MichMash: ‘Operation Opt Out’ challenges LGBTQ-inclusive sex education

Michigan Advance’s Allison Donahue talks with Cheyna Roth about the status of sex education in the state and what exactly the group opposes.

rainbow pride flag waves over Detroit

A pride flag waves over Detroit.

A new right-wing group is arming parents with opt-out forms in regards to LGBTQ-inclusive sex education in Michigan schools. Michigan Advance’s Allison Donahue talks with Cheyna Roth about the status of sex education in the state and what exactly the group opposes.

In this episode:

  • Great Schools Initiative created a new sex education opt-out form with language targeting conversations on LGBTQ and gender identity.
  • Parental rights groups, like Moms for Liberty and Let Them Be, are joining “Operation Opt Out” to flood schools with these forms in February.
  • Kent County Board of Commissioners denied ARPA funding for a new LGBTQ and Black-run community art center.

Subscribe to MichMash on Apple PodcastsSpotifyNPR.org or wherever you get your podcasts.

Parents can already opt their child out of sex education classes, but Great Schools Initiative’s new form extends beyond the sex education classroom and curriculum, Donahue said. This new form would opt a child out from seeing pride flags in schools and talking about pronouns with a teacher, things not typically taught in a sex education class.

“Operation Opt Out” is a strategy organized by GSI that’s bringing parental rights groups like Moms for Liberty and Let Them Be together to file mass amounts of these opt-out forms at schools.

Donahue said that GSI co-founder Nathan Pawl talked about the resources the group has for potential lawsuits at a meeting in early January.

“I think they’re just waiting for the schools to either turn them away and reject the form or (for) schools to violate it and so then they can file these lawsuits,” Donahue said. “They just need one lawsuit to be successful to set a precedent and I think that’s their main goal.”

Part of the opt-out form also addresses gay and straight alliance groups, preventing groups supporting LGBTQ students from sharing group announcements and having a platform at their school. Donahue notes that this campaign could have serious negative ramifications for the state’s LGBTQ students.

“(I) think a lot of folks are worried about the mental health impact this is going to have on LGBTQ youth,” Donahue said.

ARPA funding in Kent County

Donahue also recently reported on Kent County Commissioners denying COVID-19 relief funding to The Diatribe, a Black and LGBTQ-run youth center in Grand Rapids. Kent County has started the process of distributing $127 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to community projects.

The Diatribe’s proposal would have used $2 million to create the Emory Arts and Culture Hub, Donahue reported. This building would house The Diatribe’s offices, retail store fronts, eight apartment units and performance venues to host local and national artists. Of the 300 project proposals, The Diatribe was ranked twelfth for its potential community impact.

“I had heard from others off the record that there were inside, behind the scenes conversations that The Diatribe was never going to be chosen,” Donahue said.

Texts from Kent County Commissioners, obtained by Michigan Advance through the Freedom of Information Act, revealed commissioners looking for reasons to justify not approving the funding.

In the texts, Republican commissioner Emily Brieve asked if The Diatribe made any posts about defunding the police on their website. Republican commissioner Ben Green flagged a page on The Diatribe’s website on toxic masculinity, among other things that the group works with students on. This page was also shared with Chair Stan Stek when he asked for offensive posts from their website.

Democrat State Rep. Phil Skaggs, then a Kent County commissioner, said there were fears behind the scenes that if republicans approved funding for The Diatribe, a new slate of far-right republicans would run to replace them in the next election, similar to what happened to Ottawa County Commissioners.

“I think that was their fear and part of their reasoning for not funding The Diatribe, according to what I’m hearing from conversations about negotiations,” Donahue said.

The Diatribe serves 5,000 students from about 30 different schools through various programs, Donahue said. The group is still going through with the Emory Arts and Culture Hub, thanks to Steelcase and other groups donating money.

“They’re scrappy, they will make it happen,” Donahue said. “So I think for them, that’s less of the point. It’s more about that they were intentionally targeted by some board members, though they are still planning to go through with their project the best they can.”

Related posts:

Support the podcasts you love.

One-of-a-kind podcasts from WDET bring you engaging conversations, news you need to know and stories you love to hear.

Keep the conversations coming. Please make a gift today.

Give now »