Opinion: 'Anti-grooming' bill won’t protect students; will drive away good educators

Pat Brothwell says these “groomer laws” will inevitably drive away good LGBTQ+ teachers and allies.
Pat Brothwell says these “groomer laws” will inevitably drive away good LGBTQ+ teachers and allies.

I don’t have access to the Cane Creek Middle School curriculum, but its website states that it’s based on content aligned with the N.C Essential Standards. The N.C Essential Standards for grades 6-8 don’t mention mandated gender or sexuality “indoctrination” in any subject.

Still, two weeks ago, former Cane Creek Middle School teacher Christopher Lee Todd pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography, proving that current Republican “anti-grooming” legislation won’t keep students safe.

While the “grooming” narrative — a scare tactic adopted by conservatives to fight the erosion of traditional gender roles by claiming that discussing gender, sexuality, or sex-education in any non-biblically-sanctioned way is grooming children to be susceptible to sexual molestation and exploitation — has been around for years now, it’s seen a resurgence, particularly in restrictive legislatures like Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill or the proposed North Carolina Parental Bill of Rights.

The last action of House Bill 755, according to, was June 6, when it was referred to committee on rules.

On March 4 of this year, Florida Gov. DeSantis’s press secretary tweeted, “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer, or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.”

She’s far from the only one to push this narrative. Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Donald Trump, and author-turned-Senate candidate JD Vance are among those who've pushed versions of this message over the past year.

Statistically, this country does have a huge problem with sexual assault. Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, including school-aged children.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) reports that 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult (93% of child victims know their perpetrator).

A 2016 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign survey found that 1 in 4 middle school students say they’ve experienced unwanted verbal or physical sexual harassment on school grounds.

Despite conservatives painting LGBTQ+ individuals as “groomers,” they’re four times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ individuals to experience sexual assault, according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

Republicans act like they’re looking out for children with the grooming narrative, but it’s not banning gender and sexuality studies or prohibiting a gay educator from referencing a partner that will keep children safe (similarly, empty, attention-grabbing bills to ban critical race theory won’t keep students safer than, I don’t know, gun control?). This is a much bigger, systemic problem conservatives would rather not address in any meaningful way (the personal stories of Brett Kavanaugh, Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan — to provide some examples—may indicate why).

Even more troubling, these “groomer laws” will inevitably drive away good LGBTQ+ teachers and allies.

I was starting to come to terms with my sexuality when I was a public high school teacher at an affluent, conservative Pennsylvania school district. I took great pains to share as little about my personal life as possible to students and colleagues (I was doing the same to family and friends, then). Still, someone from the school — I’m still unsure if it was a student or colleague — spotted me on a date where I lived outside the district one Friday night. That Monday, a well-meaning colleague pulled me aside and told me to be careful about publicizing my sexuality. Word was out, he said, and he feared it would affect how students and parents view my professionalism. He mentioned that this simple date with a man my age might have some label me a pedophile.

This wasn’t the only reason I stepped away from teaching, but it was a big factor. In February of this year, the National Education Association reported that 55% of educators are considering getting out of education soon. Legislation like Florida’s will exacerbate an already critical teacher shortage. Do you know what happens when there are hiring shortages? Organizations, including schools, lower their standards, making it more likely that people who shouldn’t work with students get school jobs.

In 2013, Owen Middle School teacher and coach Kevin Calloway was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for “producing child pornography by recording videos of students’ genitals.” Calloway was married to a woman at the time and has three kids. I’d bet a pretty penny he openly talked about his wife and kids to students without fearing that would be the catalyst to label him a groomer. I’d bet legislation restricting Calloway from teaching students about gender or sexuality wouldn’t have saved his victims.

Pat Brothwell is a former high school teacher, but current writer and marketing professional living and working in Asheville. 

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Opinion: 'Anti-grooming' bill won’t protect students