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LGBTQ+ trainings for Michigan teachers cause political controversy

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Joshua Hoehne
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A series of training videos for Michigan teachers from the state Department of Education have become a hot-button issue.

The trainings include instruction on how educators should work with LGBTQ+ students.

The Republican nominee for governor has called for the state superintendent to resign because of the controversy.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Isabel Lohman, a reporter for Bridge Michigan, who has been following this story.

Interview Highlights

On the trainings that sparked the controversy

In this video, the trainer explains that if, for example, let's say a student identifies as LGBTQ, and they're having suicidal thoughts, the trainer says that the teachers can identify the risk to the parent and say, "Hey, I'm concerned about your child." And the teacher can do that without then saying, "Hey, your child is gay" or, "Hey, your kid is trans." And so, Republicans have said that this is a way for schools to leave parents out of the picture

On the political response to the trainings

Tudor Dixon, who is the Republican candidate for governor has spoken out about these trainings and even hosted a media event on Tuesday, calling for the resignation of the state superintendent and also saying that she would support a ban on "pornographic books," which isn't directly related to these trainings but kind of falls under the same idea that has been discussed a lot about parental rights in the Republican Party. Governor Whitmer, on the other hand, her administration released a letter in which they said that they were concerned about the trainings, but they did not say like specific concerns about the trainings.

On the response from the Department of Education

It seems like they're planning on continuing these videos. I think it's important to acknowledge it's not every teacher participating in this. It's not every district. It's also not every student would be directly affected by this. So for right now, things stay the same.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: A series of training videos for Michigan teachers from the state Department of Education have become a hot-button issue.

The trainings include instruction on how educators should work with LGBTQ+ students.

The Republican nominee for governor has called for the state superintendent to resign because of the controversy.

Isabel Lohman is a reporter for Bridge Michigan who has been following this story. She joins me now. Thank you for being here

Isabel Lohman: Thanks for having me.

Saliby: Can you talk generally about what these training videos are and how they're being used?

Lohman: So, these are optional training videos for Michigan teachers, and there's multiple hours of these videos. And in these videos, one of the topics is how teachers can support students who identify as LGBTQ.

Saliby: And what is the specific content that has caused this controversy?

Lohman: One piece of content in there is there's a question about teachers responsibility and with liability, with what happens if a student comes out as LGBTQ and what does the teacher need to do next? And so in this video, the trainer explains that if, for example, let's say a student identifies as LGBTQ, and they're having suicidal thoughts, the trainer says that the teachers can identify the risk to the parent and say, "Hey, I'm concerned about your child." And the teacher can do that without then saying, "Hey, your child is gay" or, "Hey, your kid is trans."

And so, Republicans have said that this is a way for schools to leave parents out of the picture whereas others are saying this is a way to ensure that students feel safe, that they don't have a bad experience at home and that teachers can protect the students' safety.

Saliby: We've mentioned Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon has called for the state superintendent to resign. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has also, kind of, spoken against this guidance to a much different degree. Can you talk about how these politicians are responding?

Lohman: So, Tudor Dixon, who is the Republican candidate for governor has spoken out about these trainings and even hosted a media event on Tuesday, calling for the resignation of the state superintendent and also saying that she would support a ban on "pornographic books," which isn't directly related to these trainings but kind of falls under the same idea that has been discussed a lot about parental rights in the Republican Party.

Governor Whitmer, on the other hand, her administration released a letter in which they said that they were concerned about the trainings, but they did not say like specific concerns about the trainings.

Saliby: And the state Superintendent Michael Rice has said he will not step down from his position. What else has he said to defend the videos? I believe he wrote something for Bridge about this.

Lohman: Yes. So, he had a guest commentary that was published on Monday evening. And on Monday evening in the guest commentary, he defends the videos. He says, you know, of course, we want parents to be, I'm paraphrasing here, but he says, of course, we want parents to be partners in the education process.

However, we know that there are certain families and parents that may not be supportive of if their kid is LGBTQ, and schools and teachers have a responsibility to keep those students safe.

Saliby: Is there a sense of what will happen next? Or if these trainings will get pulled? Again, they're optional, but do you think the Department of Education might just say it's not worth the trouble and we'll pull them?

Lohman: So far, that does not seem to be the case. It seems like they're planning on continuing these videos. I think it's important to acknowledge it's not every teacher participating in this. It's not every district. It's also not every student would be directly affected by this.

So for right now, things stay the same. The two Republican board members on the State Board of Education want Superintendent Rice to resign, so does, of course, Tudor Dixon, but Rice has shown no indication that he's going to do that. And there's no indication by the State Board of Ed that they would take the move to fire him.

Saliby: In Michigan, do you think we're going to see more of these conversations about young LGBTQ people, young students in schools as it's kind of become a big issue across the country, an extremely political issue? I'm thinking in Florida, I'm thinking in Texas with these "Don't Say Gay" bills.

Lohman: So, I think a lot of people who love LGBTQ kids, maybe they have their own kid or maybe they have a niece or nephew or even a person who's a young person who identifies as gay or trans now, would say they don't want to be in the spotlight. They don't want to be, you know, the targets of this. However, I do think this will continue to happen, right?

There's conversations nationally about the Biden administration's proposal for Title IX. There is the conversations happening in different states banning trans athletes. We have conversations right now in the state where some districts are really taking a look at the books that they have in there are libraries with some people saying that there shouldn't be inclusion of LGBTQ characters.

There's just a lot of different things related to LGBTQ+ youth right now going on, and I don't see this letting up especially before the end of the election cycle.

Saliby: Isabel Lohman is a Bridge Michigan reporter. Thank you for joining me.

Lohman: Thank you.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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