Gender studies aims to upset a stable sexual identity—either by sowing confusion about whether a student is a boy, a girl, or something else, or by actively encouraging kids to reconsider their sexual orientation. No longer limited to alternative-learning schools in major cities or wealthy suburbs, gender studies, an offshoot of the broader ideology of “queer theory,” is making its way into K-12 schools on American military bases.
The U.S. military runs 160 such schools worldwide, serving more than 69,000 children of military personnel. The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) employs thousands of teachers, and its budget exceeds $3.2 billion. Reflecting department-wide priorities, the 2022 DoDEA “Blueprint for Continuous Improvement” strategic plan emphasizes “diversity, equity, and inclusion” as “Core Values.”
Teachers throughout the military system gathered at the DoD-sponsored 2021 Equity and Access conference to deliver and listen to talks promoting queer theory, anti-racism, global citizenship, and other activist priorities. Thanks to a whistleblower, the Claremont Institute received more than 50 presentations from the 2021 DoDEA conference.
The results were startling. The radical gender ideology recommended for military schools is little different from that found in Portland, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Directions for incorporating gender studies into the curriculum came from the 2021 conference talk entitled “Ally 101—Creating an Inclusive Classroom for LGBTQ+ Students” by Genevieve Chavez and Lindsey Bagnaschi, teachers at U.S. bases in Spain and Germany, respectively.
Many teachers are worried about peddling radical gender theories in the early grades, Chavez noted, out of respect for childhood innocence and parental rights. But she concludes that notion is wrong. “You can talk about LGBTQ+ things in elementary school,” she argued. “It’s actually the ideal time.” Why? “Kids as young as four years old are already starting to develop a stable understanding of their gender identity. So elementary school is the perfect time because you can really show students the diversity of gender expression and gender activity.”
Bagnaschi suggested that this instruction begin with the “Genderbread Person” activity, which teaches kids as young as pre-K how to identify themselves along four continuums of gender, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation. A child could have female organs but express gender in a male way by wearing pants, claiming a male identity, and being attracted to girls. Small children are encouraged to imagine all the ways they can be non-cisnormative.
“Ally 101” advises teachers to build special relationships with students, and even to keep information from parents. “This might be the only place where they can truly be themselves and use their name and their pronoun,” Bagnaschi advised. According to Bagnaschi, teachers should say their own pronouns whenever possible to “normalize” conversations about gender. But even teachers can forget, so Chavez recommends that teachers form groups where they can practice student pronouns with one another, or ask the students to help police their language. One teacher, reports Bagnaschi, even has students keep tallies of every time he “misgenders” someone.
In the past, teachers used the concept of confusion productively to cultivate student wonder. Students are motivated to learn when they know they are pursuing a deep question or trying to solve a puzzle. But for DoDEA presenters, the confusion is the point. Students are meant to puzzle over their own identity, creating bewilderment where certainty once was. Parents have long taken for granted that cultivating a stable sexual identity is a key to individual development. Now, U.S. military schools think destabilizing sexual identity is essential to education.
Once DoDEA signaled its endorsement of DEI pedagogy, Tennessee senator Marsha Blackburn proposed amendments to the DoDEA in the National Defense Authorization Act, and New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik passed legislation in the House. Both efforts looked to establish a parental bill of rights, of sorts, for military parents, one that includes the “right to review curriculum” and “the right to review all instructional material.” Neither proposal established educational alternatives for servicemembers, a benefit available to those serving the State Department overseas. In any case, neither proposal has been signed into law. The indoctrination of military children will continue until Congress acts.