Metro Weekly

Anti-Gay Conservatives Attack GLSEN for Partnering with Target

The LGBTQ educational advocacy group GLSEN is under fire for to its partnership with Target, currently the subject of a right-wing boycott.

Target Store, Photo: Jerry Coli, Dreamstime

GLSEN, the pro-LGBTQ education advocacy group, has come under attack as a result of its partnership with retail giant Target, which itself is experiencing blowback over LGBTQ-themed merchandise.

Last Tuesday, the retail giant announced it was pulling certain Pride-themed merchandise from store shelves after conservatives began a trend of filming videos for social media depicting them ranting over items in stores, aggressively confronting store employees, and destroying Pride displays.

Conservatives accused Target of seeking to “indoctrinate” or “groom” children into either being LGBTQ themselves or being supportive of LGBTQ people. Several conservatives demanded a boycott of Target for embracing “woke” ideology.

The boycott has resulted in a loss of more than $9 billion in market value. Right-wing media outlets have trumpeted Target as an example of a company that has betrayed its loyal consumer base by embracing the LGBTQ community.

They have also turned their attention to the store’s decade-long partnership with GLSEN, which promotes anti-bullying and anti-discrimination initiatives in schools to make them more welcoming environments for LGBTQ youth.

As part of its partnership with GLSEN, Target has donated more than $2.1 million to the education advocacy group. According to Fox News, a senior executive in Target’s marketing department serves as GLSEN’s treasurer.

In one attack on GLSEN, Fox News claimed the organization wants “gender ideology to be integrated into all classes,” citing guidance from GLSEN to educators on how to make classroom instruction more inclusive of gender-diverse individuals. 

Other outlets seized upon GLSEN’s opposition to bills that seek to prematurely “out” LGBTQ youth in the name of “respecting parental rights,” accusing the outlet of “urg[ing] schools to hide kids’ gender transitions from parents” by providing guidance advising teachers on pronoun use. Still other right-wing outlets dismissed the organization as a “woke education lobbying group.”

Several outlets deliberately conflated youth who might be questioning their gender identity or experimenting with pronouns with pursuing medical transitions, knowing the latter concept is less popular and likely to fuel further right-wing outrage — even though not every person who identifies as transgender ultimately pursues gender confirmation surgery, even as an adult. 

Still others accused the organization of seeking to push “sexually explicit” books in schools due to its support for books by LGBTQ authors or featuring LGBTQ characters, and its opposition to bans that seek to remove such works from library shelves by characterizing any LGBTQ-related content as “age-inappropriate.” 

Due to this misinformation campaign, including outright fabrications about what GLSEN does or advocates for, the organization has reported receiving “an onslaught of hateful messages and threats,” with some people even threatening to harm its staff members.

“GLSEN’s mission is to create safe, inclusive learning environments for K-12 students, and these recent attacks from right-wing extremists show how important and necessary the work that we do is,” Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, the organization’s executive director said in a statement. 

“We are seeing the far right harass companies in an attempt to erase the LGBTQ+ community. We cannot let a violent, angry minority hold our democracy, our school system, or our community hostage,” Willingham-Jaggers said. “As GLSEN and LGBTQ+ people continue to face attacks, we’re committed to our mission and to the students that rely on us, and we’ll continue to fight to ensure that every single student can go to school free from fear.”

The organization also defended itself from some of the charges laid against it. For example, the organization said its “Rainbow Library” program, which sends LGBTQ-friendly books to schools throughout the nation, “provides age-appropriate, inclusive literature — none of which is sexually explicit,” noting that books that are part of the program are selected based on reviews from major literary journals, as well as feedback from educators and school librarians.

GLSEN also defended its policy advocating for proper pronoun use as showing respect for gender-diverse children and argued that some of the legislation targeting LGBTQ visibility in schools actually jeopardizes the safety of LGBTQ-identifying students.

More than 4 in 5 LGBTQ students report feeling unsafe in schools due to bullying, harassment, or violence, and 41% of whom have seriously considered suicide over the past year. 

GLSEN also cited the findings of past research it has performed on hostile school environments, noting that LGBTQ-unfriendly environments can actually hinder students’ academic progress — undermining the very purpose of their education.

“GLSEN research has shown that LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to skip school due to feeling unsafe, have lower GPAs and academic achievement, and report less of a sense of belonging in school when they experience hostile school environments and are denied access to supportive teachers and inclusive curriculums,” the organization noted.

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, blasted right-wing outlets for spreading “dangerous lies” about GLSEN, which she said “put a target on them.”

“It is now our duty to join together as a community and show support and love to the hard-working staff and leaders at GLSEN,” Ellis said. “Their critical work helps so many LGBTQ students and has for decades. The inaccurate and hateful attacks on our friends at GLSEN are reprehensible. … Hate and lies will never silence the LGBTQ community.”

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