor of educational leaders’ own beliefs.”

They cited the past participation of LGBTQ+ anti-suicide non-profit the Trevor Project, which has been accused, without evidence, by far-right conspiracy theorists of being an organization of child sex abusers devoted to “grooming” children. They also vilified the conference for having sessions questioning “why some parents push back on gender and sexuality inclusive education” and the “benefits” of distributing “pronoun surveys” to students.

The AIMS “Belonging in Gender and Sexual Identity” conference has been held annually for 25 years and was scheduled for mid-February at the St. Paul’s School for Boys in Baltimore County.

Sinclair published the story without comment from AIMS or any of the group’s affiliated schools. Instead, they let Angela Morabito, spokesperson for the Defense of Freedom Institute and press secretary for the Department of Education just before President Joe Biden entered the White House, explain why the AIMS conference is harmful to children.

“When you’ve got a conference at a school that’s teaching participants how to circumvent parents or how to tell parents they’re wrong about their own kids, you know that school is not putting students and families first,” Morabito told Sinclair’s Crisis in the Classroom reporter.

Speaking of parents, she added, “They are partners in learning, they are not opponents of learning.”

The former Heritage Foundation fellow and Fox News contributor said the AIMS conference aligns with a national trend of misplaced priorities where students are not being taught to be “productive members of society.”

AIMS executive director Peter Baily told the Baltimore Banner that angry emails, phone calls, and social media commentary soon followed and were amplified a few days later after Project Veritas, known for undercover “sting” operations on liberal targets, took Sinclair’s lead and published a photo of a questionnaire it said was distributed to a fifth-grade class at St. Paul’s.

The “identity inventory” worksheet asked students to describe themselves according to age, family structure, race and ethnicity, and provocatively, gender and sexuality. It was not mandatory, and students didn’t have to share their answers with anyone, a school official said.

In a series of messages to the St. Paul’s community, President Clark Wight was steadfast in his commitment to LGBTQ+ students and asked for kindness and inclusion.

“The St. Paul’s community is not insulated from the political and cultural difference that threaten to pull apart our country,” Wight said in one message following the publication of the fifth-grade worksheet. He invited families to share feedback with the administration.

He also made a spirited defense of St. Paul’s culture of “high tolerance” for civil discourse and disagreement, even as the school became the target of a social media onslaught obsessed with gender and sexuality.

“What we cannot tolerate is hate speech or bigotry in any form,” Wight wrote.  

Peter Baily, AIMS executive director, explained, “Within the broad category of health education for students, an independent school has significant latitude in terms of what it teaches, when it teaches, and how it teaches it.”

Nevertheless, the nonprofit’s leadership decided to cancel this year’s conference out of concern for student safety.

“We’re living in a challenging era for children and for adults,” Baily acknowledged. “We’re all working very hard to meet the moment.”

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