Christopher Rufo appeared on Fox News to discuss what he called District 65’s “radical gender lessons.” Credit: Mediaite

Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist and writer with a large online following who helped pioneer Republican attacks on critical race theory and gender identity, has a new target: Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s LGBTQ+ Equity Week. 

In April, Rufo published an article “Radical Gender Lessons for Young Children” in the public policy magazine City Journal, where he is a senior contributing editor. In the piece, he highlighted some of the lesson plans that District 65 teachers use during the equity week to teach gender equity, gender expression and accepting classmates for who they are.

In particular, Rufo focused on the curriculum for kindergartners as proof that liberal towns and states are teaching “college-level queer theory” to the youngest students.

“It is unfortunate that folks like Mr. Rufo feel the way they do regarding how we educate children in our school district,” District 65 School Board President Sergio Hernandez told the RoundTable. “Our intent is to teach our children to be loving and accepting of all people, however they present in this world. We are in no way trying to indoctrinate children into any type of ideology, as Mr. Rufo and his followers mistakenly claim.”

The curriculum that District 65 uses for kindergarten classes covers topics like breaking down gender stereotypes, recognizing and respecting differences in identity, and “allyship,” defined as “building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people.”

“Students will learn about their identities and the identities of others,” the kindergarten curriculum overview states. “They will explore concepts of families, gendered toy and clothing stereotypes, colors and meaning, flags, allyship and identity.”

Rufo’s focus on District 65 occurred in the wake of a national outcry over the passage of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans public schools in the state from discussing gender and sexuality with students in kindergarten through third grade.

In an April essay about Rufo in The Nation, Candace Bond-Theriault, Director of Racial Justice Policy and Strategy for Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, wrote that elementary schools are not teaching complex queer theory to children and that Rufo is using his platform to incite a “moral panic” among conservatives about how schools discuss race and gender in the classroom. 

But Rufo used the example of District 65’s LGBTQ+ Equity Week to argue that “queer theory has made its way into public school curriculums for children as young as 4.”

Queer theory, as a concept, refers to an academic discourse developed in the early 1990s that emphasizes gender as a social construct and seeks to center the experiences of those with identities that do not fit into traditional gender or sexuality norms. The discipline also looks to break down gender and sexual binaries like gay or straight and male or female. 

As an academic subject taught in college-level gender and sexuality courses, queer theory primarily involves analyzing how gender and sexuality intersect with identities like race, class and nationality, and how gender norms have influenced other senses of identity over time. That sophisticated kind of analysis and debate over how people formulate their identities is not something that happens in an elementary school classroom in Evanston, officials with District 65 say. 

Rufo did not respond to a request from the RoundTable for comment on why he has decided to target Evanston schools or if the upcoming gubernatorial election in November 2022 has anything to do with his article. 

Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss, though, said “there’s no question that there’s a coordinated effort by the right to stir up controversy and outrage on social and racial issues, and it’s motivated by November’s election.”

District 65 held its first LGBTQ+ Equity Week in 2019, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker officially enacted the Inclusive Curriculum Law, which requires all public schools in the state to teach students before eighth grade about the contributions that LGBTQ+ people have made to state and national history. 

Melissa Messinger, a spokesperson for District 65, told the RoundTable in an email that the LGBTQ+ Equity Week held in April each year helps both educators and students learn more about identities, family structures, stereotypes and history.

According to Messinger, each grade-level throughout the district participates “in a developmentally and age-appropriate selection of these topics.”

“Honestly, the most ‘controversial’ aspect about our curriculum tools is that they exist at all,” Victor Salvo, Executive Director of The Legacy Project, told the RoundTable in an email. “Most all students grow up in a world which bombards them with negative messaging and rarely, if ever, validates their existence by acknowledging that so many important historic figures like Jane Addams, James Baldwin, Barbara Jordan, Walt Whitman – even the immortal Tchaikovsky – people they are already studying in school – were, in reality, not heterosexual.”

Salvo also said that the point of educating children on LGBTQ+ figures and their accomplishments is to fill an information void that has existed for decades in which a general lack of awareness or acknowledgement when it comes to people’s gender identity and sexuality has led to bullying and isolation for students who feel different than their peers. 

“This sowing of hatred and demonization towards diverse school communities like ours is par for course for people like Mr. Rufo; and the intent, as always, is to continue the dehumanizing of marginalized communities,” Hernandez said. “Hatred and mischaracterization is what gets their news sites the clicks they depend on for their livelihood.”

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. After LGBTQ+ week in school, my 7 year old and I were able to have a beautiful conversation about pro-nouns and gender identity. The curriculum does a great job bringing concepts of love, acceptance, and identity to a developmentally appropriate level. It made me proud and hopeful in the midst of so much dehumanization. Rufo and his local followers can take their hate and channel it inwards. Spare us the bigotry and limitations of your minds.

  2. From Rufo’s City Journal piece:
    “In kindergarten, the lessons on gender and trans identity go deeper. “When we show whether we feel like a boy or a girl or some of each, we are expressing our GENDER IDENTITY,” the lesson begins. “There are also children who feel like a girl AND a boy; or like neither a boy OR a girl. We can call these children TRANSGENDER.” Students are expected to be able to “explain the importance of the rainbow flag and trans flag” and are asked to consider their own gender identity. The kindergartners read two books that affirm transgender conversions, study photographs of boys in dresses, learn details about the transgender flag, and perform a rainbow dance. At the end of the lesson, the students are encouraged to adopt and share their own gender identities with the class. “Now you have a chance to make a picture to show how YOU identify,” the lesson reads. “Maybe you want to have blue hair! Maybe you want to be wearing a necklace. Your identity is for YOU to decide!”

    I thought the purpose of kindergarten was to provide your child with an opportunity to learn and practice the essential social, emotional, problem-solving, and study skills that they will use throughout their schooling. I see the discussion of gender to kindergartners to be akin to the discussion of religion to kindergartners. Would it be OK to discussion all aspects of religion from atheism, Christianity, Judaisim, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. with kindergartners?
    If you go to the link from the City Journal article, there is another link to (purportedly) D65’s pre-k to third grade LGBTQ curriculum. Here is a passage:
    ● Teacher: As you heard in the story, sometimes people who look the same love each other, and sometimes people who look different love each other.- Boys can love boys, girls can love girls, people can love people. When a boy loves another boy they can called gay and when a girl loves another girl they can be called a lesbian or Lesbians. When a boy loves a girl, they are called straight. When someone is not a boy or a girl, maybe they feel both, they are non-binary or queer. This kind of love is for people not in your family. (Teacher uses self as an example; I love my mom but I am not a lesbian. This love is different from the love you have for your family.”
    Is this the space educators should be occupying when we have so many children academically behind? For example at third grade in D65 (February 2020 release), 26% of African Americans, 40% of Hispanics and 84% of whites were achieving the joint literacy goal in D65. This deficit carried through high school and impacts one’s ability to succeed in life. Why are we wasting precious resources on a subject that is best tackled outside of school? Shouldn’t these precious resources be re-directed to making sure all D65 students are achieving our stated literacy goals so they can succeed in high school and beyond?

  3. When these hateful people try to drag us down I try to focus on what good can come of it. One good is that I know that even though our community may come under attack simply for accepting people for who they are, that our community also has a very strong collective backbone. Just like we teach our own children to love and not bully others, we will not be intimidated by those who have chosen the way of the bully, the way of hate and exclusion.

    I welcome any one of this bozo’s supporters to come and let me buy them a cup of coffee and show them our city. I doubt I’d change their mind, but I would try.

    I hope Evanstonians are, and find themselves among, those resolved to support our LBGTQ+ community. Try not to let whatever noise this might make bring fear or despair but instead as something that demonstrates, or puts you more in touch with, your own resolve to reject hated.

  4. Who is this clown? Is he an educator? Is he a resident? This makes me furious 🤬