House Republicans Seek To Shield Kids From Talk About Gender, Sexual Orientation

A new proposal from congressional Republicans would define sexually-oriented material as “any topic involving gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexual orientation, or related subjects.” The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Johnson (R–La.) and co-sponsored by 33 Republican members of Congress, is called the “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act.”

Its purpose is to stop schools, libraries, and other institutions from exposing children under 10 years old to those topics, as well as preventing discussions or depictions of other sexually-oriented themes. It would do so by allowing civil lawsuits from parents if federal funds were used to facilitate such discussions. It would also block federal funding for “any program, event, or literature” involving such topics, whether at a school, a museum, a library, or any other institution. And it would also ban all federal funds for institutions with more than one violation in a five-year period.

Discussions like these always get thorny for libertarians, because to condemn the bill may appear to be championing more federal spending. But if you set the funding issue aside here, we’ve still got a federal statute that would define any discussion of gender identity, gender dysphoria, and related topics as sexually-oriented materialand that alone seems to be worth challenging.

It’s also possible to hold both a principled belief that the federal government should be spending less on something in general and that so long as the funding exists, it shouldn’t be conditioned on conforming to a particular narrow viewpoint. (For instance, I think it’s better for school programs to be funded more locally; I think it’s wrong for Democrats to condition federal funding for schools on ridiculously expansive definitions of sexual misconduct and highly politicized definitions of biological sex, as it does under Title IX ; and I think it’s wrong for Republicans to try and condition certain sorts of school funding on avoiding any discussion of gender issues.)

It’s also wrong (albeit typical) for lawmakers to try and sneak proposals into regulations framed around less controversial plans. And with the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act, Johnson has cleverly lumped any mention of gender and sexual orientation in with things like exposing children under age 10 to “nude adults, individuals who are stripping, or lewd or lascivious dancing.”

In much the same way that politicians keep lumping together laws targeting adult sex workers with measures (theoretically) meant to stop child sex trafficking, Johnson’s framing here makes it hard for folks to oppose the bill without appearing to support the sexualization of children. (Fans of the measure are already framing it as a bill to stop kids from seeing stripping drag queens.) And it allows the bill’s proponents to easily wave off criticism of the measure as perversion or radical sexual liberalism.

But the truly radical side here is the one that wants “any topic involving gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexual orientation, or related subjects” to be off limits for kids.

There are certainly inappropriate ways to discuss these issues with young people, but there are also age-appropriate ways to do so. And it’s safe to assume such subjects may come up organically, without being a part of an officially sanctioned curriculum.

Some kids will have gay or transgender parents or relatives. They may even have transgender classmates. And television, movies, and, pop culture are full of depictions of same-sex couples and discussions of gender identity. Kids will have questions about these things, and what are teachers, guidance counselors, and librarians supposed to do when they come up—simply say “we don’t talk about that”?

Some parents and communities certainly wish any such discussions to be avoided, or even any mention of these issues be done in a condemnatory way, but others may wish the subjects to be addressed more neutrally, or even in a positive way. The correct place for such debates to play out is at the local level, where parents and families directly affected may weigh in—not with some national directive that schools can’t acknowledge to 9-year-olds that gay people exist.

Johnson’s bill would open up schools, libraries, and other institutions to a bevy of lawsuits, since it creates a private right of action for parents”against a government official, government agency, or private entity” if a child under age 10 was “exposed to sexually-oriented material funded in part or in whole by Federal funds.”

Again, there’s something of a bait and switch going on here. Republicans can claim it’s just about not funding certain activities. Meanwhile, it’s inviting parents to sue if a grade school library that has received any money from the federal government includes any books with gay or trans characters.

The bottom line is that the “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act” is being promoted as a way to ensure federal money isn’t funding nude drag queen shows for kids, or programs centered on sexually-oriented content for children. But it’s actually broad enough to ban funds and allow lawsuits for a range of programs—like school libraries or age-appropriate sex education curriculum—that acknowledge sexual orientation or gender identity at all.


BREAKING NEWS

Liz Truss resigns as UK prime minister.

Truss lasted just six weeks in the office. More on her brief tenure as prime minister here. More on the resignation here.


FREE MINDS

Global internet freedom is declining. Freedom House’s annual report on internet freedom is out and “global internet freedom declined for the 12th consecutive year,” the group says. “The sharpest downgrades were documented in Russia, Myanmar, Sudan, and Libya,” but it’s far from just these countries where things are bad. “In at least 53 countries, users faced legal repercussions for expressing themselves online, often leading to draconian prison terms.”

See also:

• “Democracies are having a reckoning with mercenary spyware.”

• “Iran’s Internet Blackouts Are Part of a Global Menace.”


FREE MARKETS

More Halloween candy/drug panic is being spurred by the discovery of fentanyl hidden in candy wrappers. As lawyer Cathy Gellis points out below, there’s a big difference between people trying to smuggle drugs past authorities by disguising them as candy and people trying to disguise drugs as candy to be passed out to kids. But why let rational thought interrupt the moral panic?


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