Republican State Representative Anthony Kern warned a group of right-wing activists on Wednesday that "LGBTQ rights" could "take over" under Democratic rule, according to audio of his remarks posted online by a liberal group.
Kern also suggested without evidence that Democrats support teaching kindergartners sex-ed lessons with material akin to videos found on Pornhub.com.
Since as early as this summer, a cohort of Arizona Republicans have speciously claimed that devious forces are attempting to sexualize children through sex education. Kern's comments are just the latest sign that some Republicans plan to wield this distorted view of sex ed as a political line during the upcoming legislative session and 2020 elections.
The Glendale lawmaker made his baseless and inflammatory remarks during a weekly meeting of Tea Party activists in Phoenix. American Bridge, a liberal Super PAC and opposition research firm, posted audio of his comments on YouTube.
"Do you want LGBTQ rights to take over?" Kern said to an audience of about a dozen at a Denny's restaurant. "You want your kids being taught sex education — that you pull up a computer right now — I can pull up, you know, Pornhub.com ... I could pull it up and show you anything on that porn site is what is going to be taught to your kids, your little kindergartners."
Madelaine Adelman, the co-founder of the Phoenix chapter of GLSEN, an organization that supports LGBTQ students, called Kern's rhetoric of an LGBTQ takeover "dangerous" in the current political climate.
"Branding a group of people as the other side, an enemy in a battle, is provocative in the way they intended, but can have very serious consequences," said Adelman, who has also studied anti-LGBTQ bias as a professor at Arizona State University.
Adelman also said Kern's ideas are out of sync with public opinion, citing national polls showing overwhelming support among Americans for LGBTQ rights.
"The efforts that a local organization like GLSEN Phoenix make is to make sure there are protective policies in place so LGBTQ students can go to school, to concentrate on their leanings. We lack protective policies," Adelman said. "If the desire to have protective policies is seen as a 'take over,' we have very different understanding of what it means to ensure that every student has access to education."
Also in the audio clip, after warning of pornographic sexual education for kindergartners, Kern mentions a book that presumably contains material he finds objectionable.
"If Democrats take over, and I'm not trying to scare you, I can show you the book," Kern said. "It's reality and I don't even want to look at the book, I keep it in my car because I want that crap in my house. But that's what they want to teach kindergartners."
When reached by phone, Kern declined to comment and promptly hung up. He then sent an email clarifying that the book he was referring to was It's Perfectly Normal, an illustrated book published in 1994 for children 10 and older that contains lessons on relationships, puberty, sexual orientation, and sex. The book, which contains drawings of people having sex, has served as something of a bogeyman in a statewide campaign against sexual education.
"I, like most Arizonans, support scientific and fact-based sex education, but it’s entirely inappropriate to encourage sexual activity among children as part of such a curriculum," Kern said in his email. He claimed without providing any evidence that a plan by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman would distribute copies of It's Perfectly Normal to children 10 and under.
Hoffman spokesperson Richie Taylor said there is "absolutely no truth" to Kern's claim that the superintendent's office plans to hand out It's Perfectly Normal to students. Taylor emphasized that sex ed "is decided at the local school district level and parents must choose to opt their children in to participate."
In a television interview in September, Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers also referred to It's Perfectly Normal while defending comments he made earlier that Planned Parenthood has a "business plan of hell" that involves using sex ed to make children promiscuous and consequently seek out the organization's services.
Tayler Tucker, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Arizona, called Kern's representation of sex ed in Arizona "incendiary, outlandish, and markedly untrue." She pointed to national guidelines for sex ed that do not make any mention of kindergartners learning through pornographic materials.
Tucker said Kern should be advocating for comprehensive sex education if he fears children learning about sex from porn: "The reality is that without the opportunity to get an open and honest discussion about medically-accurate and consent-based sex ed, either in the classroom or at home by a parent or guide, young people will often turn to porn and alternative spaces that are often inaccurate, that perpetuate unhealthy power dynamics, and often push forward myths."