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Fox News is lying that New Jersey schools are “grooming” & torturing kids

The state implemented new student health standards, but Fox has honed in on a resource from one school, which wasn’t implemented

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Mia Gingerich | WASHINGTON – Fox News has launched yet another anti-trans attack on schools and children, falsely claiming that first and second-graders across New Jersey are undergoing “psychological torture” and “predatory grooming” based on a sample lesson plan on a list of resources at one school that has not even been implemented.

In 2020, New Jersey’s board of education released new “health and physical education” standards, set to take effect this year, which were modeled on proposed national standards developed by groups including the American School Health Association and the American Association of Health Education. The New Jersey standards cover a wide range of topics, including who can help in the case of medical emergencies and the basics of puberty. They also include the requirements that, by the end of fifth grade, students understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity and how to “promote dignity and respect for all people.” 

As part of their attack on Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy during last year’s gubernatorial election, Murphy’s opposition erroneously claimed the new standards would teach children in grades as young as kindergarten about “sex acts.” This is in line with the right’s broader strategy aimed at portraying LGBTQ people, their allies, and schools as “grooming” children to be LGBTQ and for sexual exploitation.

The state standards require that students be able to “discuss the range of ways people express their gender and how gender role stereotypes may limit behavior” by the end of second grade. However, pundits on Fox have misleadingly conflated that grade-level state requirement with one specific sample lesson plan from one school district in the state. The school clarified to Fox that the plan is only on a list of resources and not the lesson plan it is implementing; parents also have the option to opt their children out of any plans. The sample plan set learning objectives for students to be able to define “gender, gender identity, and gender role stereotypes” by the end of first grade and included activities that Fox has portrayed as “abusive” and “predatory grooming.”

Fox pundits make outlandish claims, including that New Jersey is engaging in “predatory grooming” and “psychological torture” of students

Right-wing pundits are citing the sample lesson to falsely claim that students across the state would be required to learn about gender identity by the end of second grade. Along with spreading misinformation about the new standards, Fox News personalities have taken the opportunity to malign the trans community, asserting that instruction on gender identity represents “psychological tortue of children,” and to rekindle their attacks against comprehensive and inclusive sex education, an approach that research broadly supports

Here we see Fox News’ reaction:

