Discontent to limit their disruption to equitable public education through local school boards, a group of fringe right-leaning Republicans is promoting a new tactic — bombarding school administrators with parent-initiated opt-out forms demanding students be shielded from any mention of the LGBTQ+ experience.
As Pride Source reported in late January, right-wing groups have taken steps to insert elected officials sympathetic to their anti-LGBTQ+ agendas into school boards and other government bodies, including the widely reported takeover of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners in West Michigan and the Jamestown Township Patmos Library board. The library is due to shut down after voters effectively defunded it through an initiative on the November ballot following an outcry about the availability of LGBTQ+ books at the public library.
The organization Great Schools Initiative (GSI) appears to serve as yet another tentacle reaching out to scrub the very existence of the LGBTQ+ community from the public school experience. In this case, the organization is urging Michigan parents to complete an online form aimed at excluding their children from discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation at school. Once completed, parents are urged to have school administration add the form to their children’s files.
The form includes several misleading or factually inaccurate statements about reproductive health, family planning, LGBTQ+ issues and social justice and includes the demand that the student not be included in “any and all instruction on gender ideology, the physiological (including endocrinological), psychological and functions of reproductive health as it relates to human sexuality. This opt out includes, but is not limited to: gender identity, gender expression, gender assignment, sexual identities, sexual expression, sexual attraction, sexual orientarion [sic], gender fluidity, transitioning, and expicit [sic] sexual activity or behavior.”
Existing Michigan law already affords parents the ability to opt-out from sex-ed classes, but GSI specifically addresses what the organization is calling “rogue sex ed.” To this end, the opt-out form includes things like school-affiliated student clubs supportive of LGBTQ+ students, Pride flags and educators asking students for their pronouns. Further, the group claims that anything related to promoting LGBTQ+ students should be considered sexual and labels educators who affirm LGBTQ+ “matters” as “groomers.”
GSI was founded in September by failed-candidate for the Oakland County Board of Commissioners Monica Yatooma and Walled Lake entrepreneur Nathan Pawl. Both parties used the address of Chicago law firm The Thomas More Society on their licensing application. The Thomas More Society has long been involved in highly-publicized and well-funded efforts to promote far-right conservative causes.
Pawl has gone public with his assertion that GSI was borne from his personal outrage that his son’s school was required to wear masks during the height of the Covid pandemic. The Thomas More Society seems similarly motivated. The firm threatened lawsuits against Walled Lake Schools and Oakland County if officials refused to reverse mask mandates.