Insurance giant State Farm has abandoned a program to distribute LGBTQ-themed children’s books to teachers, community centers and libraries following public backlash and accusations that the company was condoning the “grooming” of children.
For the book initiative, State Farm had agreed to partner with the GenderCool Project, an organization that promotes LGBTQ inclusion through speaking events, mentorship programs, consulting, and advising for parents of transgender children, to provide a collection of three books — A Kids Book About Being Transgender, A Kids Book About Being Transgender, and A Kids Book About Being Non-Binary — for libraries and community centers to put on their shelves.
The book initiative was touted as an effort to “replace misinformed opinions” about transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming youth with positive depictions of the community in the hope of promoting positive real-life interactions between readers and LGBTQ youth they may encounter. The books in question are written promote the idea of inclusion and explain who LGBTQ people, especially transgender and nonbinary individuals, are.
“The project’s goal is to increase representation of LGBTQ+ books and support our communities in having challenging, important and empowering conversations with children age 5+,” an email from Jose Soto, State Farm’s Corporate Responsibility Analyst, which was sent to all of the company’s agents in Florida, reads. The email noted that only six agents in the state would be part of the program, with the company intending to have up to 550 agents throughout the United States participating, reports the right-wing publication National Review.
An employee who was offended by the program sent a so-called “whistleblower” email to Consumers’ Research, a right-wing nonprofit that claims to educate consumers about corporations’ products, services, and policies so they can decide whether to support those companies in the way they choose to spend their money. The firm has previously railed against “wokeness” in corporate America, attacking any companies with pro-LGBTQ policies or pro-LGBTQ advertising.
The news about the email — which spread like wildfire through conservative media outlets — created a significant backlash against the company, prompting State Farm to end its relationship with the GenderCool Project and cancel the book donation program.
“State Farm’s support of a philanthropic program, GenderCool, has been the subject of news and customer inquiries. This program that included books about gender identity was intended to promote inclusivity,” Victor Terry, the company’s chief diversity officer and vice president of public affairs, said in an email to all State Farm agents and staff members just hours after news of the program broke.
“Conversations about gender and identity should happen at home with parents. We don’t support required curriculum in schools on this topic. We support organizations providing resources for parents to have these conversations,” Terry added.
The controversy comes just two months after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which prohibits classroom discussions and instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grades , based primarily on the belief that exposure to such topics is either inappropriate or will “confuse” children about their own identities.
Critics, who have dubbed the law the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, claim it actually censors the speech and expression of LGBTQ students and children of same-sex couples in secondary and high school grades, or unfairly penalizes them for exercising their First Amendment rights.
Some critics also allege that the law will place teachers in the untenable position of being threatened with discipline or job loss for allowing any mention of LGBTQ-related issues in the classroom — even if the teacher was not the one who broached the issue. Such critics say teachers will be fired for actions ranging from intervening to stop a student from being physically assaulted or bullied, or allowing a student to speak openly in class about an LGBTQ historical event — even if that topic does not touch on sexually-related material or involve speech or content that a reasonable neutral observer would consider “age-inappropriate.”
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