In coverage of the Miami-Dade school district’s decision to reject its sex education textbook, some Florida media interviewed the director of a right-wing group without mentioning the group’s politics or its ties to national anti-LGBTQ organizations. Some of these outlets framed the director as a concerned parent instead of as the leader of a local right-wing extremist group.
On July 20, representatives of the largest school district in Florida, in Miami-Dade County, voted to ban the use of the district’s previous middle and high school sex education textbook, reversing its own previous decision from April. This move comes after Florida passed its so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which forbids teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation with kids in K-3 and allows parents to challenge any related content they disagree with. The ban leaves the district without a sex education curriculum for the time being.
The book ban was pushed by the local chapter of a right-wing Christian nationalist group called County Citizens Defending Freedom-USA, which also has ties to national anti-LGBTQ groups. This local branch, which formed in October 2021, put together a 278-signature petition against the textbook, specifically objecting to the textbook’s discussions of abortion, contraception, and gender identity, as well as its suggestions about reporting bullying to trusted adults.
CCDF-USA is linked to the Alliance Defending Freedom and Turning Point USA, two extreme right-wing anti-LGBTQ groups. Meanwhile, Turning Point USA was founded by white nationalist and conspiracy theorist Charlie Kirk, and the group and its leaders have been known for promoting racism, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
Alex Serrano, CCDF-USA's affiliate executive director of the Miami-Dade County branch, is not a district parent; instead, he sends his children to a private school that threatened the jobs of teachers who got vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Miami-Dade school board passed the ban with a 5-4 vote even though 38 out of the 42 community members who spoke at the meeting before the vote urged members to keep the textbook in the curriculum.
Sex education advocates have noted that removing this textbook leaves a gap in students’ education about topics including healthy relationships and consent. Research suggests that access to comprehensive sex education is associated with reduced teen pregnancy rates, reduced homophobic bullying, and lower rates of sexual assault.
At least one local outlet did dig into CCDF-USA’s origins: The Miami Herald published a story describing the group’s conservative bent and ties to Turning Point USA and other right-wing groups. The story also noted that CCDF-USA “cites Biblical principles in its mission statement, lists conservative and politically active Christian groups as partners and invites activists to become ‘ambassadors for freedom.’” The story also quoted an LGBTQ advocate, who noted that inclusive sex ed saves lives.
Meanwhile, multiple stories from Florida-based outlets quoted Serrano without mentioning CCDF-USA’s conservative leanings or connections to right-wing groups.
- NBC 6 South Florida aired a segment on the ban that quoted Serrano extensively without noting his affiliation with CCDF-USA or discussing the group’s political affiliation. The package did mention that the “vast majority” of speakers at the board meeting “implored” the district to allow the textbook.
- CBS News Miami aired a news package about the ban that quoted Serrano and mentions CCDF-USA without explaining the organization’s far-right affiliations. The segment also spent slightly more time quoting and citing people opposed to the textbook than people in favor, even though the majority of speakers in the meeting supported the use of the textbook.
- ABC affiliate Local 10 News published a story quoting Serrano without including context on CCDF-USA’s right-wing political ties. The story also quoted the local chair of Moms for Liberty, another right-wing group with a racist, anti-LGBTQ education agenda.
- The Miami Herald published a story that quoted Serrano without explicitly mentioning CCDF-USA’s politics. However, the story did mention that Serrano’s kids go to a private school that opposes COVID-19 vaccination. It also quoted advocates talking about the importance of sex education and noted that most community members at the board meeting spoke in favor of sex education.
- The Herald also put out a story that mentioned CCDF-USA but did not define the group as far-right. It also did not include specific data on the harms of not providing sex education, but it did include a quote from a school district leader noting that the ban would leave the district unable to fulfill its sex education teaching requirements.
- Additionally, the Herald published a story listing some of the grievances against the textbook on CCDF-USA’s petition. The story did not include much pushback on these claims, which included baseless anti-LGBTQ sentiments. The petition, for instance, objected to the terms “cisgender” and “gender fluid” to describe people’s gender identities. Both are neutral words that describe people’s identities; the first describes people whose gender matches their sex assigned at birth, and the second is used by some people whose gender changes over time. Misgendering people or refusing to use people’s correct gender terms and pronouns are common forms of anti-trans discrimination.
- WEAR, a Sinclair Broadcast Group station and an ABC affiliate, posted a story about the ban on its website that quoted Serrano without identifying CCDF-USA’s political leanings.