As the nation turns its attention to the controversial Florida bill critics have labeled “Don’t Say Gay,” two competing ideas are being amplified in the debate over LGBTQ rights.
Gallup reports that the percentage of U.S. adults who self-identify within the LGBTQ community has increased to a new high of 7.1%, double the percentage from 2012, when Gallup first measured it.
At the same time, some conservative evangelicals and conservative Republicans appear to have adopted a new strategy in their fight against inclusion: Calling any attempt to educate children about same-sex attraction “grooming.”
That language historically has been reserved to describe the practice of pedophiles who sometimes “groom” their victims through a long-term series of actions to gain trust. For those in the LGBTQ community and their allies, the Republican and evangelical effort to brand educators as “groomers” is a hateful bridge too far.
The ‘grooming’ language in Florida
On March 4, Christina Pushaw, who serves as press secretary to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, tweeted: “The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill.”
Then she added: “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”
Later confronted about her linking the LGBTQ community to pedophiles — a factually inaccurate statement — Pushaw doubled down again but said she was speaking as an individual, not on behalf of DeSantis. She used a personal Twitter account and wrote the tweet after work hours, she asserted.
Her identification on that personal account say she is “here to debunk false Narratives about Florida & @GovRonDeSantis,” and she cites John 15:18, where Jesus declares: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.”
Monica Hesse, writing for the Washington Post, explained the problem with this particular word. “’Grooming,’ as defined by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), is ‘manipulative behaviors that the abuser uses to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to agree to the abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught.’ As examples, RAINN lists adults encouraging children to keep secrets, or escalating nonsexual contact, like hugging or wrestling into sexual contact. Grooming does not have anything to do with sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s molesters who groom, regardless of whether they’re gay or straight.”
Hesse goes on to write that “grooming” has become “a buzzword in anti-gay politics. It’s a way of expressing bigotry in the language of child welfare. It preys on every parent’s worst fear — someone harming their children — by insinuating that all gay or gender nonconforming people see their children as prey.”
Scott McCoy, interim deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, said: “It is despicable and shameful that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, would so grossly malign and defame an entire community to shove unpopular legislation forward. Although this false smear about Florida’s LGBTQ+ community is more of the same tired rhetoric, Pushaw’s choice of words was no accident. When you do not have any legitimate support for your policy position, you must rely on vicious and false ad hominem attacks.”
The Florida legislation, House Bill 1557, has been adopted by both houses of the Legislature. It says in part: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
The entire bill, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” clocks in at 1,300 words and is even broader than that. DeSantis, who has yet to sign the bill, has chafed at critics who have called it the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” In a statement March 7, he said such labels are “pushing false narratives.”
‘The Mind Polluters’
Pushaw is not alone in using the word “groomers” to label school teachers and others who would violate the terms of the potential new Florida law. Tweets and social media posts using this language are flying all over the internet now.
The “grooming” language has been pushed by Fox News personalities such as Laura Ingraham and is used in an independent documentary film being shown across the country as part of a national effort to take control of local school boards.
That film, called The Mind Polluters, comes from Fearless Features, a company run by Mark and Amber Archer. The company’s website includes a detailed statement of faith, including belief in a literal six-day creation and in the “inerrancy” of Scripture. The statement asserts of the Bible: “Its authority is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.”
Of the new film, the website says it is “a powerful new investigative documentary film about the graphic Comprehensive Sex Ed and Social Emotional Learning being forced on children of all ages through the education system. For Christian parents, public schools are not a safe or neutral venue for their children’s education. The Mind Polluters exposes the dark realities of the intentional grooming of children into a worldview at odds with the Christian faith, a worldview of rampant sexuality, homosexuality, and transgenderism normalized through the use of pornographic and pedophilic materials.”
Then it issues this challenge: “The battle lines have been drawn. Will the Church stand for Truth, or will we falter?”
The website lists dozens of upcoming screenings of the film in cities nationwide. Screenings are popping up in cities and school districts where battles already are under way between school board and school administrators besieged by angry parents who are demanding the removal of library books on sexuality and race and history.
Three of the “experts” featured in the film have strong ties to far-right evangelical movements that are anti-science and anti-education. These include Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis and creator of the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky; Judith Reisman, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as an “anti-LGBT conspiracy theorist”; and Alex Newman, who leads an effort to promote “education in a biblical-theistic worldview.”
Three of the “experts” featured in the film have strong ties to far-right evangelical movements that are anti-science and anti-education.
But in Texas, a teacher is vindicated
Amid these national efforts to limit what educators can say about matters of sexuality and gender, a Texas art teacher who is gay recently was vindicated for after being suspended by the Mansfield Independent School District due to a parent complaint.
Stacy Bailey, who twice had been named Teacher of the Year, gave students a welcome back to school presentation in 2017 where she showed a photo of her and her then-fiancée dressed as characters from the movie Finding Nemo.
A parent accused Bailey of “promoting the homosexual agenda.”
That led district officials to place the teacher on administrative leave for eight months and then to reassign her to a high school. Mansfield is located just south of Arlington, Texas, at the southern center of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
CNN reported that Bailey reached a $100,000 settlement with the school district, which also agreed to remove the administrative leave from her record and offer mandatory training on LGBTQ issues to human resources and counseling staff in its schools.
Increasing identification with LGBTQ community
The national debate about sex education and sexual orientation comes as new Gallup polling shows a growing trend of younger Americans identifying as LGBTQ.
Critics say this proves their claims that a more liberal society is now pushing teens and young adults to say they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer. Allies say it is merely a more accurate representation of a truth that’s been hidden too long.
The latest Gallup data finds 7.1% of U.S. adults claim an LGBTQ identity, 86.3% say they are straight or heterosexual, and 6.6% do not offer an opinion.
Gallup’s report explains: “The increase in LGBTQ identification in recent years largely reflects the higher prevalence of such identities among the youngest U.S. adults compared with the older generations they are replacing in the U.S. adult population.”
For example, among Generation Z Americans — those born between 1997 and 2003 — about 21% identify within the LGBTQ community. That is nearly double the share of Millennials who so identify.
The report adds that since Gallup began measuring LGBTQ identification in 2012, the percentage of Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Generation X adults who identify as something other than heterosexual has held relatively steady. There has been “a modest uptick” among Millennials, from 5.8% in 2012 to 7.8% in 2017 and 10.5% currently. That increase is partly due to Millennials coming of age and being counted as adults in Galup’s data.
Among all Americans who identify within the LGBTQ community, more than half (57%) say they are bisexual. That translates to 4% of all U.S. adults.
Meanwhile, Gallup says, 21% of LGBTQ Americans say they are gay, 14% lesbian, 10% transgender and 4% something else. Each of these accounts for less than 2% of U.S. adults.
My journey toward LGBTQ inclusion: God still speaks | Analysis by Chris Conley
Meet Sally Gary, the Churches of Christ advocate for gay Christians
My quest to find the word ‘homosexual’ in the Bible | Opinion by Ed Oxford