  • During the April 8 edition of America Reports, guest and Washington Times opinion editor Charlie Hurt reacted to the story by claiming instruction on gender identity “goes beyond just predatory grooming. This goes to the point of really psychological torture of children,” and saying that “nobody wants their children to be preyed upon by really sick demented people like this.”
  • On the April 8 edition of her show, Harris Faulkner falsely claimed that “according to [New Jersey] state guidelines, students should, by the end of second grade, understand the core ideas which all individuals should feel welcome and included regardless of their gender, regardless of their gender expression, regardless of their sexual orientation.” Ironically, Faulkner then said these conversations should be reserved for children in the fourth grade, a grade younger than the guidelines actually stipulate. Guest and Fox News Radio host Jimmy Failla said, “To be introducing this conflict into their lives in my opinion is almost like abusive” and, “The idea that a kid could be 3 or 4 or kindergarten age and transgender, he couldn’t be there without the parents forcing the view on him.” In reality, the Mayo Clinic states that children are often able to sense their gender identity by the age of 3. The lie that parents are forcing their children to be transgender has resulted in legal threats over custody. 
  • On the April 8 edition of Fox & Friends, while discussing the manufactured controversy around Disney’s opposition to the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, co-host Will Cain said, “It really is shocking to see how many corporate leaders and politicians within the Democratic Party say, ‘You know what, we should be talking to 7-year-olds about sex.’” Co-host Brian Kilmeade responded by saying, “New Jersey is. It’s in their curriculum,” going on to expand on the false claim, saying, “In New Jersey now, one of the objectives with second-graders, have children be able to identify at least four body parts from female and male genitalia and for students to describe why it’s important for them to note correct names of genitals. That’s in your second-grade class,” he said, referring to another part of the sample lesson plan. Kilmeade then told parents in New Jersey to “pack up your things, get a luggage rack, get what you can, and run for the border.”
  • Later on in the show, during an interview with the co-hosts of Fox & Friends Weekend, Rachel Campos-Duffy and Pete Hegseth, Campos-Duffy said instruction on gender identity was “dangerous stuff,” “confusing,” and “wrong.” Host Brian Kilmeade then used the sample lesson plan to promote various iterations of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill being considered in several states, describing the curriculum as “insidious” and “evil” and saying it was why “governors in Ohio, Florida, and Texas are moving against it.” Hegseth then called the sample plans “creepy” and said that “parents need to be aware this could be in your backyard as well.”
  • On the April 9 edition of Fox & Friends Weekend, Campos-Duffy falsely claimed that “kids in second grade in New Jersey will get lessons on gender identity thanks to new education guidelines.” Campos-Duffy then brought on Kristen Sinclair, who was identified as a “New Jersey mom of two.” Not mentioned was the fact that Sinclair is also the founder of Child Advocate Coalition, an organization in New Jersey that advocates against COVID-19 health measures in schools. They fearmongered about the sample lesson plan’s inclusion of links to Amaze – an organization that provides videos on age-appropriate sex education – and Sinclair suggested children were being taught about pornography and were “being ripened for grooming for sexual abuse by adults.” 
  • On the April 9 edition of Fox Report, host Jon Scott falsely claimed that “updated health education health guidelines” would “require elementary schools to teach gender identity lessons to second-graders this fall.” Scott later brought on Ian Prior, who heads Fight for Schools, an organization that pushes hysteria around critical race theory, with Prior calling the lesson plan a “full-on assault on parental rights” and claiming “6- and 7-year-olds” were being taught “gender ideology” before invoking attacks against trans swimmer Lia Thomas. Finally, Prior claimed instruction on gender identity “shows what this movement is about,” claiming the government was attempting to “implement these policies in a way that affects our children at a very young age that could have irreversible damage later on.”
  • On the April 11 edition of America’s Newsroom, Fox News correspondent Nate Foy claimed that “starting in September, kids as young as 6 years old in first grade here in New Jersey will be having conversations about their genitalia and how it relates to gender identity.” Foy did note that the school district explained that the sample lesson plan was not a part of the district’s lesson plan and just part of a list of resources.
  • On the April 11 edition of The Story, host Martha MacCallum criticized the sample lesson plan by quoting anti-trans author Abigail Shrier’s claim that “schools no longer see themselves as academic institutions but places where sexual identity politics is central to all conversations.”
  • On the April 11 edition of Special Report With Bret Baier, host Bret Baier said that “New Jersey public schools second-graders will be getting lessons related to gender identity this fall,” falsely asserting it is a “part of new state sex education guidelines taking effect in September” and claimed, “Critics are blasting Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy over these plans.”
  • An April 7 article on Fox News’ website titled “New Jersey to require 2nd graders learn about gender identity in fall, alarming parents” falsely claimed that “public school second graders will be getting lessons related to gender identity this fall under state sex education guidelines.” Later in the article, New Jersey Republican State Sen. Holly Schepisi was quoted as claiming “Gov. Murphy used the cover of the pandemic to push these new standards” and that the new standards were “an attempt to sexualize our precious children.”

This is the latest manufactured controversy in an increasingly extreme campaign of homophobic and anti-trans rhetoric

This year, in response to criticism of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, right-wing media have adopted extreme rhetoric about LGBTQ issues in schools, falsely attempting to tie conversations about — or even mentions of — LGBTQ identity to “grooming.” The Florida bill, which would explicitly ban conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation for kindgarten through third but whose vague language could lead to limits on discussions of LGBTQ people across all grades, was passed and signed into law amid resounding criticism from human rights organizations. After Disney recently reversed course on its support for politicians pushing the legislation in Florida, Fox News reacted by claiming the company was attempting to “sexualize our children.”

