A lot of the goofy, moshing Pembroke guys look, at first glance, a lot like the jocks I remember swinging anti-gay statements. It is clear that more children will end up in high schools where they are accepted and celebrated than in schools where they are bullied and abused.
There is, of course, an even greater generational shift with trans issues. Many middle-aged liberal parents I know have different ideas about gender than their more radical adolescent children, and I assume the gap in many conservative families must be even wider. Christopher Rufo, the right-wing activist who leads a crusade against Disney for his opposition to the Don’t Say Gay bill, told me a friend of his had sent his high school daughter to a girls’ choir camp over the summer, “and a third of the girls came back saying they were non-binary, gay, or gender-nonconforming.”
Faced with a gender landscape they find unnerving or worse, conservatives are trying to use schools to turn the tide. The result has been an explosion of book bans and educational jokes, including proposals even more extreme than Florida’s. While that state’s Don’t Say Gay law severely limits what teachers can say about gender and sexual orientation, a Tennessee proposal would ban public school classroom materials “that promote, normalize, support, or address problems or lifestyle.”
Some of these things are undoubtedly purely cynical. The Trumpist website American Greatness recently celebrated the term “groomer” as a right-wing attempt to do “what the left always does: invent a new political epithet.”
But the school culture wars are also driven by alarm and confusion. Last year I wrote about a bathroom assault at a Virginia high school that was wrongly attributed to trans-friendly bathroom policies. The victim’s family was interviewed by conservative website The Daily Wire, and the ending has stayed with me. The girl’s mother, who fought on behalf of her daughter against the progressive policies towards trans children, complained that the girl herself had become increasingly progressive.
“Where does she get those ideas from? From school, of course,” said the mother. “It’s not our house.”