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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Texas A&M pitcher Chris Cortez (10) reacts during Texas A&M’s game against Oregon at the NCAA Bryan-College Station Super Regional at Olsen Field on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)
One step away
June 8, 2024

Opinion: Being queer isn’t grooming

Photo by via Twitter @TAMU

LGBTQ+ students at Texas A&M have access to information, resources and support through the Pride Center. 

Last year, I left the classroom to pursue my Ph.D. in educational psychology. The vitriol toward teachers and public education was bad in 2021, and in 2022 it’s gotten worse. If I were in a Texas classroom today, it is likely that someone would attempt to label me a “groomer.” Why? Because, as a teacher, I would read “The Family Book ” by Todd Parr, which explains different kinds of families, saying that some families have a mom and a dad, while others may have two moms or two dads among many other variations of families. And, if a student asked how a family could have two moms or two dads, my answer would be, “Because they love each other, and all families are beautiful and important.” All children deserve to be able to see their family represented positively in curricula and literature. Or, maybe, because in college I spent a summer in California working an internship creating materials and resources to help teachers talk about queer topics such as family diversity, marginalization and discrimination and historic events such as Stonewall or marriage equality. Or, perhaps just by virtue of me being a queer man who taught school. 
I could use this space to explain how the use of the term “groomer” to attack anyone who speaks on any issues around queerness devalues the term which is meant to describe actual predators, but I am tired and Google is free. I want to use this space to address the elephant in the classroom. Conservative pundits and politicians have created a solution to a problem that truly does not exist. I’ll be clear, no one is teaching sex education to young children in Texas, and nobody is advocating for that. By creating a panic around sexualizing children and putting it under a thin veneer of “parental rights,” GOP law makers have found an insidious way to attack queer youth, educators and families. It’s the critical race theory boogeyman all over again.
These attacks stem from some of the oldest and nastiest anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in our society: queer people are out to get your children. It is the same rhetoric that has been used for the past 50-plus years to justify marginalization, discrimination and even violence against LGBTQ people. The irony is not lost that Florida being the first state to pass a “Don’t Say Gay” law in 2022, is the same place Anita Bryant launched her homophobic and hateful “Save The Children” campaign in the 1970s. This same campaign eventually led to her receiving a, much deserved, pie to the face. Nor is the irony lost that Texas, the same state that had to be taken to the Supreme Court to stop arresting gay adults for consensual sex, is doubling down on the rhetoric. 

Teaching children that some families look different is not grooming. Teaching students to respect others that are different is not sexualizing children. Providing inclusive curricula and school programs so queer students feel safe is not indoctrination. Conflating any mention of queerness with these things perpetuates the idea that queerness is inherently overly-sexual, and queer sexuality is dirty or deviant. This in turn contributes to the hyper-sexualization of queer culture and spaces. It’s a vicious cycle. 

It’s quite easy to see through the thin veneer that this is about protecting children or parental rights. To start, no one had a problem with teachers talking about their families or reading story books about knights marrying a princess when these things were exclusively heterosexual. Every year that I was in school, teachers shared about their families and there were lessons that talked about relationships at a developmentally appropriate level. If this was about protecting children and parental rights, states would consider the rights of queer students and students with queer parents. If Texas cared about protecting children, they wouldn’t have created an “opt-out” for abuse awareness curriculum. If these bills were about protecting children, Texas and Florida would listen to the testimony of queer students and mental health providers indicating that this kind of action would adversely affect queer student’s mental health, a group already at elevated risk of suicide. If this was about protecting children, the amendment mandating school personnel to out students to their parents even if it put them at risk of abuse, neglect or abandonment would never have even been proposed in the Florida bill. Taking the few safe adults a queer a student may have, especially knowing that even having one safe adult they can talk to reduces risk of suicide is the antithesis of protecting children. 
Call this what it is; it is state sanctioned bullying designed to inflame homophobic sentiment and make queer people feel small. This bullying is going to get people killed, either through violence that this vitriol encourages, or suicide when students feel they have nowhere safe to turn. It takes certain kinds of evil people to use the state to bully already vulnerable children. 
When Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow gave her impassioned speech against this hate, I knew I needed to speak up too. Hope and resilience are more important now than ever. To my beloved queer community, and especially queer youth remember that you are a part of a community that has consistently beat the shit out of the odds. From Stonewall and fighting police oppression, to the brave people of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, who fought back when the Reagan administration ignored the AIDS crisis, to those who challenged unjust laws and brought us closer to equality, you are part of a community that has always shown up and fought back against hate. 

Call me what you want. I don’t care. Like McMorrow, I know who I am and what I stand for. I stand for all students to feel represented and safe in their schools. I stand for all families who send their children to school and want to know their children will not be treated as “other” or “less than” because of who they are or how their family looks. I stand for teachers who want to make their classrooms safe for students who do not feel safe. Most importantly, I stand for justice, decency and equality. To quote Sen. McMorrow, “Hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen … We will not let hate win.”
Matthew Klein is a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in educational psychology at A&M and a university employee. His views are not reflective of university administration.

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