The network’s rhetoric has since escalated to include extremist homophobic and anti-trans assertions that discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity are akin to normalizing the sexual exploitation of minors. Meanwhile, Fox ignored an actual instance of legislation that originally could have removed age limits for straight marriages.

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Mia Gingerich is a researcher at Media Matters. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Northern Arizona University and has previously worked in rural organizing and local media.

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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News Analysis

Right-wing media spreads altered footage of drag queen- who sues

Libs of TikTok and other anti-LGBTQ media falsely claimed a drag queen exposed himself to minors — now the performer is suing

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Mia Gingerich | WASHINGTON – A drag queen who performed at the Idaho Pride event targeted by white nationalists in June is suing a right-wing blogger who doctored footage of his performance to falsely claim he had exposed himself to children.

Even though the video was swiftly debunked by local news, right-wing media — including Libs of TikTok’s Chaya Raichik and others who initially helped drive harassment against the Pride event — pushed the edited footage, leading to abuse against the performer. 

On June 11, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, arrested 31 members of the Patriot Front near Pride in the Park, a planned Pride event. Authorities said evidence showed the white nationalists, who had gathered at the park from across the country, were planning to riot at the event and in multiple areas around the town. Patriot Front has a history of anti-LGBTQ actions, including burning trans pride flags and vandalizing a memorial for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated it as a hate group.

The event was also targeted by a far-right biker group that announced it was holding an event nearby at the same time as Pride in the Park, with organizers saying there were “going to be going after the groomers” while alluding to possible violence. 

One of the performers at the event was Eric Posey, whose drag name is Mona Liza Million. Following Pride in the Park, right-wing blogger Summer Bushnell posted footage from Posey’s performance that blurred his crotch. In her posts, Bushnell erroneously claimed Posey had exposed himself to minors and called for her audience to report the video to police. The video, which was debunked by local news two days after the event was held, led to harassment against Posey after it went viral on social media. Now Posey is suing Bushnell, claiming she defamed him in an effort to gain popularity as part of the nationwide effort to malign LGBTQ people and Pride Month events.

A key instigator in manufacturing outrage over the event was Chaya Raichik, who runs the social media account “Libs of TikTok.” Raichik not only targeted Pride in the Park after Idaho-based white nationalist Dave Reilly called for her to do so, but she also helped spread Bushnell’s video weeks after it had been debunked by both the media and authorities. On July 31, Raichik retweeted a tweet with Bushnell’s video and calling Posey a “pedophile,” with Raichik adding, “This is what a ‘family-friendly’ drag show looks like.” Commenters reacting to Raichik’s post falsely accused Posey of being a “groomer” and “pedophile,” while others threatened extreme acts of violence against him, including multiple threats to castrate him.

Although the tweet she quoted was later removed for violating Twitter’s rule on hateful conduct, Raichik’s tweet was never deleted. 

Raichik was joined in sharing the doctored video by anti-LGBTQ trolls including right-wing podcaster Liz Wheeler and Gays Against Groomers, with the latter writing, “If gay rights do get rolled back, it will only be because of things like this.”

The renewed social media pickup of the doctored video led to an article published by right-wing blog Post Millennial headlined “Drag queen accused of exposing self to children at ‘family friendly’ Pride event.” The article promoted conspiracy theories that antifa was involved in targeting the Idaho Pride event, and the header for the article included a still from Bushnell’s video, with the edited video embedded.  

The Idaho Family Policy Center, a right-wing Christian nonprofit that partners with extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom and multiple other anti-LGBTQ organizations, posted a petition on September 8 denying law enforcement’s debunking of the video and claiming it had “reviewed the unedited footage and can confirm it portrays public exposure of the performer’s genitalia.” Included with the petition, which called for drag performances to be banned from taking place around children, was a still from Bushnell’s video. The petition remains active as of publication date. 

