Dixon demands action on book bans, ‘grooming’ and more — but she’s quiet on the details

By: - October 3, 2022 2:22 pm

GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon at a Sept. 27, 2022 press conference in Lansing | Laina G. Stebbins

GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon has proposed some big ideas on education and LGBTQ+ issues during the last few weeks of her campaign. 

“Leadership is being unafraid to say that our school needs to get back to basics, teach kids how to read, write, and do math – and cut it out with all the radical sex and gender stuff,” Dixon said during a Lansing press conference last month. “Our kids are not lab rats for the progressive left. Our schools are not laboratories for social experiments. It is time to put an end to radical sex and gender activism in our schools. And we will, when I am governor.”

But Dixon hasn’t offered much when asked repeatedly about specifics about her proposals like banning “pornographic” books, as well as if she’d sign related bills pending in the Legislature on grooming, transgender athletes and expanding the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. 

For this story, the Advance asked the Dixon campaign detailed questions about her positions and proposals:

  • Will you send me a list of books that have been found in Michigan K-12 schools that Ms. Dixon considers “pornographic?”
  • Does she back state Rep. David LaGrand’s House bill 5767 to make evidence of grooming eligible in cases of sexual abuse?
  • Would Ms. Dixon sign state Sen. Lana Theis’ Senate Bill 218 banning transgender student athletes in high school sports?
  • Does Ms. Dixon support sexual orientation and gender identity being added to Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act?
  • Does Ms. Dixon believe SCOTUS ruled correctly on same-sex marriage in 2015?

Dixon spokesperson Sara Broadwater did not respond to these questions individually, but offered a statement: “We will not hypothesize on whether or not Tudor would sign bills that have not gone through the Legislature.

“What Tudor wants to accomplish is very simple and common sense. She wants to get radical sex and gender theory out of our schools, remove classroom instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity for grades K-3, make sure gender specific sports remain gender specific given biological differences in boys vs. girls and post all curriculum online for parents to see and be involved in their child’s education,” Broadwater said. “Every child deserves a world class education and parents should be in charge of it.”

Dixon is running against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 8. Here’s a roundup of Dixon’s proposals and surrounding issues:

Attacks on ‘grooming,’ ‘Don’t Say Gay’-style law  

Back in January, when the Republican pool of gubernatorial candidates was crowded, Dixon set herself apart from others by focusing on what she claimed was “grooming” in schools. 

A month later, state Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) introduced House Bill 5767 that would allow evidence of grooming to be used in sexual assault cases. 

“This bill is important because more and more information is coming to light that shows us how often people in positions of power groom their victims long in advance with intent to ultimately proceed to sexual assault. Things that start as innocent comments are laying the groundwork and normalizing what ultimately becomes unwanted advances,” LaGrand told the Advance in February.

LaGrand said allegations of one former House member sexually abusing and grooming a teenage girl “clarified the need” for HB 5767. 

Former House Speaker Lee Chatfield, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Former House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) is currently being investigated by the Michigan State Police on allegations from his sister-in-law that he groomed her since she was a child and had been sexually abusing her for years, beginning when she was about 15. Chatfield has denied the allegations, claiming it was a consensual relationship when she was an adult.

The bill has not gotten any GOP support or passed the Republican-controlled Legislature. 

Dixon has continued to raise the issue, tweeting in April that she believes educators who talk to children “about sex” are sexual groomers. As the Advance has reported, the grooming smear and controversies over teaching about racism and LGBTQ+ issues is one factor in driving more teachers from the classroom. 

The Republican gubernatorial hopeful also has criticized the Michigan Department of Education for a 2020 training video that was designed to help teachers learn about different identities, refer to students by their preferred pronouns and names and how to report concerns about mental health without outing the students to their families. 

When asked last month during a press conference in Alto if she would support HB 5767, Dixon said she didn’t know enough about the bill to answer. After following up with Dixon’s campaign, the Advance still has not gotten a response. 

At a press conference Tuesday in front of the Michigan Capitol, Dixon again emphasized the issue while she and her running mate, GOP former state Rep. Shane Hernandez, unveiled a proposal for “age-appropriate” classroom instruction aimed at “keeping sex and gender talk away from our children.”

Dixon said the “Age Appropriate Classroom Instruction Act” would ensure that school districts in Michigan “do not provide classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.”

Though it is modeled after Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ “Don’t Say Gay” law, Dixon denied that the legislation would be anti-LGBTQ+. The acronym LGBTQ+ has long functioned as an umbrella term for sexuality and gender identity.

Jay Kaplan, an LGBTQ+ rights attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Advance in March that such laws could have a chilling effect on teachers and school officials.

“If you look at the actual language of Florida’s law, it is so broad, and it’s so vague in terms of terminology,” Kaplan said. “It has the impact of potentially taking everything off the table.”

GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon and LG nominee Shane Hernandez at a Sept. 27, 2022 press conference in Lansing | Laina G. Stebbins

Banning LGBTQ+ books in schools

Dixon also has said she would sign legislation banning “pornographic” books from schools if she’s elected governor.

When asked at a Lansing press conference last month if she would support legislation to ban certain books from schools statewide, Dixon said, “We don’t want age-inappropriate material in our classrooms.”

“If it’s pornographic, then yes, I support it,” she said. 

According to PEN America, an organization that advocates for the protection of free speech, a majority of the books that have been challenged as “pornographic” nationwide contain LGBTQ+ characters or themes.

When asked by the Advance to define what she means by “pornographic” in terms of books in K-12 schools, Dixon said at Sept. 20 press conference that it was “two naked people, and they are acting out a sexual act, and multiple different sexual acts.”

The Advance has repeatedly asked for specific book titles, including at a press conference last week at the Capitol.

“Today we’re talking about teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity,” Dixon said Tuesday. “We can get you a list of the school books that some of our parents have talked about, and we can send that to you.”

During Banned Books Week, Dixon supports a ban on ‘pornographic’ books in schools

A Dixon spokesperson has not yet provided a list. 

Dixon said her “age-appropriate class instruction” proposal works in conjunction with her proposed Parents Right to Know Act. This proposal goes hand in hand with her previously proposed Parents Right to Know Act, she said. 

“The Parents’ Right to Know Act is so that the parent can go to the school website and see what the class syllabus is, see what books are in the classroom, see what books are in the library and see what training their teacher has been through,” Dixon said last month. 

Transgender students and sports

Dixon has also been vocal about her opposition to transgender students playing on the sports team that aligns with their gender identity. 

We have a president who is reinterpreting Title IX after 50 years to make sure biological boys can play on young women’s sports teams, compete against them, take their scholarships, steal their championships and also go into the locker rooms with them,” Dixon said during a press conference. 

Dixon proposed last week the Women’s Sports Fairness Act, which will prohibit transgender girls from playing on the sports team that best aligns with their gender identity. This requirement would extend to all public schools in Michigan, including secondary schools, high schools, colleges and universities.

According to reporting from Bridge Michigan last year, the Michigan High School Athletic Association received and approved only 10 transgender athlete eligibility requests in the past five years. 

Dixon also criticized Muskegon Public Schools’ new middle school design that includes gender-neutral bathrooms: “Can we not have a little privacy for our children? It’s such a critical age.”

State Sen. Lana Theis has already introduced Senate Bill 218 banning transgender student athletes in high school sports, one of dozens introduced in states this term. 

Dixon’s campaign did not respond whether she would sign that bill.

Dixon said that, if elected, she would “sign a bill that creates severe criminal penalties for adults who involve children in drag shows. This type of behavior is criminal child sexually abusive activity.”

In response, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel in June joked about putting a drag queen in every school. Dixon has repeatedly criticized Nessel, Michigan’s first top gay elected official, for the comment.

“Don’t tell us she was joking because she wasn’t joking,” Dixon said last month during a press conference in Lansing. “And we don’t take these things as jokes when you’re talking about our kids.”

GOP Board of Education nominee Linda Lee Tarver at Tudor Dixon’s Sept. 27, 2022 press conference in Lansing | Laina G. Stebbins

Same-sex marriage and the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act

In recent years, the biggest LGBTQ+ issues have been the legalization of same-sex marriage and whether sexual orientation and gender identity should be included in Michigan’s non-discrimination law.

Bills have been introduced for years to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA). This term, bills in the House and Senate have won the backing of two Republicans, Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) and Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming), in addition to dozens of Democrats.

State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) has offered up SB 208 to amend ELCRA through legislation to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression.” That bill was referred to the Government Operations Committee, where bills traditionally go to die, and hasn’t been given a hearing. 

In the House, state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) sponsored HB 4297, which has not been voted on in the Judiciary Committee.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this summer that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is unconstitutional and the state’s anti-discrimination act should be interpreted to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Dixon did not respond directly when asked if she supports sexual orientation and gender identity being added to ELCRA. 

LGBTQ rights activists outside the U.S. Supreme Court , Oct. 8, 2019 | Allison Stevens

She has also stayed quiet on another major court decision — Obergefell v. Hodges, which determinded that the 14th Amendment requires all states to license marriages between same-sex couples and to recognize all marriages that were lawfully performed out of state. 

The 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned Michigan’s statewide ban on same-sex marriage. Obergefell included a Michigan case that was argued by Nessel before she became attorney general.

When Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his opinion that he believes the court should take another look at Obergefell. If it were to be overturned, Michigan would revert back to its 2004 ban.

When asked during a June debate in Warren whether the Republican gubernatorial candidates believe the U.S. Supreme Court should reconsider their 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, Dixon did not weigh in. 

Advance reporter Laina G. Stebbins contributed to this story.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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