Proposed bills in nearly a dozen US states seek to crack down on books and courses on LGBTQ+ themes
— State bills seek to ban ‘dividing’ books, teaching
– Proponents say parents should have more control
– LGBTQ+ rights activist slams ‘hostile rhetoric’
By Sydney Bauer
ATLANTA, Feb. 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — An American culture war over LGBTQ+ rights has been playing out on school sports fields and in doctor’s offices in recent years. Now the clash between liberals and conservatives is heading to classrooms across the country.
Rights activists and teachers are on alert over nearly a dozen bills to ban books and classes related to sexuality and gender identity, putting LGBTQ+ issues back in the political spotlight before the November midterm elections.
“Censorship in the classroom and beyond has always been a problem. However, these most recent bans have grown in volume and ferocity over the past year,” said Sarah Miller, program coordinator for the National Council of English teachers.
Since the start of 2022 alone, Republican lawmakers in 20 states have proposed legislation targeting textbooks, according to the legislative tracking service Freedom for All Americans.
Many proposals seek to curb the teaching of “critical race theory,” which rests on the premise that racial bias — intentional or unintentional — is embedded in American laws and institutions.
But 11 of the bills seek to give parents the right to challenge school curricula or ban teachers from engaging in “divisive” topics, which could include topics or books dealing with LGBTQ+ issues.
Proponents of the legislation say parents should have more of a say in their children’s education – potentially the overriding administrators, and that religious freedom means parents and students should be able to challenge certain documents.
“Parents should not only have the opportunity to speak about their child’s agenda, but in fact they have the right to direct their child’s education, and education is at the very heart of that right,” Meridian said. Baldacci, spokesperson for the Family Policy Alliance (FPA), a right-wing Christian lobby group.
“When schools begin to teach particular views on sexuality and other adult issues as if they were hard facts, parents can and should step in,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The school curriculum is the latest arena in a battle over LGBTQ+ rights that has revealed a growing divide between the more liberal and more conservative sides of the United States and between political rivals.
Last year, more than 120 bills targeting transgender rights were proposed in US states, primarily aimed at restricting access to gender-affirming sports and medical treatment for minors, according to the advocacy organization. LGBTQ+ rights Human Rights Campaign.
Teaching LGBTQ+-related books in the classroom has frequently sparked controversy in the United States.
In 2019, eight of the 10 most contested or banned American library, school or academic books contained LGBTQ+ content, according to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, a group that promotes library access and freedoms.
Bills currently in state legislatures target both the books themselves and the schools that make them available to students.
One, in Oklahoma, is proposing to impose fines on schools and librarians who continue to stock books challenged by parents.
In South Carolina, Texas and Utah, elected officials have sent letters to school districts asking them to investigate certain titles in school libraries.
A list in Texas includes more than 800 books, including “She/He/They/Them: Understanding Gender Identity” by Rebecca Stanborough, and “Honestly Ben,” by Bill Konigsberg.
Both books deal with teenagers navigating their sexuality or gender identity.
There has been a barrage of “hostile rhetoric and behavior targeting vulnerable young people and books about their lives,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, chief executive of the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ rights group, GLAAD, in a statement. release on state bills.
Proponents of the bill say the proposals are simply intended to represent the interests of parents on behalf of their children.
While schools wield authority in the educational context, parents know their children best and are understandably concerned about their well-being, which means they should have a say in what they learn, Baldacci said. of the FPA.
But teachers and school administrators fear legislative restrictions will intensify the pressures they face as the COVID-19 pandemic strains the education system.
“The addition of restrictive state laws, personal attacks on teachers and administrators, and arbitrary and time-consuming challenges impose additional burdens on teachers at a time when they are already stretched to their limits due to the pandemic,” said said Miller.
Critics say efforts to limit children’s reading material are likely to backfire anyway, citing examples of banned books – from DH Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ to Boris Pasternak’s ‘Doctor Zhivago’ – which have flourished thanks to prohibition.
In Kutztown, Pennsylvania, local students have started a “forbidden book club” meeting every two weeks at a local bookstore in the northeast state.
Heathcliff Lopez, an English teacher in the San Antonio, Texas area, said he specifically added titles, such as George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” included on a list of books to ban in schools established by Texas lawmaker Matt Krause.
“The only little silver lining is when you tell the students this book is on this list, or the district doesn’t want you to read this book, all of a sudden it’s the book I can’t. not keep on my shelf,” López said.
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(Reporting by Sydney Bauer @femme_ Thoughts; Editing by Helen Popper and Hugo Greenhalgh. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit http : //news.trust.org)
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