First They Came For “CRT,” Now They’re After “Gender Ideology”

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Christopher Rufo, the man primarily responsible for leading the conservative attack on antiracist education, is now coming for gender equity.

On Wednesday, he published Sexual Liberation in Public Schools, the first in a new “investigative” series on gender. It focuses on how the Los Angeles Unified School District is “trans-affirming” and “breaking down the gender binary.” 

His language is clear; this is something to panic about. 

A self-described “activist challenging critical race theory and gender ideology,” Rufo has said that CRT was the “perfect villain” and political weapon to instigate outrage on the right. 

When he launched his attack on CRT on Tucker Carlson’s show in 2020, he called Critical Race Theory “an existential threat to the United States.” Trump saw the show and demanded action, essentially canonizing CRT as the boogeyman of the right. 

“It worked with CRT. Now it’s gender,” tweeted Kelly Jensen, Book Riot editor. “The misinformation campaign about to be launched is going to make this fight a lot uglier, louder, and deadly–no exaggeration–than it already is.” 

The Attack on “Gender Ideology” Has Started

As with CRT, Rufo is villainizing gender-affirming education and hitting all the right buttons to stir up outrage and fear. Wokeness, parental choice, grooming, religion, and sex. 

He calls words like “cisgender” and “heteropatriarchy” “academic slop,” which feeds the right’s motivating vitriol against a “woke elite.” 

He wants parents to think that when teachers practice life-saving care, like correct pronoun use, they are grooming their children; “teachers can facilitate a child’s gender and sexual transition without notifying parents.” 

Similarly, his Twitter feed is working to expose “groomers” and sex offenders in education. Because no one is more motivated to change education than a scared parent. 

He says middle school students will have “sexuality clubs” available, language surely meant to evoke moral panic around sex education and youth.  

According to Rufo, “religion too is a mechanism of oppression” because a LAUSD training will help teachers navigate and “respond to religious objection” to protect kids. 

He includes 140 slides, a “trove” of publicly available documents from LAUSD. While many will simply see rainbows and student-centered care, his followers will certainly find 140 reasons to be alarmed. 

First They Came For “CRT,” Now They’re After “Gender Ideology” Click To Tweet

Why Educators Should Worry

The hysteria around CRT worked. Rufo has a formula and seems to know how to replicate it. He has the money and power of the right-wing political machine behind him. 

He is a senior fellow at the conservative think tank The Manhattan Project, has almost 400k Twitter followers on the lookout for gender and sexuality curriculum, and was headed on Tucker Carlson Wednesday night in an eerie replication of his CRT launch. 

He says he is “establishing the frame” with articles over the next six weeks. After that, he wants “500 million media impressions” and for his followers to “get ready to rumble.” 

Educators have already seen the effects of the anti-CRT campaign. If Rufo is even half as successful as he was the first time, we should be worried. 

Sixteen states across the country passed laws that ban CRT or restrict education on race. Nineteen other states are considering similar legislation. So it’s not a leap to assume similar bans on gender and sexuality education will follow. 

Teachers’ jobs are at risk if they dare to teach true history, white privilege, or anything that could fall under Rufo’s “political weapon.” It would be naive to think that teachers will not be targeted for gender-affirming classrooms. 

Internet trolls come after educators online for indoctrinating their children. It would be shocking if that doesn’t increase after Rufo’s publications, especially as we head into the politically critical midterm elections. 

What’s Next: Keep Showing Up

Although educators might feel like the country’s punching bags after years of pandemic school, now is clearly not the time to let our guards down. 

Educate yourself. Does your district have an equity policy? Don’t be a Minnesota lawmaker; read it thoroughly. Do you feel confident that your district’s vision would support what you do, say, teach, and discuss in your classroom? What do your union and contract say about your rights? I wish teachers didn’t have to worry about risking their job over using students’ preferred pronouns, but we also have to protect ourselves. 

Find resources. Kelly Jensen, whose tweets first alerted us at The Educator’s Room about Rufo, has compiled a great thread specific to book banning and censorshipIn addition, the Trevor Project is a vital resource for creating safe schools for LBGTQ+ youth, and GLSEN and the ACLU outline rights for LGBTQ+ educators.

Keep showing up. I can’t stress this enough; our students need us. Our cishet students (take that wokeness, Rufo!) need to see that everyone belongs in our classrooms as their full, authentic selves. They need to see that they, too, are more than limited, binary ideas of gender that say boys can’t cry and girls shouldn’t study math. If the right is going to use LGBTQ+ students’ identities used as political weaponry, these students need to be affirmed. Teachers must show these students they are worthy of love, belonging, and joy, just as they are. Finally, LBGTQ+ educators need to feel safe and valued as they do one of the hardest, most essential jobs in our society. 

As these articles post over the next six weeks, pay attention to changes in rhetoric, but then pay attention to changes in policy. Your district, school board, and classroom are not immune. Be ready to fight back.

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Emma-Kate Schaake

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