The Portland Phoenix

The Universal Notebook: The war on the woke

In the American culture wars, conservatives appear to be winning the battle over abortion rights in the courts. And while they attack democracy at the polls by pushing Trump’s Big Lie that he won in 2020, filing bogus challenges to election results all over the country, rightwing extremists have now turned our public schools into battlegrounds over LGBTQ+ rights.

Social conservatives and religious fundamentalists challenge any teachings that attempt to deal with issues of gender identity. Maine Republicans are making political hay this election cycle with television ads that feature a video for kindergarten students that discusses gender identity, claiming that Gov. Mills’ administration spent $2.8 million on some radical agenda. Not true.

The truth? That money was spent on more than 400 optional (as in not required) instructional support videos, the majority of which deal with subjects like Maine authors, farm life, occupations and shapes. The teacher who made the gender identity video was paid $1,000 and the video was pulled from the Department of Education website last spring when Republicans first complained about it.

Some parents have also complained about a Gender 101 poster that explains the difference between gender and sex and defines intersex, transgender, cisgender, gender non-conforming and gender fluid. One parent objected that heterosexual was not even a choice on the poster. That, lady, is because the poster is about gender identity not sexual orientation. You also don’t see homosexual or bisexual as choices on the poster.

The Gender 101 poster was created by Out Maine to further its goal “to create more welcoming and affirming communities for Maine’s diverse queer youth.” Out Maine points out that 20% of Maine teens (and 40% of those in foster care) are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. Heaven forbid schools should acknowledge this reality.

We have also seen this fall how one town after another has attempted to ban books like “Gender Queer” from school libraries. The book is not required reading anywhere, but the virtue vigilantes don’t even want it available to students who might be struggling with gender issues.

It’s just one short step from book banning to blanket censorship like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law which prohibits Florida teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in grade K-3. “Don’t Say Gay” was a major offensive (and it surely is offensive) in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war on the “woke,” by which he means “politically-correct” but which actually means “well-informed and up-to-date.” And it’s just another short goose step from “Don’t Say Gay” to curriculum bans on discussions of race and social justice, indeed any critical reading of American history.

We might all be able to agree that parents should be notified when sensitive topics are to be discussed in schools. That way parents can opt out, as in keep their kids home in the dark. What is totally unacceptable is for a minority of vocal parents to dictate curriculum content to all students based on their religious beliefs.

What is truly troubling is that there are still parents in this day and age who cannot accept their own flesh and blood unless they conform to outdated social norms of gender identity and sexual orientation. We all are as God made us or God didn’t make us at all. Any religion that tells parents they must condemn and shun their own children if they happen to be LGBTQ+ is a hateful belief system at worst and a misunderstanding of religious teachings at best.

But then the opposite of “woke” is “ignorant.”

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.



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