Michigan right-wingers are working together to challenge LGBTQ+-inclusive education in public schools.
An organization called the Great Schools Initiative (GSI) is offering parents an opt-out form to prevent all discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
Last week, the group began an initiative called “Operation Opt-Out,” which asks parents to submit an opt-out form authored by GSI to be added to their children’s school files, Michigan Advance reports.
Nearly three pages of proscriptions against facts about reproductive health, family planning, contraception, LGBTQ+ issues, and social justice are contained in the document — which happens to contain numerous spelling errors.
The form mandates that schools shall not include a student in “any and all instruction on gender ideology, the physiological (including endocrinological), psychological and functions of reproductive health as it relates to human sexuality. This opt out includes, but is not limited to: gender identity, gender expression, gender assignment, sexual identities, sexual expression, sexual attraction, sexual orientarion, gender fluidity, transitioning, and expicit sexual activity or behavior.”
Currently, under existing state law, all Michigan public schools offer parents the ability to have their children skip some or all sexual education classes, according to Michigan Advance.
GSI goes further and excludes students from what they refer to as “rogue sex ed.”
Forbidden is a wide range of activities, such as school-affiliated student clubs that support LGBTQ+ students, displaying Pride flags, and educators asking students for their pronouns, among other restrictions.
Including LGBTQ+ students in groups and efforts provides them with social activities and support. Nevertheless, the right-wing activists behind the form claim that anything that promotes LGBTQ+ students should be considered sexual, and educators who affirm LGBTQ+ matters are falsely smeared as “groomers.”
Monica Yatooma, who unsuccessfully ran for Oakland County commissioner; a Matthew Nelson; and Nathan Pawl, an entrepreneur based in Walled Lake, founded GSI in September. Each incorporator provided the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulation with the address of a Chicago law firm, the Thomas More Society, which promotes far-right conservative causes in the country, according to Michigan Advance.
According to Pawl, who spoke at a recent GSI meeting that was later posted on YouTube, if hundreds of parents handed in the forms, “this is going to change everything because it’ll be too much for them to handle.”
Pawl explained that his involvement in GSI was born out of outrage that his son’s school was required to wear masks during the ongoing global pandemic.
Last February, the Thomas More Society threatened to sue Walled Lake Schools and Oakland County if school officials did not reverse mask mandates.
“What every parent and member of the school community should know is that ‘don’t say gay’ policies and other so-called ‘parental rights’ efforts will harm people and put children’s health and safety at risk,” local resident and parent Brittnee Senecal told Michigan Advance. Senecal also is part of the group Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools (MIPASS), which supports public schools in the state. “The efforts of these hate groups will also worsen a range of real-world challenges that affect young people and their families, including teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other healthcare-related realities.”
After administrators implemented school lockdowns and mask mandates in 2020, far-right media amplified conspiracy theories surrounding teachers and public education, taking advantage of a general sense of uncertainty and frustration among parents.
Not only did operatives create a false sense of threat surrounding critical race theory, but they also took advantage of a general lack of scientific understanding and spread disinformation surrounding the benefits of public health measures and vaccinations.
After building a foundation of skepticism and outrage, right-wing activists turned their sights toward the LGBTQ+ community, creating scapegoats out of teachers, librarians, and physicians.
In Michigan, several groups have recently fought against LGBTQ+ issues, critical race theory, social-emotional learning, diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, it was mixed results for Republican activists seeking school board positions in 2022. Several key Republican candidates, including Tudor Dixon, also proposed banning books and adopting a Florida-style “don’t say gay” law, but these ideas did not gain traction.
During the midterm elections, Michigan Democrats won all top offices and flipped the state’s Senate and House.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Matthew Nelson who is involved with the Great Schools Initiative.