The latest fear for Kansas schools: CRT is turning our children gay

December 7, 2021 3:33 am

Rainbow flags fly while a crowd celebrates LGBTQ pride in the background. Despite what some in the Kansas Statehouse believe, this has nothing to do with critical race theory. (Getty Images)

Critical race theory is turning our precious children gay.

No matter how loony it sounds, that was the terror coursing underneath the words of parents, advocates and legislators at a hearing last week by the 2021 Special Committee on Education. Remember, CRT is an academic theory taught by precisely zero K-12 schools in Kansas. Somehow, its evil has seeped through our schools anyway.

You might think that CRT necessarily involves race. According to Wednesday’s unhinged testimony, you would be wrong. This month, the concept includes books and lessons about different sexual orientations and gender identities.

“The clear message is Marxist and Communistic,” testified Shawnee Mission School District parent Josiah Enyart. “They want to hold back the straight white males and push forward the people of color and LGTBQ (sic).”

Rep. Adam Thomas, R-Olathe, singled out a “gender unicorn” assignment given to his daughter, according to coverage from Kansas Reflector’s Sherman Smith. He said that “pretty much tells kids that are questioning their identity to either out themselves or just pound it into these kids’ head.”

Take it from me, your friendly local gay opinion editor: LGBTQ kids in public schools are trying to survive a world that can seem unrelentingly hostile. That world is created by uneducated families, bigoted churches and opportunistic politicians. Safe, welcoming schools that educate all students about gender and sexual identity aren’t the problem: They’re the solution.

Unless, of course, you believe that such education could somehow make your kids gay.

Kansas State Board of Education member Ann Mah appears Wednesday before an education committee at the Statehouse, where she denounced the use of critical race theory to describe a broad range of complaints. (Screen capture from Legislature live video)


‘Christ and his love’

“In our family, we profess Christ and his love,” testified another Shawnee Mission district parent, Denise Roberts. “If we are truly to be Christ followers, then we must resist and do away with the practice of using ideas of race, sex, gender preference and any other identity to divide, separate, unite or incite people. Anywhere this is occurring is abusive to children and in direct conflict with the values of our home.”

This muddled testimony makes one clear point. Some Kansas parents believe that learning about real-world differences harms their children.

Any identity that doesn’t fit in a straight, cisgender and white context should be treated with suspicion. What’s more, any ideas or perspectives from outside that context can be defined as critical race theory. Does something your child learned at school make you uncomfortable? It’s CRT.

Roberts reaches for a megaton word to describe the situation: abusive.

Knowing that some kids in your class might be transgender or gay? Abusive. Trying to put yourself in their shoes and empathize with them? Abusive. Helping queer kids out with crucial supports and resources? Abusive.

Why? Because exposure to different sexual orientations or gender identities might lead your precious, innocent children into a life of sodomy and vice. That might sound extreme, but Roberts just goes ahead and says it.

The “Critical Social Justice world view,” she writes, includes “sexualization and grooming of children.”

Rep. Kristey Williams, R-Augusta, says lawmakers are tired of hearing the academic definition of critical race theory. (Screen capture from Legislature live video)


Breathlessly lurid testimony

We haven’t even gotten to Dave Trabert, CEO of the Kansas Policy Institute.

No single figure in Kansas politics has been as consistently, proudly wrong as Trabert. He literally wrote a book defending former Gov. Sam Brownback’s catastrophic tax experiment. He argued against measures to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19, a disease that has killed 6,730 Kansans and counting. He criticized adequate funding of Kansas schools while calling for changes that would send public dollars to private institutions.

So of course he wants to weigh in on this fanciful new definition of CRT.

“Indoctrination about race, gender, and sexuality may not be part of the ‘official’ curricula, but it is prevalent across the state,” he states in a breathlessly lurid five pages of written testimony that had to be seen to be believed. “It exists in teaching training materials, libraries, and a variety of classroom situations.”

Like a dowager clutching her pearls while recounting salacious gossip to her bridge club, Trabert is eager to share just how dirty books in school libraries are. He’s not talking about violence or profanity. He’s talking about sex — and those gross gay and trans people.

“Other books, including ‘Gender Queer and ‘Looking Into Alaska,’ contain sexually graphic illustrations and language that many parents believe is wholly inappropriate, especially for middle school students,” Trabert writes. (His testimony includes some of these illustrations, covered with black blotches to protect the modesty of fictional characters.)

Middle school students, of course, are notorious for having no interest in or knowledge of sexual topics. They’re practically monks.

Trabert plows ahead: “A book entitled ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue details the sexual exploits of a young man is on the approved reading list for students as young as sixth grade in some Johnson County School districts. The book is a nonfiction memoir that describes sexual acts in graphic detail. Pages from the book posted on social media are graphic.”

Why don’t we check in with the author of the much-challenged volume, George M. Johnson?

“Books with heavy topics are not going to harm children,” Johnson told Time magazine. They noted that the memoir covers recognizing and dealing with sexual abuse. “Children still have to exist in a world full of these heavy topics, and are going to be affected by them whether they read the book or not.”

Dave Trabert, CEO of the Kansas Policy Institute, watches an education hearing at the Statehouse. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)


The real choice ahead

Here’s the uncomfortable truth for Christian and conservative parents, advocates and legislators: Some Kansas kids are going to be gay or trans. Banning critical race theory, whatever you imagine it to be, won’t change that.

The choice you have — the choice they have — is not about their sexual or gender orientation. It’s simply whether they accept it, celebrate it even, and find their way in the world. Having teachers and classmates who understand and empathize with that journey preserves mental health and saves lives.

Take it from me, a gay man who was once a gay kid in Kansas. Praying doesn’t make it go away. Family values don’t make it go away. And the internet and schools certainly don’t cause it.

The more you fret and moan and complain about age-appropriate understanding of differences, the more you poison the souls of kids you claim to love. The more someone like Trabert aids and abets anti-LGBTQ scaremongering, the more the Kansas Policy Institute erodes the economic future of the state it purports to support.

No, critical race theory won’t turn your children gay. But your love and attention, and your support of local schools, might help them if they are.

Robert Oliver and Mark Heller (right) hold hands, draped in flags, as they celebrate the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Before joining the Reflector, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.