Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist and writer with a large online following who helped pioneer Republican attacks on critical race theory and gender identity, has a new target: Evanston/Skokie School District 65 LGBTQ+ Equity Week.
In April Rufo published an article “Radical Gender Lessons for Young Children” in the public policy magazine City Journal, where he is a senior contributing editor. In the piece, he highlighted some of the lesson plans District 65 teachers use during Equity Week to teach gender equity, gender expression, and accepting classmates for who they are.
In particular, Rufo focused on the kindergarten curriculum as proof that liberal cities and states are teaching “college-level queer theory” to younger students.
“It is unfortunate that people like Mr. Rufo feel what they feel about the way we educate children in our school district,” District 65 School Board President Sergio Hernandez told the Roundtable. “Our intention is to teach our children to be loving and accepting of all people, regardless of how they present themselves in this world. We are in no way trying to indoctrinate children into any kind of ideology, as Mr. Rufus and his followers erroneously claim.”
The curriculum District 65 uses for kindergarten classes covers topics such as breaking gender stereotypes, recognizing and respecting identity differences, and “aligning,” defined as “building relationships based on trust, consistency, and responsibility with marginalized individuals.” and/or groups of people.”
“Students will learn about their identities and the identities of others,” states the Kindergarten curriculum overview. “They will explore family concepts, gender stereotypes of toys and clothing, colors and meanings, flags, alliance and identity.”
Rufus’ focus on District 65 came on the heels of a national protest over the passage of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans the state’s public schools from discussing gender and sexuality with students from kindergarten to third grade.
In an April essay on Rufus in the nationCandace Bond-Theriault, Director of Racial Justice Policy and Strategy at Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, wrote that elementary schools are not teaching complex queer theory to children and that Rufus is using his platform to incite a ” moral panic”. among conservatives about how schools discuss race and gender in the classroom.
But Rufo used the example of District 65’s LGBTQ+ Equity Week to argue that “queer theory has made its way into public school curricula for children as young as 4.”
Queer theory, as a concept, refers to an academic discourse developed in the early 1990s that emphasizes gender as a social construction and seeks to center the experiences of those with identities that do not fit traditional norms of gender or sexuality. The discipline also seeks to break down gender and sexual binaries such as gay or straight and male or female.
As an academic discipline taught in university courses on gender and sexuality, queer theory primarily involves analyzing how gender and sexuality intersect with identities such as race, class, and nationality, and how gender norms have influenced other senses of identity over time. This sophisticated kind of analysis and debate about how people formulate their identities is not something that happens in an elementary school classroom in Evanston, District 65 officials say.
Rufus did not respond to a RoundTable request for comment on why he decided to attack Evanston schools or if the upcoming November 2022 gubernatorial election has anything to do with his article.
Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss, however, said that “there is no doubt that there is a coordinated effort from the right to provoke controversy and outrage on social and racial issues, and it is motivated by the November election.”
District 65 held its first LGBTQ+ Equity Week in 2019 after Governor JB Pritzker officially enacted the Inclusive Curriculum Act, which requires all public schools in the state to teach students before eighth grade about the contributions LGBTQ+ people make. made for state and national history.
Melissa Messinger, a spokeswoman for District 65, told the Roundtable in an email that the LGBTQ+ Equity Week held in April each year helps educators and students learn more about identities, family structures, stereotypes and history.
According to Messinger, each school level across the district participates in “a selection of these topics according to development and age.”
“Honestly, the most ‘controversial’ aspect about our curriculum tools is that they exist,” Victor Salvo, Executive Director of The Legacy Project, told RoundTable via email. “Most students grow up in a world that bombards them with negative messages and rarely, if ever, validate their existence by recognizing that so many important historical figures like Jane Addams, James Baldwin, Barbara Jordan, Walt Whitman – even the immortal Tchaikovsky – people who are already studying in school – were not, in fact, heterosexual”.
Salvo also said the goal of educating children about LGBTQ+ figures and their accomplishments is to fill an information void that has existed for decades where a general lack of awareness or recognition when it comes to people’s gender identity and sexuality has led to bullying and bullying. isolation for students who feel different from their peers.
“This sowing of hatred and demonization against diverse school communities like ours is normal for people like Mr. ruff; and the intention, as always, is to continue the dehumanization of marginalized communities,” said Hernandez. “Hate and mischaracterization is what makes your news sites get the clicks they depend on for their livelihood.”