By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
In 1978, San Francisco City Supervisor, Harvey Milk and his coalition of politicians and community organizers overwhelming defeated California’s Prop. 6 known as the Briggs Initiative which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in public schools. But forty-five years later, this piece of American history, the life of Medal of Freedom recipient, Harvey Milk, and the legacy and impact of both on the LGBTQ Community is being banned from classrooms by states because of the “culture wars” they’re waging against any community that isn’t straight, white and Christian.
Caught in the middle are the teachers, who must navigate these growing and ever more restrictive, censoring, and whitewashing laws, who now live and work in fear of the harsh legal penalties and fines while trying to educate their students. Instead of doing what is best for their students, teachers are having to protect themselves from parents or even a single parent who could report an infraction and end their career. Teachers are covering bookshelves, silencing conversations, and editing their curriculums out of fear. In places like Florida where state restrictive laws have reached all the way up to public state colleges and universities, students are no longer receiving a well-rounded public education rather a government reeducation.
While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gets most of the press for the “Don’t Say Gay” laws he’s passed and are being copied in numerous other states, a new, powerful, and dangerous “parental rights” group, “Moms for Liberty” is behind much of it. Founded in 2021, Moms for Liberty has been called DeSantis’s “foot soldiers” by Florida GOP Vice Chairman Christian Ziegle according, to an article on Mediamatters.org. Here’s how the article describes the organization’s activities.
“Moms for Liberty is best known for its efforts to loudly overtake and intimidate public schools, but unbeknownst to many the group was terrorizing school boards while simultaneously planting a sophisticated state legislative advocacy infrastructure that it’s now using to strategically attack LGBTQ rights…
Media Matters found that Moms for Liberty has been deeply involved in successful anti-LGBTQ bills in statehouses across the country… Arkansas’ Moms for Liberty chapters were heavily involved in pushing a series of extreme anti-LGBTQ laws in early 2023. According to the Trans Legislation Tracker, Arkansas passed eight anti-trans bills. At least one co-sponsor of seven of those bills is affiliated with or has promoted Moms for Liberty.”
Read the full article, “How Moms for Liberty is helping states pass vicious anti-LGBTQ bills”
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In its annual 2022 Year in Hate and Extremism report The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled Moms for Liberty and eleven other “parental rights” organizations as “anti-government extremist groups.” From an article in USA Today,
“SPLC Intelligence Project Director Susan Corke. Corke said the grassroots conservative groups are part of a new front in the battle against inclusivity in schools, though they are drawing from ideas rooted in age-old white supremacy.
“[The movement] is primarily aimed at not wanting to include our hard history, topics of racism, and a very strong push against teaching anything having to do with LGBTQ topics in schools,” Corke said. ”We saw this as a very deliberate strategy to go to the local level.”
But last week in Florida, in a deep red Herrnado County that DeSantis carried by 40 points, teachers had had enough and took the Board of Education to school. The subject of board meeting was the intolerable teaching conditions created by the culture war nonsense in the classroom. Jenna Barbie, a fifth-grade teacher who with parental consent had shown a Disney animated film that had a gay character but was reported by a self-proclaimed “appointed by God” board member for “indoctrination” made her point ala Dr Suess.
Another teacher summed up the absurdity of the “Don’t Say Gay” laws and also encapsulated the love and respect teachers have their students and their joy of educating as Nichole Wallace of MSNBC’s Deadline White House discussed with Randy Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.
"People want teachers to have the latitude to care about their kids and to deal with learning loss… and if you restrict teachers' latitude to do that, a kid is gonna see that in a minute" – @rweingarten w/ @NicolleDWallace pic.twitter.com/EFUvlD3Wnv
— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) June 2, 2023
Rodgers and Hammerstein famously wrote “You Have To Be Carefully Taught” for South Pacific as an epiphany to the insidiousness of racism and hate, but not teaching about it is equally as dangerous. A house beginning to burn, if ignored, does not extinguish itself – the fire consumes it. The purpose of education is to open the mind to all the world has to offer and to learn from the mistakes of history. Students need to be carefully taught by teachers with facts and truth from the entire spectrum of views, experiences, not political propaganda and/or religious dogma.
Read our previous Pride Month 2023 posts: