Right-wing media furious over Biden administration effort to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination
The messaging has already resulted in threats of violence at a Wisconsin middle school, where bomb threats targeting a Title IX investigation shut down the town
Right-wing media are fearmongering about Title IX protections for LGBTQ students that have been fortified under the Biden administration, claiming providing a safe environment for transgender children will mean the end of “traditional Christian values.” The latest outrage cycle has extended to every corner of the echo chamber, including viral anti-LGBTQ Twitter account “Libs of TikTok,” Fox News, the anti-abortion movement, and others. The right-wing fury toward Title IX protections has led to threats of violence, including a bomb threat that shut down a Wisconsin middle school forcing students to complete the year virtually.
These anti-LGBTQ smears are in response to changes the Biden administration has implemented to strengthen Title IX regulations.
In June 2021, the Biden administration reversed Trump-era Title IX changes that had removed prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Since then, the Department of Education has announced plans to codify safeguards for transgender students by revising the language in Title IX. The final rule isn’t expected to be in place until 2023, though conservative attorneys general have already protested the changes and are expected to sue the administration when the codification takes place. Additionally, in May, the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service announced it would be interpreting student protections “to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity” in both Title IX and the Food and Nutrition Act “to help ensure its programs are open, accessible and help promote food and nutrition security, regardless of demographics.”
In two instances over the past two months, right-wing media have attacked protections for LGBTQ students in schools by connecting the proposed Title IX revisions to the left’s “grooming project.”
A Title IX complaint causes a right-wing media firestorm and results in threats of violence
The first, in March, was a Title IX complaint at Kiel Middle School in Wisconsin where the school district filed a harassment complaint against three students for using incorrect pronouns when addressing a nonbinary student. The complaint was first made public in May when conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty — which previously investigated false claims of voter fraud in 2020 — went on a tour of right-wing media to sensationalize the investigation, setting off a full-blown outrage cycle. The national attention resulted in multiple bomb threats against the school and surrounding establishments, and Kiel Middle School eventually went virtual for the remainder of the year and dropped the investigation into the three boys. WILL celebrated the win and claimed, “The District may not be willing to admit it publicly, but it has recognized that it has no legal basis to demand that our clients refrain from ‘mispronouning’ other students.”
On May 13, the anti-LGBTQ, right-wing Twitter account Libs of TikTok tweeted a local news clip about the harassment complaint, saying, “This is unreal.” The clip received a million views and Libs of TikTok later tweeted that the school’s principal deleted their Twitter account. Right-wing news site Information Liberation used Libs of TikTok’s tweets to write up its own coverage of the story. The article was also posted on the InfoWars website.
Right-wing propaganda networks Fox News, One America News Network, and Newsmax also covered the story, along with various right-wing news sites that claimed the complaint against the boys was misuse of Title IX and a violation of the first amendment — a blatant attempt at riling up their audiences to the possibilities of Biden’s Title IX policies.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham had one of the accused students, his mother, and WILL’s Deputy Counsel Luke Berg on as guests during the May 16 edition of The Ingraham Angle. Ingraham asked if the complaint was something “typically covered by Title IX” to which Berg answered “not remotely,” adding, “Schools cannot and should not be forcing their preferred mode of speech on their students, especially minor students, this is basic First Amendment 101 stuff.” Ingraham also used this segment as a call to action for viewers to “get involved in their local school boards,” adding, “This stuff has to stop.”
The next day, on May 17, Berg and the accused student's mother also appeared on Newsmax’s John Bachman Now. Bachman said he was confused about how pronouns were covered by Title IX, and Berg agreed, saying, “The school district’s theory appears to be that any misuse of pronouns is automatically punishable speech as sexual harassment under Title XI, and that's terrifying. It's a pretty clear First Amendment violation.”
Anti-trans activist Terry Schilling appeared on OAN to complain about the “woke communist plan” to support LGBTQ students in schools while falsely claiming the Title IX case was “going after third graders” and suggested that expanding Title IX to protect gender and sexual identity means “you're trying to force these little kids to go along with your religion. And this is a religion, right? This LGBT stuff, it's a religion.”
Right-wing websites also spread outrage about the Title IX complaint:
- Right-wing news site The Federalist published a story on May 20 titled “Under Biden’s Title IX Changes, Wisconsin’s ‘Sexual Harassment’ Circus Over Trans Pronouns Would Ensnare Students In Every State.” The article claimed the school district is “inflating the scope” of its Title IX policies for the complaint and went on to compare this case to the Biden administration's proposed Title IX revisions, writing, “If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Biden administration is working to expand the meaning of ‘sex’ in Title IX in the same manner on a nationwide scale.”
- Berg and WILL’s president, Rick Esenberg, published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, titled “The Progressive Pronoun Police Come for Middle Schoolers.” The piece warned that cases policing pronouns are likely to spread nationwide with Biden’s new changes to Title IX.
- New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz published an opinion piece on FoxNews.com that called the targeted nonbinary student one of those “crybullies in schools” who “weaponize pronouns” to destroy their classmates lives. The article admitted that “Title IX prohibits gender-based harassment” but quoted Berg as saying the complaint is a “First Amendment violation.”
- Right-wing anti-abortion group Students for Life dropped a blog post titled “Title IX Rights Are Once Again Misunderstood As Kiel Middle School Charges Boys for ‘Misgendering.’” The post called the Title IX complaint “chilling,” misgendered the targeted student, and claimed “Title IX is wrongfully being used as a cudgel to compel speech and thus infringe on the freedom of speech.”
- In its coverage of the story, the Washington Examiner referred to the complaint as part of the “insanity of transgender ideology” that is already “encouraging children to undergo damaging, irreversible procedures that involve mutilating or poisoning their bodies.”
The Post Millennial published a story that included a quote from a letter WILL’s attorneys sent to the school officials: “The mere use of biologically correct pronouns not only does not constitute sexual harassment under Title IX or the District’s own policy, it is also speech protected by the First Amendment.”
USDA policy update to protect LGBTQ students triggers right-wing media backlash
Also in May, right-wing media spread a false narrative claiming the Biden administration would force schools to let “boys use girls bathrooms” in order to receive federal school-lunch funding. This false statement stemmed from a USDA policy update that would “interpret the prohibition on discrimination based on sex” to “include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” The announcement also stated that schools “must investigate allegations of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation” and “update their non-discrimination policies.” The announcement was not clear whether the administration would be holding funding for meal programs to schools that did not comply with these inclusive policies.
Right-wing media didn’t take notice until 20 days after the announcement was shared. The Federalist published an article on May 25 that claimed the announcement would force schools to “allow males who claim to be female to access female private spaces, such as showers, bathrooms, and sleeping areas” as well as “allowing male staff to dress as women while on the job.” The article went on to spread false alarm about the risk of sexual assault if boys are allowed in female restrooms and claimed schools are helping students transition without notifying parents.
Following the Federalist article, right-wing news sites, podcasts, and cable shows began attacking transgender children. (Right-wing media and politicians have been promoting the anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans “groomer” narrative in their attacks against transgender students for months.)
- War Room: Pandemic host Steve Bannon decried the proposal, stating, “It’s so radical what they’re trying to do. They’re going to hold back the school lunch program ... until they fully implement the grooming project.”
- Chris Bedford, the Federalist senior editor, appeared on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle to promote the publication’s article on the USDA move, calling it part of Biden’s “woke policies” to let “little boys into little girls’ showers in locker rooms and bathrooms.” Bedford also claimed if schools “stick to traditional Christian values” the Biden administration will take away “access to lunch programs.”
- During the June 2 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, Sean Hannity hosted South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and falsely summarized the language in the announcement by claiming, “The Department of Agriculture now is saying that if states like yours decide that you’re not going to allow trans athletes, for example, people born biologically male, to play in women’s sports, that they’re going to take away school lunches from kids.”
- Right-wing podcast host Allie Beth Stuckey repeated untrue claims from the Federalist article, that the new rule would force schools to allow boys into girls bathrooms, saying, “There is nothing more wicked than that.”
- On his radio show, Fox host Mark Levin made the assertion that kids, parents, and schools are being “blackmailed” by the Biden administration to enforce “sexual policies.”
- Right-wing podcast host Charlie Kirk made the absurd claim that “the Biden administration is willing to starve children to try to get schools to succumb to the transgender agenda” during his June 2 podcast. Kirk went on to claim that the administration is “going to say that schools no longer get funding for school lunches” if schools “do not allow chemical castration and these other things to happen at your schools.”
- Right-wing news site The Daily Caller published an article titled “If Schools Don’t Let Boys Into Girls’ Bathrooms, Biden Will Take Their Lunch Money,” which called the move “part of a broader push from the Biden administration to promote transgender rights and gender ideology.”
- Alt-right linked Rebel News wrote up the announcement by claiming it stated “that K-12 schools must allow boys into girls' bathrooms in order to qualify for federal funds used to pay for school lunches.”
- The Post Millennial article covered the USDA move by including a reference to alarmist statements from a student video, published originally by Libs of TikTok, and writing, “A student in Oregon spoke out in protest against the school’s “inclusive” bathroom policy by saying that biological men are taking advantage of the system to target women.”
- Breitbart published an article that claimed the USDA would be “forcing teachers to use inaccurate pronouns to describe children who believe they are transgender” in order to receive federal assistance.
- FoxNews.com spoke to conservative activist and Fight for Schools Executive Director Ian Prior, who stated, “What we see here is the Biden administration using children as pawns in this social justice, gender ideology game that they are playing."
The reality that this transphobic, self-indulgent whining resulted in a bomb threat to a middle school, which caused it to drop a Title IX investigation portends dark days for the future of civil rights protections aimed to support a safe educational environment for transgender youth. And right-wing media will continue to spread alarmist and false narratives to spur anti-LGBTQ hate from their audience.