By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder says children are being indoctrinated and over-sexualized with graphic content found in public schools across the state and nation.
With a few months left in office, he used his position to host a Stop the Sexualization of Our Children press conference in Cheyenne.
“What this press conference is all about is not indicting Wyoming schools, but protecting them,” Schroeder said. “Because we are living in unprecedented times, like nothing we’ve ever faced in our nation’s history.”
An ongoing dialogue in Natrona County about a pair of sexually explicit books in the Kelly Walsh High School library is an example of what Schroeder said is a troubling move in exposing children to inappropriate material and issues.
“Now, here we are, actually debating the availability of sexually obscene and or pornographic material in our school and public libraries,” Schroeder said, his voice cracking with emotion.
It’s a controversy he said would have been “entirely unthinkable not too many years ago. We now have to contend for common sense and common decency in our schools and in our communities, another sign of the times.”
Show Of Solidarity
More than 100 people turned out for the event at Little America Hotel and Resort that featured national speakers and leading members of the Wyoming Legislature such as state Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, and Reps. John Bear, R-Gillette, Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, and Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody. A handful other legislators like state Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, also attended, as did Wyoming Republican Party Chairman Frank Eathorne.
‘Frantic’ And ‘Frenzied’
Marcie Kindred, a Democratic state senate candidate in Cheyenne, described many people in the audience as “frantic” and “frenzied.” She said society has changed over the last few decades, particularly on the topic of sex, and many people have a hard time understanding these changes.
“The most concerning thing about the whole meeting was the discussion around LGBT youth, particularly our trans and gender non-conforming youth,” Kindred said in an email after the event. “Our children need to be protected and loved fully and wholly, just as they are. All of them. That was not love in there. That was fear – fear of things they don’t and won’t make the effort to understand.”
Kindred mentioned how parents can “opt-out” from allowing their children to check out particular books from their school library.. She said it’s unrealistic to expect this could be reversed so that all parents are automatically signed up.
“Morality is personal, you can teach that in your homes,” she said, mentioning how parents also have choices to enter their children in private schools or homeschool them.
The speakers at the event promoted a consistent philosophy that Wyoming’s children are under attack from “woke” ideologies being pushed about transgender issues and inappropriate sexual topics.
No conflicting views were presented by speakers at the event, but Elana Fishbein, founder and CEO of No Left Turn in Education, said her organization wants schools to teach in a clear manner, free from partisan bias on either side of the political aisle. She advocated for the teaching of classical education during her speech, a calling card of many conservatives in recent years.
“All the indoctrination is coming from the radical left,” Fishbein explained, adding there are many Democratic supporters in her organization.
Schroeder said he considers the sexualization of children an issue he holds as equal in importance to teacher retention in Wyoming, an issue that was of major importance to him during his first few months in office. Now his attention has shifted.
“This is a major priority too, on a whole other level,” he said. “You can only fight one fight at a time.”
Sex Education Or ‘Pornography’?
The topic of books containing sexually graphic material in Wyoming’s school libraries has enthralled many parents and other residents over the last few months. Many of these books, considered by some to be graphic, are presented by their authors as a form of sex education, not practice, often geared to an LGBTQ audience.
“A comment like that reflects a complete void of understanding of the nature of sexual addiction,” Schroeder said. “When a young third or fourth grade boy is exposed to pornography, or any sexually explicit material, it’s like throwing a bomb in his life.”
People defending allegedly graphic books in school libraries often have said the books belong as an educational tool for transgender- and non-binary-affirming peopole. Those who oppose these books have labeled them as “pornographic.”
Views On Gender
Tuesday’s audience was mostly of the latter group and supportive of the speakers, although there were a few detractors in the crowd.
“Gender fluidity is not (a choice), it’s scientifically based,” Carol Mathia said. “If we want science taught, we need to recognize that XX and XY chromosomes are not the only determination of sex. Chemicals and hormones during gestation also affect a child once it is born, hence gender fluidity.”
Neither Schroeder or Andy Wells, a Missouri chapter president of No Left Turn and a speaker at the event, had a clear answer as to where school boards or parents should draw the line between sex education and sexually explicit material.
“If a book blatantly describes sexuality and sexually abhorrent behavior it should not be allowed,” he said.
What’s In School Libraries?
Wells took a survey of 20 Wyoming school districts to see how many had any of 29 books he selected and believes contains descriptions and images of rape, sodomy and other sexually graphic material. Every district had at least one.
One of the books is “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, a 1972 novel that contains a graphic depiction of a father raping his daughter. The book can be found in at least seven Wyoming school districts, Well said. Supporters of the book say it paints the picture of racism and discrimination in 1940s America, and does so painstakingly, carefully and in a way that allows the reader to feel the same pain the characters feel.
Wells said that even though high school seniors, many of whom can be legally considered adults, are likely to have a vastly different level of maturity than high school freshmen, sexual explicit books should be withheld from all students until they reach college.
“It should not be available to a minor,” he said.
