Last year, a nationwide mental health survey found that a stunning 42% of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased teen suicides attempts overall, likely played a role in that. But the survey of 35,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning individuals between the ages of 13 and 24 by The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ youth suicide prevention, points to other factors as well: 94% of those surveyed said recent politics had worsened their outlook and 75% said they had suffered some form of gender discrimination.
Under these circumstances, one would assume that parents, friends, relatives, neighbors, school personnel and anyone else who has regular contact with LGBTQ youth would be scrambling to find opportunities to comfort, to accept, to be inclusive and affirming. One small way that can be done is to display a rainbow flag, a symbol of pride in the gay community that has been around since the mid-1980s.
And then there is the Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education.
Last week, Carroll County’s school board voted to adopt a new policy regarding political symbols in school buildings in reaction to complaints by parents regarding the presence of the rainbow flag. To his credit, Steven Lockard, the school system’s superintendent, defended the recently donated flags to the board. The flags were given to county schools by Stephanie Brown, the parent of a 13-year-old reportedly bullied for her LGBTQ advocacy, and the Westminster chapter of the nonprofit Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Ms. Brown had ample reason to be concerned about how tolerant the school system is of certain students: Three months ago, the same board set a policy on political conversation in the classroom that could penalize teachers who dare voice views that are not “aligned with the approved curriculum.”
If this kind of culture war reaction — with its customary antagonism toward a minority group, hostility toward educators and overall hysteria — sounds familiar, that’s because it’s become an essential part of what could best be described as the Donald Trump Curriculum, the lesson plan promoted by the former president and his adherents who seem happiest when they have parents frothing at the mouth.
High teen suicide rates are real. The kind of pro-pedophile “groomer” fearmongering that Trump wannabes like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have leveled at Disney and others for daring to criticize his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation is not. See the difference?
Have a conversation with neighbors raising vulnerable kids looking for acceptance to appreciate the importance of a symbol like the rainbow flag. Go listen to Governor DeSantis if you prefer mind-numbing propaganda that would have you believe teachers seek only to indoctrinate children into their evil designs.
Much of Maryland has been spared this kind of hate speech. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan doesn’t traffic in it. Earlier this month on national television, Governor Hogan described the DeSantis-Disney standoff as a “crazy fight” and a violation of free speech. We would go further.
Over and over again, the GOP strategy is to discomfort their core constituents, suburban whites (apparently who are straight) at the expense of minority groups. Today, it’s the rainbow flag. But it’s also a lot of chatter about “critical race theory” which would prefer that race relations never be discussed or, if it must be, in the rosiest terms possible. In other words: Don’t dare see in the economic and social disadvantages still plaguing communities of color, including Baltimore, any legacy of racial prejudice.
We don’t advocate for political indoctrination in public schools. But this doesn’t appear to be going on, at least not to any great extent. Are there certain ages when it’s more appropriate to discuss the details of sexual orientation and gender identity? Absolutely. And teachers are perfectly aware of this. That’s not the problem.
In Carroll County and elsewhere, the focus ought to be on introducing students to the realities of the world they live in — not just similarities we all share, but differences as well. Doing so doesn’t require a witch hunt that would evict from the classroom rainbow flags, a potentially lifesaving symbol for kids in need of a safe space to learn. What is required is better educated school board members who won’t so quickly buy into the GOP culture war propaganda.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.