Editor’s Note: Gavin Smith is a public relations professional and political strategist. He is CEO of the Inspyre Group, a public relations and marketing consulting firm in Lexington, South Carolina. During the Trump administration he served as press secretary for the Department of Labor and deputy communications director for the Department of Health and Human Services. The views expressed here are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Being a Republican is becoming harder and harder. From conspiracy theories about stolen elections to being urged by a former colleague in the Trump administration to “repent my gay sins,” I continue to find it harder and harder to relate to the so-called “party of life.”
As one of the few openly gay officials in Trump’s administration, and a lifelong Republican, I’ve struggled with how to reconcile my differences on LGBTQ+ issues with the political right. I agree with Republicans on most fiscal issues. But, as to how the party treats the LGBTQ+ community, their policies continue to cross the line.
Case in point: Florida Republican lawmakers’ recent passage of the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill.
Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the legislation bans public schools from teaching students about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Despite not explicitly saying “don’t say gay,” its language, requiring that lessons for older students only be taught in “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” terms, is argued to be deliberately ambiguous. What’s more, this criteria is a mechanism for prohibiting open discussions of LGBTQ+ people, families and issues.
Proponents of this bill, and of the 15 other bills similar in nature being considered in nine states across the country, routinely claim school districts and educators are infringing on parental rights and “sexualizing school aged children,” and argue such conversations should be led by parents rather than educators.
These claims, at face value, aren’t entirely invalid. Parents absolutely should play an important role in having these conversations with their children.
However, despite the important role parents play, it is blatantly wrong and hypocritical of Republicans to assert that legislation is needed to help protect America’s youth from so-called “sexualization” in our public schools.
In fact, the reality is, whether it be love stories between male and female characters in assigned readings, or lesson plans that teach foreign languages through illustrations of traditional households, students are exposed to hetero-sexualism each and every day. Republicans aren’t outraged by this and bills aren’t being introduced to strip classrooms of these materials.
Instead, the Republican claim of protecting children is nothing more than a guise to distract the public while far-right Republicans accomplish their true objective of restricting conversations around homo-sexualism and other sexual orientations and gender identities to which they object.
Further, as a byproduct of their asinine policies, far-right Republicans also claim that discussions of LGBTQ+ related topics don’t belong in the classroom. From book bans to disbanding gay-straight alliance clubs, these very actions and ideals are ludicrous and discriminatory.
America’s classrooms are important spaces where topics such as civil rights and social studies are taught. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have played important roles in both American and international history, and LGBTQ+ students equally deserve to see their own history and experiences reflected in their learning environment.
Whether it be learning about the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969 or Obergefell v. Hodges, which resulted in the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, these students should be afforded the opportunity to learn alongside their peers in an environment where they can be proud of who they are. Students across the country shouldn’t learn in an environment where they feel as if their mere existence or the discussion of their sexual or gender identity is somehow criminal by nature.
Finally, schools are supposed to be a place where we send our children to be educated and prepared for the real world. If that truly is the case, and we’re serious about educating world class leaders, cleansing academic environments of LGBTQ+ related materials and mentions isn’t preparing our youth for that charge.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a winning strategy for Republicans either. These pieces of legislation are blatantly discriminatory and wrong on all accounts, as evidenced by a recent Gallup poll.
In fact, support for LGBTQ+ people and their rights has reached an all-time high among Republicans. Specifically, Gallup found that 55% of individuals who identify as a Republican support same-sex marriage. This is the highest level of Republican support for same-sex marriage recorded since Gallup began measuring this sentiment in 1997.
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Let’s be real; contrary to the claims of far-right Republican lawmakers, there isn’t some mass conspiracy of teachers trying to “groom” students into being gay. Being gay isn’t a choice and Republicans know that.
Instead, this whole charade is nothing more than another attempt by far-right Republicans to fuel a political divide at the expense of yet another marginalized community, all while pushing an antiquated political agenda.
And for that reason, as a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, I urge my fellow Republicans to stand up, show respect for every American, and stop legislating asinine policies for problems that simply do not exist.