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The Fight for Academic Freedom in SC

Here we are at the end of a turbulent year in our state and nation as a whole, and we are repeatedly being told to be afraid of books, trans kids, and even American history.

Almost every month, a county council, library, or school board is inundated with demands to remove books from shelves if they mention our country's persistent racism issues, the LGBTQ+ community, or where babies come from. The concerns are almost always raised by people who are not impacted by the issues at all – and worse, who are taking a page from a national playbook organized by extremists groups like the Freedom Caucus and Moms For Liberty, an organization who is infiltrating school boards here in South Carolina.

That’s why the Spartanburg County Democratic Party supports Freedom to Read, a coalition of key stakeholders that fights back against radical groups who are demanding that books be banned from school and public libraries.

I’ve personally spent this year engaging, collaborating and advocating with organizations on the front lines of this battle like the Women’s Rights & Empowerment Network and the ACLU of South Carolina and local advocates at PFLAG and Uplift Outreach Center. The overwhelming message from those that represent these marginalized communities? They are concerned for their survival.

When I asked a group of parents and LGBTQIA+ youth in Spartanburg County how, for example, Sen. Josh Kimbrell's proposed ban on gender affirming care for minors would affect them, the responses were unnerving:

"I would die, and this isn’t an exaggeration. My life wouldn’t be worth living anymore ... I would be miserable." Said one 15 year old transgender boy.

At least one in ten children are LGBTQ+,” one parent said. “Your own child may be struggling with suicidal thoughts right now because they are afraid to come out to you. I think it’s important that we make sure our children feel safe enough to let us know what’s going on in their lives.”

Nearly all of the youth and parents I interviewed said they felt like their own legislators were directly targeting them or their loved ones.

When asked why inclusive literature was important to have in schools and libraries, a 13 year old trans boy said, "It helps us feel included - even when everyone in schools or at home makes us feel like an outsider."

I asked these youth why they think legislators may be enacting so many policies around LGBTQIA+ issues. The answers ranged through "I don't know," to "they want to control us," to "they want us to stop existing." The youngest respondent was twelve years old.

On the front of so-called "Critical Race Theory," Estherjoy Mungai of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund asked our legislature in testimony this year, "Should we not teach students what the just side is when discussing current instances of fascism, white supremacy, and hate crimes - that are still perpetuated against marginalized communities today?"

We must help others see that the best way to "save the children" is to support them and love them - no matter their walk of life, origins, or families.

Kathryn Harvey

Chair, SPCDP

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