Michigan Democrat blasts GOP ‘groomer’ slurs and school censorship efforts in powerful speech: ‘We will not let hate win’

‘I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard and supported, not marginalised and targeted because they are not straight, white and Christian’

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 20 April 2022 18:59 BST
Michigan legislator condemns GOP 'groomer' attacks

After a Republican state senator in Michigan accused a Democratic legislator of supporting attempts to “groom” and “sexualise” children in a campaign fundraising email, state Senator Mallory McMorrow took her response to the floor of the state capitol.

“I sat on it for a while wondering, ‘Why me?’ And then I realised – I am the biggest threat to your hollow, hateful scheme,” she said in remarks on 19 April. “You can’t claim that you are targeting marginalised kids in the name of ‘parental rights’ if another parent is standing up to say ‘no’.”

In an email soliciting donations to her campaign on 18 April, Senator Lana Theis heaped together a list of right-wing tropes that have dominated GOP campaigns in 2022, alleging that “our children are under assault in our schools” from “gender-bending indoctrination” and “race-based education” promoted by their political opponents.

She also lashed out at Senator McMorrow, claiming she is among a group of “progressive social media trolls” who are “outraged they can’t teach, can’t groom and sexualise kindergarteners or that 8-year-olds are responsible for slavery,” without pointing to any such evidence, as GOP officials and right-wing personalities invoke baseless smears against LGBT+ people and their allies relying on the same language.

In furious five-minute remarks that went viral across social media on Tuesday, Senator McMorrow condemned the attacks and placed them within a broader, toxic national campaign to distort concepts like “critical race theory” and LGBT+ people for political leverage.

“I am a straight, white, Christian, married suburban mom, who knows that the very notion that learning about slavery or redlining or systemic racism somehow means that ‘children are being taught to feel bad and hate themselves because they are white’ is absolute nonsense,” Senator McMorrow said.

She added: “No child alive today is responsible for slavery. No one in this room is responsible for slavery. But each and every single one of us bears responsibility for writing the next chapter of history. … We are not responsible for the past. We also cannot change the past. We can’t pretend that it didn’t happen, or deny people their very right to exist.”

Following the advancement of what opponents have called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation and bills banning transgender student athletes from school sports, right-wing media figures and Republican officials have characterised opposition to their agenda as “groomers” or pedophiles.

“Grooming” refers to the emotional manipulation of a child for sexual abuse, though the latest wave of allegations attacks LGBT+ teachers, the parents of transgender children, and opponents of legislation that LGBT+ advocates have warned will cause widespread harm.

Senator McMorrow was among a group of Democratic legislators who walked out of a legislative session last week after Senator Theis claimed in a prayer that “children are under attack” because of “forces that desire things for them other than what their parents would have them see and hear and know.”

Michigan Republicans are mulling a version of Florida’s recently passed “Parental Rights in Education” Act, which prohibits instruction of “sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten through the third grade and any such discussion “that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” in other grades.

The broadly written law – the subject of a federal lawsuit claiming violations of federal antidiscrimination statutes – could freeze classroom speech involving LGBT+ people and issues, from civil rights history lessons to discussion of LGBT+ students, school staff and their families, according to opponents.

Republian state legislators also are advancing dozens of propsals aimed at eliminating “critical race theory” from classrooms, though educators and school officials have repeatedly denied that high-level academic theories about the legacies of racism in US institutions are not part of any grade-level curriculums.

The term has served as a catch-all phrase to encompass teachings on the history of slavery, racism and civil rights movements, among other topics, with legislation broadly aimed at censoring classroom speech, while GOP officials argue that such concepts or teaching materials are not directly discussing the theory but are derived from it.

“People who are different are not the reason that our roads are in bad shape after decades of disinvestment, or that healthcare costs are too high, or that teachers are leaving the profession,” Senator McMorrow said in her remarks on Tuesday.

She added: “I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard and supported, not marginalised and not targeted because they are not straight, white and Christian. We cannot let hateful people tell you otherwise to scapegoat and deflect from the fact that they are not doing anything to fix the real issues that impact people’s lives.”

Senator McMorrow said “hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen.”

“I hope it brought in a few dollars,” she said, appearing to reference the email from Senator Theis’ campaign. “I hope it made you sleep good last night.”

The Independent has requested comment from Senator Theis’ campaign.

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