Far-right conspiracy theory outlet Infowars posted an article also featuring a still from the doctored video. The article suggested the targeting of the event by Patriot Front was “a federal false flag operation” and criticized the “mainstream media” for “ignoring a potential child sex crime occurring at the very same event.”

The article cited a press release from the local sheriff’s department saying police were investigating the video. The announcement came after a local outlet had already debunked the claims and released the unedited video, and despite law enforcement officials acknowledging that their investigation stemmed entirely from reports by individuals who had seen Bushnell’s doctored footage and none of whom had seen the performance in person. The stunt culminated on July 1 with the city prosecutor stating what had been demonstrated weeks earlier — Posey had not exposed himself. 

Disregarding available evidence, right-wing media widely used the release to push the false narrative and disseminate the doctored footage. Stephanie Hamill, a contributing writer for Media Research Center and ambassador for Turning Point USA, tweeted Bushnell’s video while adding that the “dancer’s genitals were reportedly exposed on the main stage with children viewing the ‘dance.’”

Right-wing author Janie Johnson tweeted a link to the video to her nearly 200,000 followers, attempting to excuse the white nationalists who targeted the event and writing, “Wonder what ticked the Idaho dads? This drag demon exposed himself to children.” 

The incident is nearly identical to another manufactured controversy pushed by right-wing media in which an edited photo of a drag performer reading to children at a library in 2019 was blurred and paired with the claim that they were exposing themselves to children. That smear, too, was quickly debunked, which did not prevent the ensuing harassment and an attempt from lawmakers to strip libraries of their funding.   

The targeting of Posey and the broader attacks on Pride in the Park followed an escalating campaign of harassment against drag and Pride Month events that falsely accused participants of abusing children. This harassment, and the escalating rhetoric of maligning LGBTQ people as groomers, has largely been enabled by the failure of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to adequately handle the targeted harassment. 

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Mia Gingerich is a researcher at Media Matters. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Northern Arizona University and has previously worked in rural organizing and local media.

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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Research/Study

Suicide risk & access to care among LGBTQ college students

LGBTQ college students with access to mental health services through their college had drastically lower odds of attempting suicide

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LGBTQ+ UCLA graduates (Photo Credit: UCLA LGBTQ Campus Resource Center)

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project’s researchers team published new data this week that assessed suicide risk, access to mental health services, and access to LGBTQ student services among a national sampling of LGBTQ+ college and university students.

The report’s findings show that LGBTQ college students with access to mental health services through their college or university had drastically lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those without access.

The data in the report takes on greater relevance as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is observed this September and highlight the ways in which community leaders, parents, and others can help prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth — a group that is more than four times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their straight and cisgender peers.

Key Findings:

  • LGBTQ college students with access to mental health services through their college had 84% lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to LGBTQ college students without access. 
    • LGBTQ college students reported that common barriers to accessing care included that they did not feel comfortable going (33%), long waitlists, (29%), and privacy concerns (17%).
  • LGBTQ college students with access to LGBTQ student services through their college had 44% lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to LGBTQ college students without access.
    •  Over six in ten (63%) LGBTQ college students reported that their college had LGBTQ-specific services, such as an LGBTQ center, available. 
    • Those who did not have access to LGBTQ student services through their college reported significantly higher rates of seriously considering suicide in the past year (41%) compared to those who did have access (30%). 
  • One in three (33%) LGBTQ college students seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 7% reported a suicide attempt in the past year. 
    • Rates of considering suicide were higher among LGBTQ college students of color (35%), multisexual students (35%), and transgender and nonbinary students (39%),
    • LGBTQ students of color (9%) and transgender and nonbinary students (9%) reported significantly higher rates of attempting suicide in the past year compared to White LGBTQ students (6%) and cisgender LGBQ students (4%).
  • Nearly nine in ten LGBTQ college students (89%) reported that their college was accepting of LGBTQ people, and this was associated with the availability of LGBTQ-specific student services.

