The Minnesota State Capitol. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Minnesota Republicans repeated debunked tales about schools providing litter boxes for students who identify as cats during debate over the House education budget bill Wednesday.
Reps. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, and Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, shared the fictional stories in support of Drazkowski’s proposal to give lawmakers control over a statewide student survey.
The anecdotes show, Miller said, how the Minnesota Student Survey’s questions about gender and sexuality encourage “moving to the absurd” in allowing students to explore their identities. Democrats condemned the comments as inaccurate and harmful to LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately likely to face bullying and mental health issues.
“I get concerned that people watching this may think members are intending harm, or at least feel that harm,” said Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul. “I want to make sure that transgender kids, all gender kids, know that you are loved. You are normal exactly as you are, in your own skin.”
Unsubstantiated rumors about schools providing accommodations for students who believe they’re animals or identify as furries — a subculture of people who enjoy acting like and dressing up as animals — have spread across the country for months. The claims, all debunked, have been spurred on by social media posts, outraged parents and lawmakers in several states, often in connection with arguments that schools’ diversity and inclusion efforts have gone too far.
The Minnesota Student Survey has been given every three years since 1989. It’s the only source of statewide data on students’ health and safety, with questions on topics including nutrition, sexual behavior, after-school programming and substance use. Schools and the state use the data to track trends in student well-being and apply for grants.
Drazkowski took issue with questions like “What is your gender identity?,” saying he didn’t know what some of the options meant and couldn’t remember if there’s a “blue gender or a green gender.” He thanked education committee chair Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, for explaining to him the meaning of “cisgender” — which describes a person whose gender matches their sex assigned at birth — during a committee hearing.
“Apparently, members, it means you’re normal,” Drazkowski said. “It’s the way God designed you.”
Rep. Eric Lucero, R-St. Michael, also spoke in favor of Drazkowki’s proposal, arguing that the survey stands in the way of schools getting “back to basics.”
“Whether a person believes themselves to be an animal, or some other inanimate object, or ‘two-spirited’ or whatever this other junk is that’s being taught in these schools —” Lucero said, referencing “Two Spirit,” an Indigenous term that encompasses a range of genders and sexualities. Democratic Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn — a descendant of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe — interrupted with a point of order.
A number of Democrats called on Drazkowski, Miller and Lucero to apologize for disparaging LGBTQ and Indigenous people. They refused, with Drazkowski saying “truth” has to “prevail over feelings of what we think we want to be.” Miller said the criticisms were offensive to 95% of people in his district; and Lucero added, “I love all children, but there’s the reality that love sometimes has to be tough.”
“There have been some hateful, disrespectful things said on this floor today,” Becker-Finn said, addressing her comments to Two Spirit and queer Minnesotans. “We love you just the way you are. You are exactly who the creator wanted you to be. You are exactly what your ancestors dreamed of. You are not alone, and you are loved.”
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