The office met with community leaders on how it could protect LGBTQ+ people in the coming legislative session.
Tom Horne continues crusade against trans kids in school sports, pushes false medical information
The state's educator-in-chief re-upped his claim that he was an LGBTQ+ ally, but has continued pushing a false medical ideology around trans kids' physical strength. PLUS... a new "Eyes on the State"
Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction continued to lash out against trans kids playing in sports last week, filing a letter in opposition against President Joe Biden’s executive order trying to limit how states can target trans teens from playing in sports, while also preparing his defense in a local case, also related to trans kids playing youth sports
Superintendent Tom Horne, who does not support the removal of the Arizona state ban on transgender girls playing on the team consistent with their gender, submitted a formal comment to the U.S. Department of Education regarding the proposed rule change to Title IX.
The Biden administration’s proposed rule change will enact some restrictions on transgender student athletes, but makes it illegal to outright ban transgender students from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
Many trans people have said the order from Biden doesn’t do anything special, and that doing nothing would have been better. They say the order still allows states wiggle room to ban students who are trans.
But Horne said that the order was intrusive to the state and pushed a false medical theory that trans girls are “stronger” because they are biological males.
“The proposed rule submitted by the U.S. Department of Education would decimate girls’ sports in public schools and is contrary to the original intent of Title IX to provide a level playing field for women and girls to participate in team sports,” Horne wrote in his statement. “Leaving the decision to schools will result in those with ideological school boards permitting stronger boys to compete against girls.”
There is no substantiated evidence by pediatrician groups or other medical doctors that support the claim that trans students have any biological benefit to other students, but Horne has furthered a false medical trope that student athletes, specifically trans girls, have a “biological advantage” over cisgender girls.
In Horne’s comment against the federal rule, he said that Biden’s order runs contrary to an Arizona state law signed last legislative session that banned trans girls from playing sports
Arizona is one of five states that targets transgender girls and bans them from playing on sports teams consistent with their chosen gender identity. Superintendent Tom Horne was named a defendant in a lawsuit filed on April 17 by the parents of two transgender girls who are attempting to fight the state’s law that bans transgender girls from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
On May 4, lawyers representing Horne in the lawsuit filed a motion to transfer the case from Tucson to Phoenix. The lawsuit was filed in Tucson because one of the plaintiffs, Megan Roe, resides in Pima County and attends The Gregory School, a private school located in Tucson.
In the motion, Horne’s lawyers argue that counsel for all parties involved in the lawsuit are based out of Phoenix. In addition, Superintendent Horne “anticipates that the Arizona legislature will intervene to defend the statute.” Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma, both of who voted for anti-LGBTQ+ bills en masse this past session, have also filed to intervene in the case.
Horne, who calls himself an “ally” of the LGBTQ+ community, said the lawsuit and the sports debate “is not an LGBT issue.”
“When I was in the Arizona legislature, I voted for every bill to extend civil rights to LGBT people,” he said in a press release.
But his campaign for superintendent—and even his past work as Attorney General— runs counter to his claims.
Horne aided the Alliance Defending Freedom to defend Arizona’s ban on gay marriage. The alliance is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and has been successful in challenging and reversing local school board decisions to not renew contracts with religious groups who espouse anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs.
And his time as the state’s top educator has been equally marred with anti-queer rhetoric and support.
“While campaigning for State Superintendent, he perpetrated damaging stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community while advocating to shut down supportive resources for LGBTQ+ students,” said Jeanne Woodbury, interim executive director of Equality AZ, a lobbying group for civil rights.
Tami Staas, the Executive Director of Arizona Trans Youth & Parent Organization, said Horne is gaslighting the public.
Staas, a school teacher and also the parent of a trans child, has direct experience working with the Arizona Department of Education in support of trans and queer youth. She served on a committee during Hoffman’s tenure that worked to develop a section of the Department of Education’s website with resources for queer and trans youth.
When Superintendent Horne gained power, he stripped all mention of queer or trans issues or resources from the Department of Education’s website.
During his election against former superintendent Kathy Hoffman, Horne took aim at a particular resource called QChat that facilitates online discussion groups for questioning queer and trans youth where they can meet their peers and openly discuss LGBTQ topics. Horne claimed, with no evidence, the site moderators “could be predators.”
QChat is an online resource that is recommended for young people by the Center for Disease Control and maintained and controlled by mental health professionals.
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What the hell is happening with the school boards in Arizona? Last month, Equality AZ met with three leaders to discuss what’s going on in the small local school governance meetings, and why those spaces right now are the political hot seats not only locally, but nationally.
WHERE IS THIS ALL COMING FROM?
For 30 years, lawmakers in AZ have attempted to privatize schools. In 1995, Gov. Fife Symington laid the groundwork to elevate charter schools as an alternative to public education, saying that public schools were "failing."
This idea of U.S. children not being internationally competitive also was resonant in the 2000's with President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act", which increased federal oversight of local schools. In 2015, a decade after the law was passed, no schools were able to meet the federal mandate. Private schools were exempt.
Since then, the idea that public schools are not fulfilling student needs is a major argument for lawmakers, business people and parents who argue public education isn't good enough.
"The conversation around schools failing really ramped up around No Child Left Behind. And Arizona has been ground zero. Those moves 25-30 years ago changed the landscape dramatically for public in education. Particularly in Arizona...it created two systems."
-Richie Taylor, former communications director for AZ Public School Superintendent Kathy Hoffman
HOW IS THAT AFFECTING US TODAY?
Those two systems in Arizona, educators say, has fomented mistrust among parents, who can attend board meetings to air grievances.
Because governing school board meetings are open to the public, people have started showing up and demanding that their schools—similar to tactics used for "No Child Left Behind"—adhere to a specific curriculum, primarily that is absent of proper sex education, or an accurate teaching of history.
That, public education advocates say, has been a tactic to make parents question what's being taught in schools, and by who.
This mistrust came to a head in 2019, when lawmakers repealed AZ's so-called "No promo homo" law, a watered down version similar to Florida's modern "Don't Say Gay" law that was passed in 1991.
Since then, there has been backlash from religious groups, mostly seen during the public comments section at board meetings. But who are they?
Jeanne Casteen, executive director of the group Secular AZ, which advocates for separation of church and state, used the term “crisis actors” to describe them, the term that far-right figures such as Georgia State Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green and conservative shock-jock Alex Jones used to describe student survivors of mass school shootings. "These are not real individuals who live in the district,” she said.
Secular AZ has identified Turning Point USA, Moms for Liberty, and the Alliance Defending Freedom as groups that have continually showed up at school boards.
"I think we see this come in waves and cycles based on the cultural waves in our country. And, unfortunately, we tend to be at the center of those cultural moments in our nation as Arizonans in our nation."
-Katie Gibson McClean, governing board member, Creighton School District (Phx)
WHAT ARE THEY ARGUING?
For one, banning pronoun usage in schools that don't adhere to Christian religious dogma.
For example, people from Turning Point USA, which is based in Arizona, have shown up and argued that Christians are being discriminated against, and have pushed bigoted anti-LGBGTQ+ rhetoric around queer people being pedophiles or "groomers."
Fringe groups have also shut down board meetings and made bomb threats, or have disrupted school board meetings to advocate anti-trans policies, even when those policies are not on the agenda.
"How do we measure success in education? Testing is one measure of data. But...the real importance of public education, is coming into contact with people who are different from you and learning to work together and live together…Thats what’s so offensive to people on the far right, they don’t want that."
-Richie Taylor, former communications director for AZ Public School Superintendent Kathy Hoffman