Schools Under Fire: Halting MAGA’s Hate Grooming

The numbers are stunning: 

  • In 2022, conservative groups attempted to ban or restrict access to 1,651 individual titles according to the American Library Association
  • 69% of principals in a recent survey reported ‘substantial political conflict with parents or members of the community’ over teaching about race; LGBTQ policies and practices, access to books and social-emotional learning
  • Reported attacks on LGBTQ+ students increased from 15% in 2018 to 24% in 2022. More surprising is that number more than tripled in purple communities

Rarely does a week go by without hearing of yet another attempt to ban books in yet another school district, or about a mob of ‘concerned parents’ storming a school board meeting to attack members, staff and administration. Under the guise of ‘parents rights,’ conservative extremists are attempting to wrest control from educational professionals and narrowly define what is permissible curriculum and content – and far worse. 

But make no mistake, what is ‘permissible’ transparently mirrors the underpinnings of white supremacy. As a matter of fact, one of the major groups behind these efforts, Moms for Liberty (M4L), is an off-shoot of the far-right conservative movement in American politics and frequently linked with groups like the Proud Boys. In the past two+ years, there has been a concerted effort by groups like M4L across the country to attend school board meetings to call for banning books and rolling back support for clubs, activities and curriculum that broaden understanding and acceptance of diversity. 

Just ask Martha Hickson, North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School librarian, who opposed efforts to ban five LGBTQ+ books from the school library in 2021. The attacks on Hickson were so vicious, so personal, that she took a leave from her job. She has since returned to her position and been recognized by several organizations, including the National Coalition Against Censorship. She continues to speak out about censorship and the importance of including diverse materials, and will join us at our March Gathering. 

It doesn’t stop there. Extremist groups have been gaining control of school boards. While school boards are supposedly non-partisan, it cannot be denied that influence and money from MAGA Republicans is focused on recruiting and promoting candidates. The Central Bucks School Board (CBSB) majority, with ties to a Christian Nationalist group, has become so notorious in its efforts to ban books and enforce anti-inclusionary policies, that 52 school board directors from 25 PA school districts have openly condemned it for “fostering intolerance, discrimination, and targeting LGBTQ+ students for political purposes.” 

Thankfully, not far behind the rise of these concerted efforts by right wing groups, comes the rise of organized resistance to counter them. The ACLU has had success filing suits under First Amendment rights to protect free speech. In October, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed suit  with the US Department of Education against CBSB under the 14th Amendment and Title IX on behalf of seven students who allege a widespread culture of discrimination against LGBQ&T students, particularly transgender and nonbinary students. 

Grassroots groups are pulling people together to share strategies and resources that may virtually run the extremists out of town. Just roughly a year old, Defense of Democracy, is a non-partisan group advocating for an inclusive public education system. The organization was started by two moms to fight back against three school board candidates endorsed by M4L, who ultimately mobilized the community, doubled voter turnout and defeated the candidates. The bipartisan group now has chapters in several states, including NJ and PA. 

More locally, RiseUp Doylestown has been on the front lines advocating for LGBTQ+ students for years, although it has lately been a focal point for the wrath and egregious tactics of MAGA extremists in the area. They need your help standing up to white supremecist bullies. In Hunterdon, HC RISE emerged in Fall 2022 following backlash to an LGBTQ+ club activity that threatened Hunterdon Central Regional High School’s superintendent, club advisor and board members. The growing organization now works across Hunterdon to support school boards, staff and students as they stand up to MAGA extremist demands  and to vet school board candidates.  

Students have a role as well. North Hunterdon-Voorhees librarian Hickson urges students to get involved and be vigilant to protect their right to read books of their choice including starting or joining ‘right to read’ school clubs, volunteering to attend library, school board and First Amendment events, and contacting state and federal legislators. In addition, The Anti-Defamation League offers a student-led program called ADL: No Place for Hate  in collaboration with teachers and administrators that provides access to tools and strategies to proactively, effectively address bias and bullying incidents against any minority or marginalized group. 

The irony of MAGA accusations of ‘grooming’ by providing books, curriculum and safe spaces for BiPOC and LGBTQ+ cannot be understated when the sources of those accusations are overtly grooming young members of our communities to shame, marginalize and hate. It is on us to take action and loudly proclaim that every student is valued and belongs. Come hear more at the March 19 Community Gathering! 

Additional reading: 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *