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Tudor Dixon eyes banning ‘pornographic’ books in Michigan schools

GOP governor candidate Tudor Dixon blasts LGBTQ training videos during a media event Tuesday outside the Michigan Department of Education in Lansing. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Tudor Dixon argues sex scenes in books are too graphic for school
  • GOP governor candidate calls on state superintendent to resign over LGBTQ training videos 
  • Dixon proposes reorganization Department of Education

LANSING – Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon said Tuesday she would support a statewide ban on “pornographic” books in schools and called on state Superintendent Michael Rice to resign over recently revealed teacher training videos on LGBTQ issues. 

Dixon did not say which books she would want to ban from Michigan schools, specifically, but said she would “take a look” at titles to “make sure that we are not having children reading pornographic — or having a teacher read pornographic — material to a child in school.”

Asked how she would define pornography, Dixon described “two naked people, and they are acting out a sexual act, and multiple different sexual acts.”

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The proposal offered in response to a reporter’s question while Dixon hosted a media event calling for Rice’s resignation, is the latest salvo in a conservative culture war fight against books and graphic novels that some parents have deemed inappropriate for children. 

Voters in Jamestown Township last month voted to defund their public library amid concerns over a graphic novel, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which tells the story of the author’s coming of age as nonbinary, and includes sex act illustrations.

Dixon has previously criticized “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto,” a young-adult book by a queer and Black author reportedly removed from schools in eight states because it contains descriptions of sexual acts. 

In Florida, GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis's administration has banned several textbooks as part of his push to stop purported student "indoctrination." 

All told, local and state officials across the country have banned 1,648 individual book titles between July 2021 and June 2022, including 41 percent with LGBTQ themes or characters, according to a tally from Pen America, a nonprofit that promotes freedom of expression. 

“This movement to ban books is deeply undemocratic, in that it often seeks to impose restrictions on all students and families based on the preferences of those calling for the bans,” Pen America said in a recent report. 

Dixon called her potential book ban an example of strong leadership. 

“Leadership is being unafraid to say that if an adult is caught showing pornographic materials to children and talking to them about sex in school without their parents’ consent, that adult will be prosecuted just as they would be if they did it at the school bus,” Dixon said. 

Calls to resign

The Norton Shores Republican spoke outside the Michigan Department of Education headquarters in Lansing, where she escalated her criticism of departmental training videos that suggested it’s sometimes alright for teachers 

not tell parents about their child’s sexual orientation gender orientation.

"Radical political activists" have made Michigan schools "laboratories for social experiments,” Dixon said. “...This is not about LGBTQ issues. This is about protecting children, protecting parents rights and getting our schools back to the basics of teaching kids how to read and write.”

The training videos have faced pushback from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration, too. 

On Friday, her administration suggested the Michigan Department of Education make changes to “continue bringing parents' perspectives into the work you do.”

Rice, the state superintendent, is resisting discontinuing the the training videos, saying teachers should be cautious about sharing a student's sexual orientation and gender identity with a parent if the child is concerned it could lead to potential abuse, neglect or homelessness.

Michigan “schools are committed to strong partnerships with parents," Rice wrote in a Monday op-ed for Bridge Michigan. But “not all parents are supportive when they discover or are told that their child is gay or transgender,” he added. 

Two Republican members of the state Board of Education called on Rice to resign before Dixon did so as well on Tuesday. 

“If he does not think parents deserve to know what is happening with their child in our public schools that (taxpayers) are funding, he does not deserve a place at the table,” she said outside the education department headquarters, where supportive parents joined her and offered applause. 

Asked about Dixon’s comments, Michigan Department of Education spokesperson Martin Ackley said Rice has “no plans on stepping down.”

Rice remains “committed to working with parents and educators across the state to protect the health, well-being, and education of all Michigan students,” Ackley told Bridge Michigan in an email.

Later Tuesday, majority Republican lawmakers in the Michigan Senate adopted a resolution condemning the education department training videos. 

"No Democrat bureaucrats should be advising teachers to withhold information about the well being of their students from their own parents," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, accused Republicans of "wallowing in the filth of another contrived non-issue that was crafted to sow fear by attacking marginalized communities." 

The resolution is a "cruel and cynical attempt to use the very real discrimination that transgender kids experience as a political sword," Irwin said.

‘Parents are crucial’

During the Tuesday event, Dixon criticized Whitmer, arguing the Democratic incumbent has personally been “silent” on the LGBTQ training videos despite Friday’s response from Tricia Foster, Whitmer’s chief operating officer.

“That doesn’t count,” Dixon said of Foster’s letter to Rice. “...We want to hear from the governor, but we won’t, because she agrees with the radical sex and gender activists.”

In a response statement, Whitmer campaign spokesperson Maever Coyle criticized other Dixon proposals and said the governor “knows that parents are crucial and should be involved in decisions about their child’s education.”

Whitmer on Monday announced members of her newly created "Michigan Parents’ Council" that will provide input on the state education budget. In doing so, she called parents “their children’s first and most important teacher.”

The Michigan Department of Education does not work directly for Whitmer. Instead, it is governed by the State Board of Education, an elected panel that currently includes five Democrats and two Republicans, with one vacancy. The board, which hired Rice in 2019, is also responsible for choosing the state superintendent.

If elected, Dixon said she would propose a reorganization so that the education department and superintendent "report directly to the governor," arguing it is time to stop "passing the buck to unelected bureaucrats" like Rice. 

Doing so would require voter approval to amend the Michigan Constitution. "That would be my goal," Dixon said.

The Republican has made education and parental rights a key plank of her campaign. She has promised to “protect girls sports” by prohibiting participating from transgender students born as biological males. 

She has proposed a “Parents Right to Know Act” that would require schools to post online the name of every textbook or library book available to students, the course syllabus for every class and any "diversity, equity or inclusion" programs or consultants hired by the district. 

Dixon also supports a plan backed by the powerful DeVos family for student scholarships to private schools. 

Dixon also previously told Bridge she would support a Michigan-version of Florida’s Parents Rights in Education law, which would prohibit any instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity before fourth grade.

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