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Why You Should Always Be Skeptical of Laws that “Save the Children”


By Benjamin Thornton


Photo by Pixabay

For as long as American politics has existed, “save the children,” has been a common rallying cry. The protection of children is an easy, almost mandatory cause to support–children simultaneously represent the most vital and vulnerable segment of the American population. Examining the past few decades of American history with a critical eye, however, reveals that politicians have used fiery calls to save the children as a vehicle for advancing political agendas that cause harm.

Two recent pieces of legislation–the “Child Protection in Public School” bill in the Florida state senate and “Protect Children’s Innocence Act” in Congress–are examples of impassioned pleas to protect American children that are (not so) covertly advancing far-right socio-political aims. The two bills, in their titles and text, outwardly claim to save the children. Not so subtly, however, both pieces of legislation work to repress the rights of America’s most vulnerable youth.

The primary purpose of the “Child Protection in Public School” bill in the Florida state senate is to prohibit any classroom content on sexuality or gender before high school (S. Res. 1320). While some Florida Republicans have touted this bill as protecting the purity and innocence of children, opponents maintain that it effectively mandates heteronormativity in the curriculum and the broader school setting, and leads to health disparities. At the federal level, the “Protect Children’s Innocence Act” aims to restrict gender-affirming care for those under the age of 18, even with parental consent (H.R. 8731). Many far-right politicians insist that gender-affirming care violates and sexualizes children, but those on the other side of the political spectrum see such medical treatments and operations as ways for children to realize and express their gender identities.

Juxtaposing the outwardly communicated purposes of the “Child Protection in Public School” bill and the “Protect Children’s Innocence Act” with their actual outcomes, the irony becomes abundantly clear. Both bills are posturing to save the children but in effect, criminalize LGBTQ+ identities and expression for children in American schools. There is data to support the claim that these two bills would not in fact save the children but rather, would do the opposite. A 2018 article in the American Journal of Sexuality Education revealed that health and sex education for middle school children decreases the risk of unwanted pregnancy and contracting STDs as those children become young adults (Rose et al., 2018). Prohibiting any discussion of sexuality and gender in the classroom renders any comprehensive health or sex education impossible. In turn, the law would increase the chances of unwanted pregnancies and STDs down the line for these Floridian youth.

The “Protect Children’s Innocence Act” would also have devastating consequences. The Trevor Project found that more than half of transgender American youth considered suicide in

2022 (The Trevor Project, 2022). The same organization found that one of the leading factors driving that alarming statistic was “Rejection and a Lack of Social Support & Affirming Spaces” (The Trevor Project, 2022). Bills like “Protect Children’s Innocence Act” inherently reject the existence of transgender youth and are pushing young transgender Americans to suicide. So much for saving the children.

History tells us why laws that vow to “save the children” need to be examined with extra scrutiny. In 2002, 14 Black school-aged boys deemed to be “at-risk” youth, were sent to a special, newly opened school on the grounds of the Orleans Parish Prison. With one exception, the boys were deemed “at-risk” simply for excessive tardiness, or vaguely put, “classroom disruption” (Simmons, 2017, p. 103). That the students were all Black and enrolled on subjective grounds speaks to the racial disparities baked into the school-to-prison pipeline. While meant to correct the behavior of supposed “at-risk” children, the prison school only punished them for their lower status subjectively assigned to them by the school system. The prison school featured zero certified teachers, a prison-grade surveillance system monitoring the boys at all times, uniformed correctional officers, and on the whole, more punishment than support (Simmons,2017, p. 128, 132). When the prison school first opened, the local sheriff triumphantly announced that the initiative was to “save the children” (Simmons, 2017, p. 138). Sound familiar?

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