He mentioned how many left-leaning groups want to prohibit people from being able to use firearms until they are 25, but says it’s OK for them to read sexually explicit books at a much younger age.
Coping Or Grooming?
Fishbein and Wells clarified they don’t support or see their advocacy as book banning; rather, it’s removing books from schools where they don’t think they belong. He said reading books about heavy topics such as rape doesn’t help growing minds in an intellectual setting.
“It’s not book banning, it’s book removal,” Wells said. “If they want to read these books as a grown adult, they should be able to. That’s freedom of speech.
Kindred said she was raped at the age of 14 and that reading books that discuss rape was her way of coping with the trauma.
“Books saved my life,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I could talk to my family about it. I didn’t tell anybody until I was an adult.”
Wells and said these types of discussions should take place in a clinical venue under the supervision of a licensed psychiatrist.
Bear, who had a son who took his own life, mentioned how certain people who support the affirmation of gender fluid people accuse skeptics of contributing to the number of people who commit suicide in this population.
“That is one narrative, and that narrative happens to have a side that doesn’t want our side tied to data and papers to find out what might be causing it,” Bear said. “I would want to know what is it we’re doing.”
A few speakers, including Wells, talked about local control and the importance of parents being involved with their local school districts and school boards to address books they do not believe should be available in their school libraries.
Rodriguez-Williams brought up the Wyoming disseminating obscenity law that exempts librarians and teachers from criminal charges for permitting an inappropriate book into their school as long as it’s within the course of their duties.
“It gives them the license to indoctrinate,” she said. “It robs our children of their innocence.”
Fishbein mentioned how 500,000 teachers have left the profession over the last few years, a trend she believes stems from their disapproval of teaching LGBTQ topics.
Mathia is a retired Cheyenne teacher who said she finds it to be a trend happening for opposite reasons out of lack of support from parents when it comes to teaching science-based facts.
Three parents spoke at Schroeder’s press conference, including Gloria Courser, a parent who has a daughter who attends Jackson Hole Middle School in Teton County.
Courser said her daughter was given an opportunity to provide alternate gender pronouns for herself by her math teacher. When Courser inquired with the school district about the lesson, she said she was told that this was not a district philosophy but up to individual teachers to discuss with students.
“She said, ‘I never considered that there was an option,’” Courser said her daughter told her.
The Teton School District confirmed this practice to Cowboy State Daily after the event.
“As part of creating an accepting and bully-free environment, some teachers invite students to share their pronouns privately with the teacher,” said Charlotte Reynolds, executive director of communications and district services for the school district. “It is at the discretion of the teacher if they choose to include this in their beginning of class welcome.
“Gender pronouns are not ‘taught in the classroom;’ however, teachers respect student preferences.”
Courser said that, although she believes teachers who incorporate the pronoun discussion into their lessons are doing so out of a desire for inclusion, she sees it as teaching an ideology and a violation of the separation between church and state. She said believing in gender fluidity requires faith, and thus should be treated as a religion.
“It’s something which cannot be proven,” she said. “Christianity requires faith, Judaism faith, and gender fluidity requires faith. Introducing the ideology of gender fluidity in our public schools by paid staff violates the Establishment Clause.”
UW Part Of The Problem
Steinmetz said that 49% of Wyoming’s teachers are graduates of the University of Wyoming, an institution she believes is performing indoctrination that is infiltrating the state’s communities. In this year’s legislative session, she attempted to pass a bill that would have defunded UW’s gender studies program, an effort that drew applause from the audience Tuesday.
“It started a very in-depth conversation with the University of Wyoming trustees and institution about the direction we, as the citizens of Wyoming, want that institution to have,” she said.
According to County 17, the Campbell County Public Library System Board of Directors voted Monday to no longer associate with the American Library Association, a group many of the speakers blamed as responsible for graphic books being allowed in schools. Wells explained that many rural school districts rely on the ALA’s recommendations because they don’t have adequate staffing to study every book allowed in their libraries, but communities and school staff need to be less trusting of the organization.
Parents Above Policy
Schroeder’s final message to the audience was the wish of a child’s parents be respected as an authority above all else.
“They may not be professional educators, but they know the difference between education and indoctrination,” he said. “They know when we crossed the line. So, the point and the purpose of this press conference was to listen to our parents and give them a voice. They’re the boss, we work for them.”
How Did It Happen?
Schroeder said he started organizing Tuesday’s event with the help of the Moms For Liberty organization about four to six weeks ago. He said total costs to hold it were about $3,000, including the expense of renting a conference room at Little America, flying guests in and giving them free lodging.
The event was originally scheduled to be held at the Emerson Building, a facility owned by the state of Wyoming. On Friday, it was moved to Little America.
Schroeder, a Republican, lost his primary election and will be stepping down as superintendent of Wyoming’s public schools at the end of the year. During his opening remarks, he referred to Wyoming being “for the most part, what all of America used to be.”
He said he is unsure of his next move after leaving office, but is considering either going back into school administration and teaching or pastoral ministry.
“So, let’s see where that goes,” he said.