“These findings are strikingly clear: LGBTQ college students who reported having access to mental health services at school had dramatically lower odds of attempting suicide compared to those without access,” said Dr. Jonah DeChants (he/him), Research Scientist at The Trevor Project.

“While college environments offer a number of positive and protective factors for LGBTQ students, the reality is that suicide risk still very much persists, especially among those who do not have access to affirming spaces and services. We urge all colleges and universities to realize that access to mental health care services, as well as LGBTQ-specific student services, on college campuses is critical for ensuring the mental health and safety of their LGBTQ student body,” he added.

Read the report here (Link)

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Research/Study

Black men account for 91% of HIV-related arrests in Louisiana

A new data interactive looks at the impact of HIV criminal laws on people living with HIV in nine states, including Louisiana

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Screenshot/YouTube

BATON ROUGE – Since 2011, as many as 176 people have had contact with Louisiana’s criminal legal system because of allegations of HIV crimes, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. HIV-related crimes are disproportionately enforced based on race and sex. In Louisiana, Black men represent 15% of the state population and 44% of people living with HIV, but 91% of those arrested for an HIV crime.

Using data obtained from the Louisiana Incident-Based Reporting System and from the state’s most populous parishes, researchers found that enforcement of HIV crimes is concentrated in East Baton Rouge Parish, Orleans Parish, and Calcasieu Parish. Furthermore, the number of HIV incidents—or interactions with law enforcement involving allegations of HIV crimes—is not declining over time.

HIV criminalization is a term used to describe laws that either criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase the penalties for illegal conduct based upon a person’s HIV-positive status. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. states and territories currently have laws that criminalize people living with HIV.

A new data interactive looks at the impact of HIV criminal laws on people living with HIV in nine states, including Louisiana.

Louisiana has one criminal law related to HIV, which makes it a felony for a person who knows of their HIV-positive status to intentionally expose another person to HIV through sexual contact or other means without consent. The maximum sentence for an intentional exposure conviction is 10 years, and people convicted of an HIV crime are required to register on the state’s sex offender registry for at least 15 years.

Louisiana’s HIV criminal law does not require actual transmission, intent to transmit, or even the possibility of transmission to sustain a conviction. Between 2011 and 2022, incarceration for HIV crimes cost Louisiana at least $6.5 million.

“The cost of Louisiana’s HIV criminal law is likely much higher. Even with only partial access to the state’s criminal enforcement data, the trends were dramatic,” said lead author Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Analyst at the Williams Institute. “Louisiana’s HIV criminal law may undermine the state’s public health efforts by deterring the communities most impacted by HIV, including people of color and sex workers, from seeking testing and treatment.”  

KEY FINDINGS

  • Most HIV criminal incidents (80%) in Louisiana involved only allegations of an HIV-related crime; no other crimes were alleged in the incidents.
  • Black people—and especially Black men—were the majority of people identified as suspects and arrested for HIV-related crimes in Louisiana.
    • Across the state, 63% of suspects were Black and 45% were Black men. For incidents that resulted in arrest, all of those arrested were Black and 91% were Black men.
    • In New Orleans, close to 80% of all suspects were identified as Black and 58% were Black men.
  • Black people and women were overrepresented among victims of HIV-related incidents.
    • Across the state, Black women and white women each represented 28% of all victims.
    • In New Orleans, Black men were 58% of all victims.
  • Since 1998, there have been at least 47 separate HIV-related convictions resulting in sex offender registration, involving 43 people.
  • Most people (63%) on the sex offender registry because of an HIV-related conviction are on the registry only because of the HIV-related conviction.
  • Three-quarters of people on the sex offender registry for an HIV-related conviction were Black.
  • Guilty outcomes resulted in an average sentence of 4.3 years.
  • Incarcerating people for HIV-related charges has cost Louisiana at least $6.5 million.

This report is part of a series of reports examining the ongoing impact of state HIV criminalization laws on people living with HIV. Take a look at our new data interactive summarizing the findings of our research.

Read the report

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