Transmissions: Bad intentions, bad compromises

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday February 21, 2024
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Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith

I regularly discuss the astounding amount of legislation put forth by lawmakers across the country aimed squarely at trans rights. To date, 467 bills have been introduced in statehouses in the U.S., and so far, three of those have passed. Yes, it is only February, and we're within 133 bills of tying last year, and well above all anti-trans bills from 2018-2022, combined.

Yet, among all these bathroom bills, sports bans, and "parental rights" bills, there is another element at play.

In 2023, Indiana introduced 17 anti-trans bills. Of those, four passed. One of those was House Bill 1608, which disallowed school staff members and others from providing any instruction about human sexuality to students from pre-K to third grade. It also requires parental notification if a student wants to change their name or pronouns.

On the surface, one might think this seems like a rational compromise. No need to talk about sex to kids that young, surely.

Days ago, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) launched an online portal called Eyes on Education. On it, anyone can provide a report via the site's "Educational Transparency Form," detailing "objectionable curricula, policies, or programs affecting children."

Yes, anyone.

There are no safeguards to the form. One can turn in a false report if they do not like a teacher, or a student, or, well, anyone. If it appears credible, that person may see their accusation published, with the threat of the attorney general's office investigating.

It is, of course, too soon to see what this will fully entail, but I am certain that this will cause many educators to be all that more careful about what they say, for fear that they could see their name listed on this site, as well as the AG's goons at their door.

That said, the site already lists materials from each of the state's school districts, also known as corporations, including critical race theory and diversity, inclusion, and equity materials, items related to the Black Lives Matter movement and, yes, gender-related policies.

In one, there's a photo of a Black Pride/LGBTQ Pride flag in a school building. Another complains about a slide discussing gender stereotypes.

One more, from Mooresville High School, is a complaint letter from Barbara Coffey, a concerned grandmother, claiming that her granddaughters are very uncomfortable using the girls' facilities "with boys in there."

At the close of the letter, Coffey writes, "I understand that HR 14-56 died last year but perhaps it's time to revitalize that."

She was referring to a bathroom bill that would have made it a Class B misdemeanor for people to use public restrooms not in accordance with their sex assigned at birth.

So now, a bill that did not pass the Legislature is, in essence, being advocated by a grandparent, thanks to the attorney general's website.

And it's not just Indiana. Consider House Bill 11 in Utah, which passed in spite of a veto from Republican Governor Spencer Cox. It requires any students suspected of playing on a sports team that doesn't match "the biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual's genetics and anatomy at birth," to provide a copy of their birth certificate.

After a federal judge blocked the bill, a change allowed trans girls to play on teams consistent with their gender identity. Of course, they had to plead their case to a hand-picked School Activity Eligibility Commission. Maybe some would see that as a rational compromise.

Natalie Cline, a member of the Utah State Board of Education, recently posted on her X account a photo of a student playing basketball. The girl wears her hair short, and the player is somewhat muscular. Cline captioned the image, implying that the player should not have been on the girls' basketball team.

Spurred on by Cline's post, the student in question has faced harassment and cyberbullying.

That player is a cisgender girl.

It didn't matter that the law now has a commission to determine who can play: a member of the board of education could step in to make up their own mind — and spur others to action.

In both of these cases, and many, many more, the specifics of the law, ultimately, do not matter. People in power will act regardless, and harm anyone they deem not to be masculine or feminine enough.

Which brings me to the Kids Online Safety Act, or KOSA. This is a federal bill currently in Congress. It would require online platforms to protect kids from content that may be harmful to them.

So, what content would that be?

Consider the words of co-sponsor Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), who sees KOSA as key to "protecting minor children from the transgender in this culture and that influence." Indeed, Blackburn sees the internet as a place where children are "indoctrinated."

"They're hearing things at school and then they're getting onto YouTube to watch a video, and all of a sudden this comes to them," says Blackburn.

KOSA is supported by a number of major players, including Nintendo and Microsoft. Additionally, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and The Trevor Project, among others, have signaled that they will not oppose the bill.

KOSA, until recently, allowed state attorneys general — like Rokita of Indiana — to enforce the bill, but a recent change moves that enforcement to the Federal Trade Commission. Yet state AGs still can act on other portions of this bill, and the FTC is subject to the whims of whoever sits in the Oval Office — meaning all it would take is a GOP presidency to enforce this in the worst of ways.

As we have seen, even a compromise will not hold back the worst of intentions. The time to beat KOSA is now, before it is in the hands of attorneys general like Rokita and others, and before it affects everyone's freedom online.

Gwen Smith does not recommend swamping the Eyes on Education site with junk reports. You'll find her at

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