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.
Correction (4/13/22): This piece originally misidentified New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy as Chris Murphy.