Fear-Based “Parental Bills of Rights” Are a Right-Wing Siege on Public Education

If the U.S. right wing has its way, educational programming during Women’s History Month will sideline Billie Jean King, Rosa Parks and Gloria Steinem in favor of Amy Coney Barrett, Nikki Haley and Condoleezza Rice. Trans athletes will be prohibited from participating in school sports. Comprehensive sex education classes that address gender identity, sexual preference, and gender identity will also be banned. What’s more, history classes that include a robust discussion of the racist foundation of the U.S. — referred to by conservatives as critical race theory (CRT) — will be prohibited.

“Every Republican-controlled state where a legislature is meeting is considering an educational gag order,” Vox reports. In some places, this has resulted in the banning of books like George Matthew Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, Angie Thomas’sThe Hate You Give LC Rosen’sJack of Hearts (And Other Parts). and Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir.

This has been adopted by many state legislatures. Florida lawmakers, for instance, have passed legislation that allows parents or guardians to be able to vote. sue school districts that provide information about sexual orientation or gender identity “in a manner that is not age appropriate.” What “age appropriate” actually means is never revealed, leaving it open to a wide variety of potentially discriminatory interpretations.

And that’s not all. Florida’s Parental Bill of RightsParents must be notified of the student’s caregivers before sex education begins. Students cannot enroll without parental consent. In addition, even if the adults sign the requisite forms, state law mandates that abstinence be stressed “as the expected standard.”

In the meantime, first two-and-a-half months of 2022, five states banned gender-affirming medical care, classifying it as child abuse, and two states — Oklahoma and Tennessee — are currently considering bills make illegal to bar conversion therapy, also called “reparative therapy,” a largely fundamentalist-driven counseling program to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association are two of the groups that oppose these efforts. They argue that this so-called therapy can cause distress, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in those who receive it.

This has not deterred GOP legislators, it is obvious.

Idaho lawmakers tried to make it earlier this year. a felonyFor a parent, guardian, physician to provide puberty blocking drugs or gender confirmation surgery on a minor child, or take the child out of state for such care. The measure is not mandatory. failedThe punishment suggested included life imprisonment and removal from the home of the child.

The right calls this an exertion of “parental rights,” and model billsTo elevate parental authority are being floated by the libertarian Goldwater Institute, a 34-year old organization with deep ties the Charles Koch Foundation and Donors Trust as well as many well-established conservative entities such the Cato Institute, Mercatus Center, and the American Legislative Exchange Council. (The Goldwater Institute didn’t respond to Truthout’sRequest an interview.

One legislative prototype, the Sunlight in Learning Act,In many states, it has been adopted. Every school must post on their website faculty training documents, classroom instruction materials, and information about in-school activities. Parents and other caretakers can also view every document and video. The goal, the institute’s website states, is to keep “radical politics” — which it defines as gender theory, Marxism and CRT — out of the classroom.

These attacks aren’t limited to the 50 states. Federally, Sen. Josh Hawley (R.-Missouri), has introduced a copycat Parents’ Bill of Rights ActParents or guardians can sue federally funded schools for denying them access to curricular materials and information from outside groups like Planned Parenthood. These groups are often brought in to run supplemental programs and assemblies. The act also gives adults the right to visit schools whenever they wish, allows them to sit in on classes, and allows them to review their child’s academic and medical records.

But despite its purported interest in all things academic, the right’s recent preoccupations have generally fallen into three main areas: comprehensive sex ed, the teaching of U.S. history and the participation of trans athletes in school sports.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, and Congresswoman Mary Miller (R.Illinois), who are the ranking members of the House Education and Labor Committee. Safety and Opportunity for Girls ActTo prohibit trans people from participating in sports. The act is in violation of Title IX of 1972 Education Amendments. This law mandates equal opportunities for girls and women in education. Trans students are explicitly excluded from school-based teams.

As you might expect, numerous groups on the right — Concerned Women for AmericaThe Eagle Forum, Family Research Council and Heritage Action for America — have lined up to support this legislation. Similarly, Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado), Andrew Clyde(R-Georgia), Doug Lamborn [R-Colorado], Yvette Herrell (“R-New Mexico”) and Marjorie Taylor-Greene (“R-Georgia”) are cosponsors. Their transphobic messaging was amplified by Fox NewsOther conservative media.

They seem to not be bothered by the fact that the bill is based on false assumptions about gender identity.

Katrina Karkazis, Global Health Justice Partnership, writes in The Lancet, states that, “policymakers who formulate sex categorizations and definitions overwhelmingly rely on biological features to ground membership.” Biological factors, Katkazis explains, hold appeal because “biology” and “science” sound both neutral and objective. Nonetheless, she writes, “biological definitions are at odds with the understanding that sex involves multiple biological and social factors.”

This is not enough to appease right-wing extremists who insist on a strict gender binary.

