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Carroll County Times Opinion

Tom Zirpoli: For GOP, state knows best about sex, gender | COMMENTARY

Remember when Republicans said that they were going to protect parental rights in regard to the education and well-being of our children? They made a big deal about parental rights in making decisions about mask wearing, vaccinations, school curriculum (especially sex education), and so on.

Well, forget about all of that. If your child happens to be gay or transgender, Republicans are now saying that parents don’t know what is best for their children and may be guilty of child abuse. They want the state to investigate their parenting because, in their minds, the state knows better than parents when it comes to the sex and gender issues of our children.

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NBC News found that state lawmakers — mostly Republicans — have proposed 238 bills this year alone that would limit the rights of LGBTQ Americans. Since 2018, NBC News found that they have proposed 670 bills to restrict the rights of LGBTQ Americans to appease their religious base. Yet, according to recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute, 79% of Americans support LGBTQ rights and policies prohibiting discrimination.

When it comes to LGBTQ Americans, it’s not just parents Republicans are going after. Florida Republicans passed a bill called “Parental Rights in Education” allowing parents to investigate and sue teachers for discussing gender issues in the classroom. Note how they play parents and teachers against each other with different bills.

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Florida’s bill outlaws sex education curriculum that discusses sexual orientation and gender identity “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” But, of course, these legislators understand that schools already use professionally developed, age-appropriate educational materials when developing curriculum, including sex education curriculum, which, by the way, is approved by local school boards, mostly made up of parents. But Republicans like throwing out red meat for their base to chew on.

Attempts by the Republican Party to target children who are different are not new. In Texas, teachers were required by a 1991 law to teach that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense.” These laws that made gays and lesbians criminals were overturned by the Supreme Court in 2003. Nevertheless, Republicans continued their attacks.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has the state’s child protection agency going to the homes of trans children to investigate parents for child abuse. Some parents are moving out of the state to protect their children and themselves. Camille Rey, for example, has a 9-year-old trans son. “I just decided I can’t raise my child here,” she said in an NBC interview. “The only choice we have is to try to make the world a better place for them, and to give them everything they need to thrive, not just survive even but to thrive. ... We do it out of love for our children.”

The American Medical Association and pediatric professional groups have spoken against these measures and are taking Texas to court. The Biden administration has also stood up for these families, calling Abbott’s order “discriminatory and unconscionable” and “clearly dangerous to the health of transgender youth in Texas.”

It’s all political, of course. As stated by Adam Serwer in The Atlantic, “For the past 30 years, the GOP has pursued a consistent strategy: Find a misunderstood or marginalized group, convince voters that the members of that group pose an existential threat to society, and then ride to victory on the promise of using state power to crush them.” Trans children and their parents are their current targets.

Republicans are following the campaign against LGBTQ youth mounted in Russia, where social hostility toward gay and transgender youth has been sanctioned by law and encouraged by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Like today’s Republicans, Putin likes to present himself as a champion of so-called traditional family values and a protector of children. Sound familiar?

In the United States, as in Russia, Republicans are using anti-LGBTQ laws to shut down helpful information and mental health services to students and young adults under the false guise of protecting the traditional family and protecting children from “indoctrination.” In fact, as in Russia, they are the ones trying to indoctrinate people to think and believe according to their standards.

Unfortunately, the folks suffering the most from these attacks are the children who are trying to deal with real gender identity issues in the privacy of their own home and with the support of their parents, teachers, and counselors. Now, Republican states like Texas are threatening parents, teachers and counselors with legal action.

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It is easy to see who is trying to restrict and limit the rights and freedoms of individuals and families here.

Tom Zirpoli is the Laurence J. Adams Distinguished Chair in Special Education Emeritus at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.


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