- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Muslim parents and Moms for Liberty have at least one thing in common: Both are alarmed about the infusion of LGBTQ books and other materials in school classrooms and libraries.

Muslim families are raising their political profiles as they join the parental rights debate, most recently in Montgomery County, Maryland, where the school district has approved a host of books on homosexuality and transgenderism for the pre-K 5 curriculum and removed an opt-out choice.

“One of the fathers who had reached out to us said his daughter is a third-grader, and she came home and told him, ‘Daddy, I’m not a she. I want to be a they,’” said Zainab Chaudry, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Maryland office. “He was like, ‘She’s in third grade. What does she know about gender?’”

The fight goes beyond Montgomery County. Last year, Muslim parents were among those who packed board of education meetings in Dearborn, Michigan, over sexually themed LGBTQ books in school libraries. Their objections upended stereotypes about what The New Yorker called “the right-wing mothers fueling the school-board wars.”

“It’s everywhere,” Ms. Chaudry said. “It’s in multiple counties in Maryland, and not just the school systems in Maryland. It’s across the country.”

Her organization and the Montgomery County Muslim Council raised the religious liberty issue after the district introduced LGBTQ books for pre-K 5 and then said in March that parents could no longer opt their children out of lessons.

“It’s not the school system’s place to create that environment under the guise of inclusion, diversity and equity,” Ms. Chaudry said. “They are essentially faith-washing or brainwashing or imposing these values, according to what parents have told us.”

CAIR is no conservative group. It has fought immigration restrictions; opposed anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions laws; called for President Trump’s impeachment; and defended “anti-racism,” also known as critical race theory.

As books such as “Gender Queer,” drag queens and preferred pronouns make their way into schools, the Muslim advocacy group is aligning with right-tilting organizations such as Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education.

Caroline Moore, vice president of Parents Defending Education, said families from all backgrounds have reason to be alarmed about Montgomery County’s elimination of the opt-out choice.

“Parents should have the right to opt their children into programming that perpetuates social and political narratives in curriculum that parents may not be comfortable with,” Ms. Moore said. “I am not surprised anyone would oppose this new policy as it blatantly disregards parental rights regardless of political affiliation, ethnicity and income.”

In Dearborn, a city with a large Muslim population, the debate centered on a half-dozen books being considered for the school library, including “This Book Is Gay” and “All Boys Aren’t Blue.”

“A normal, psychologically sound and stable mind would come to a conclusion that that specific material is nothing but sexually explicit,” Dearborn parent Ziad Abdulmalik said at a packed school board meeting in October, as shown on Fox 2 in Detroit.

Such parents aren’t necessarily on the same side as their elected leaders.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, is one of three Muslims serving in Congress. After the Dearborn meeting, she told Fox 2 that it was “unfortunate that extremists on the right have been able to set their ugly, bigoted and well-funded hate machine on the Dearborn community.”

That Muslim parents would break with the left on LGBTQ issues is unsurprising in some respects, given that Muslim immigrants typically hail from countries with stricter views of sexuality and gender. In Pakistan, homosexual activity is illegal.

The objections aren’t just coming from recent arrivals but also from Muslim parents with a wide range of beliefs, Ms. Chaudry said.

“A lot of the families who have reached out and expressed concern, they’re not families you would traditionally consider conservative,” she said. “They’re not necessarily the kinds of families that go to the mosque every Friday or pray five times a day or wear the headscarf.”

In other words, “the opposition to this is not just coming from one specific subset of the population. It’s pretty broad-based. And it’s not going to go away,” she said.

Critics have accused Montgomery County Public Schools of moving the goal posts. After word leaked in November about plans to add LGBTQ books to the pre-K 5 curriculum, district officials said the readings were not mandatory and parents would be notified beforehand.

In a March 24 notice to families, however, the district said parents would no longer be given advance notice or the option to excuse their children from instructional materials, except for the sex education curriculum, which has a state-mandated opt-out.

The district also approved six LGBTQ books for elementary schools, starting with “Pride Puppy” for pre-K and Head Start. The books for kindergarten through grade five include “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding,” “Intersection Allies: We Make Room for All” and “Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope.”

Schools don’t have the option to ignore the list. The district emphasized that “as with all curriculum resources, there is an expectation that teachers utilize these inclusive lessons and texts with all students.”

At a meeting this month, advocates for Muslim parents urged Montgomery County Public Schools to reinstate the opt-out. A petition calling for bringing back the option for “sexually themed reading material” has garnered nearly 1,500 signatures.

So far, the district isn’t budging.

“We are listening to the concerns,” Montgomery County Public Schools said in an email to The Washington Times. “However, the District stands by its goal to create an environment where all students are welcomed and feel like they belong. Incorporating inclusive texts into our curriculum supports that goal.”

What worries some parents is that the books will be included in the classroom as part of the English language arts curriculum.

“It’s not just about the readings itself; it’s the fact that there are also associated conversations and discussions that are happening within classrooms,” Ms. Chaudry said. “Teachers are influencing how children are learning about and developing values and beliefs related to these issues, which has created a lot of panic and alarm and anxiety because parents want to be able to have a say on when and how their children learn about these topics.”

Lindsey Smith, Montgomery County chapter chair of Moms for Liberty, said parents have “the right to decide where and how to introduce their children to the growing complexity of sexual education.”

“MCPS’s own guidelines say that controversial issues will always be addressed with parental input and fairly addressing all sides,” Ms. Smith said. “MCPS is not doing that. We’re asking the school district to keep its promises: Give parents the option to address these sensitive issues in the way that’s best for their own children rather than imposing it without opt-outs.”

Many Muslim Americans vote Democratic, but the Republican Party has made inroads. The 2022 midterm elections showed 28% Muslim support for Republican candidates, which represents an 11-percentage-point increase from 2018, according to a Wall Street Journal exit poll.

Ms. Chaudry acknowledged the political disconnect. “It’s definitely created a lot of conversations where groups like Moms for Liberty are reaching out to imams with long beards,” she said.

“Not the typical people you’d see in a room together,” she said, “but when it comes to their children, people are putting politics aside.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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