Day Al-Mohamed is an American writer, filmmaker, and disability policy expert based in Washington, D.C. He has also taught sex education. She says that current conservative campaigns — against CRT, sex education, trans athletes, as well as against COVID-19 proactive masks and vaccines — are predicated on a deep distrust of science and government, and infused with transphobia, racism and misogyny. “There is widespread opposition to COVID-19 vaccines, denial of climate change and misinformation about gender that is based on stereotypes about what it means to be a man or a woman,” she told Truthout. “Hot-button phrases like ‘protect the children,’ take advantage of people’s fears and get them mobilized.”

Pam Chamberlain is a long-standing scholar of right-wing politics in Massachusetts. She agrees with Al Mohamed and sees the root of conservative activism in social anxiety and deep-seated oppressive structures. “The right is responding to progressive social change. The U.S. is not a Christian-dominant state. There is tremendous economic worry and fear that immigrants are taking away ‘our’ jobs,” Chamberlain told Truthout. “This is coupled with COVID, with masks seen as another attempt by government to control people’s lives. Many also feel like they can’t control their children.” This, she says, provides fertile terrain for conservative activists. “When a right-wing group or leader comes in and says, ‘This is how you build social and political power.… This is how you save yourself and your country,’ many find the message extremely comforting.” Furthermore, it connects many dots, linking issues like COVID, CRT, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Martha Kempner, the blogger, Sex on Wednesday, notes that many people find change — any change – threatening, particularly given the realities of structural racism, homophobia, transphobia and sexism. “Two decades ago, marriage equality was [the right’s]They lost on the issue. They are now losing the trans battle,” Kempner told Truthout. “Every time they start to lose, they shake the snow globe and look at ways to generate outrage among their base. A lot of people don’t understand what it means to be trans or nonbinary and the issue is a good bogeyman.” School-based sex ed, she says, is also an evergreen outrage generator.

Kempner also points out the hypocrisy of the right. She claims that they support parental rights to have control over what happens in the classroom and what books can be found in libraries. When it comes to getting health care for trans kids, the tables flip and the parent is told they don’t have the parental authority necessary to get the treatment they need.

“In the short run,” Kempner concludes, “a lot of people are going to suffer because of these short-sighted regulatory restrictions. But you can’t squeeze the genie back into the bottle. In the long run, the right wing will lose because society is becoming more accepting and appreciative of diversity.”

However, there are potential pitfalls in the short term. “The fact that fights are happening over Title IX, trans inclusion in sports, and including sexual [orientation] and gender identity in sex ed classes creates a hostile environment for many young people, which makes it especially important for kids to feel supported and affirmed,” Christine Soyong Harley, president and CEO of SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, told Truthout. “Groups of Christian fundamentalists have created a marriage of convenience with QAnon and the Proud Boys. We know that their campaigns stem from a fear of loss of power in society, but it is up to progressives to speak out about the importance of inclusion and acceptance.”

Many are rising up to the challenge and supporting transgender and nonbinary athletes, opposing Title IX restrictions, as well as opposing parental intervention in curricular decisions-making. Among them are lawmakers like Rhode Island’s Rebecca Kislak, who continue to introduce legislation into their statehouses. Kislak’s still-pending bill affirms the importance of “sex ed for students of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds,” and recognizes the importance of pleasure in erotic life.

As important as legislation is to activists, activists are also paying attention to the 2022 midterm election and the many issues being raised by those who are campaigning.

One group, the relatively recent Red Wine & Blue,is committed to promoting progressive values in women who live in nonurban swing districts. Founded by suburbanites It Book Ban BustersCampaign created a map that highlights every place where book restrictions were proposed or enacted. The campaign’s weekly online Troublemaker Training has helped fight censorship, and other reactionary measures. All of this is with an eye on electoral reform and opposition to “parental control.”

Other activists are focused on direct support for children and teenagers. Scout Bratt, outreach and education director at the Chicago Women’s Health Center, runs workshops for youth that challenge “the homophobic, transphobic and adultist framework” of many well-meaning educators who center adult viewpoints in their programming. “Our workshops honor youth voices, and celebrate all bodies, all sexualities and all genders,” Bratt told Truthout. “Young people know their bodies and identities. They are aware that there are more than one gender. We, as adults, need to unlearn adultism because youth empowerment requires us to recognize that young people know their desires and know what they need.”

Despite this, the work can be difficult. Lillian Rivera, director for family programming at Gender SpectrumAccording to, a non-profit organization that works to create gender inclusive environments for children, teens, and their loved one, shame, fear, grief, and anger are almost all too common among those they serve. “I wish the folks who are making legislative decisions about trans health care and acceptance could see the faces of the children and adults who are being impacted by their policies and laws,” she says. Rivera says that both caregivers and children worry about safety and have to deal with the consequences of disrespectful and socially disapproval.

It is not easy.

According to the Trevor Project,LGBTQIA+ youth experience extreme stress and are four times more likely try to commit suicide than their nonLGBTQIA+ peers. Youth of color and transgendered people are most at risk.

Bratt believes that helping vulnerable youth harness their potential is the antidote for erasure. “It’s the key to a truly feminist future for everyone.”