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Target has partnered with GLSEN, an education nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+ affirmation, inclusion and safety in schools, for more than 10 years.
The narrative that GLSEN is promoting “secret child gender transitions” or urging schools to “hide kids’ gender transitions” stems from a debate about whether educators should be required to disclose students’ gender identities or sexual orientation to parents.
GLSEN and other organizations such as the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Psychological Association support policies that allow educators to maintain student privacy — even, sometimes, from parents. Critics of the approach argue that educators should not keep information about students from parents or guardians.
Already besieged by criticism from the political right for its annual Pride clothing collection, Target Corp. is facing new allegations over its decade-plus partnership with GLSEN, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group.
GLSEN supports LGBTQ+ inclusion, affirmation and safety in schools. But critics are focused on one aspect of its advocacy and suggest that Target, by relation, is promoting secret child gender transitions and more.
"Target Donates To Group That Promotes Secret Child Gender Transitions, LGBTQ Books In Schools," read a May 26 headline from The Daily Wire, a conservative news site.
Fox News coupled the headline, "Target partners with org pushing for kids’ genders to be secretly changed in schools without parental consent," with the subhead, "‘We ... continue to support their mission,’ Target Corporation said about GLSEN." The graphic Fox created, featuring a shrouded, faceless figure making a "shh" gesture, emphasized the alleged promotion of secrecy.
One Instagram post shared a screenshot of a Daily Mail headline and misleadingly claimed in its caption that "groomers at Target" had been exposed as "promoting and paying for sex changes" for minors.
PolitiFact looked into these claims and Target’s relationship with GLSEN. We found that some of these claims go too far in suggesting that Target, through its donorship, is advocating or paying for secret sex changes for kids. Although GLSEN supports educational policies that aim to keep LGBTQ+ students safe in situations in which their gender identities may not be welcome at home, it’s an exaggeration to suggest that the group or Target are "grooming" children or pushing them to transition in secret.
Pronounced "glisten," GLSEN — an acronym drawn from Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — describes itself as an organization that "advocates for safe and affirming school environments for K-12 students."
It pushes for policies and curriculums that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ youth. It supports student-led LGBTQ+ clubs and organizations. It promotes federal and state legislation that can broaden inclusivity in schools. It also includes initiatives such as GLSEN’s Rainbow Library, a program that sends age-appropriate, inclusive LGBTQ+ literature to more than 4,600 schools in 30 states.
Generally, GLSEN pushes for policies that allow educators to maintain student privacy.
GLSEN’s Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers said students might feel unsafe or face emotional and physical abuse at home, and educators should always prioritize student safety.
"GLSEN believes that teachers should never be required to give any private information to parents — including a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity — that could put a student at risk," Willingham-Jaggers said.
"We can’t put our teachers in a position where they may be required to reveal information to a parent that could result in physical harm to a student."
Target has partnered with GLSEN for 12 years, according to a 2022 press release.
In 2022, Target donated $250,000 to GLSEN to "advance its mission of creating affirming, accessible and antiracist spaces for LGBTQIA+ students." That donation brought Target’s total support through its years of partnership up to $2.1 million, according to the 2022 release.
Pride month merchandise is displayed at a Target store in Hackensack, N.J., Wednesday, May 24, 2023. Target is removing certain items from its stores after an intense backlash from some customers including violent confrontations with its workers. (AP)
It’s unclear exactly how much Target donated to GLSEN in 2023.
The company touts its work with GLSEN on its website’s Pride section: "GLSEN leads the movement in creating affirming, accessible and anti-racist spaces for LGBTQIA+ students. We are proud of 10+ years of collaboration with GLSEN and continue to support their mission."
GLSEN has several other corporate partners including Hollister, The Walt Disney Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and Target. Fox News’ parent company, Fox Corp., also publicly supported GLSEN as recently as 2021 and 2022, according to corporate social responsibility reports.
Target declined to answer PolitiFact’s questions or comment further.
(Screenshot from Target's website.)
The narrative that GLSEN is promoting "secret child gender transitions" or "urges schools to hide kids’ gender transitions" stems from debate about whether educators should be required to inform parents or guardians when students share their sexual orientation or gender identity at school, but make it clear that they haven’t disclosed it at home.
Schools often don’t make a practice of informing parents when students signal they are socially transitioning, The Washington Post reported. A transition can involve students, their teachers and their peers using the name and pronouns that align with the students’ gender identities. Critics argue that schools and educators should not keep information about a student from parents or guardians.
Parents in at least six states have sued districts over the last three years, arguing that their right to raise their children how they see fit was violated when schools do not inform parents of their children’s social transition or help with students’ social transitions at school, often by using children’s preferred names and pronouns, according to an EdWeek report. Those parents have yet to win a case, court records and news reports show.
On its website, GLSEN has a model policy for how schools should support transgender and nonbinary students — an example of the type of policy the group champions. It states that educators "shall not disclose any information that may reveal a student’s gender identity to others, including parents or guardians and other staff, unless the student has authorized such disclosure."
GLSEN described the language as "a starting place" — and said the "strongest policies are developed in consultation with communities that can best inform local needs and priorities."
GLSEN’s policy aligns with practices promoted by other organizations, including the National Association of School Psychologists, the American Psychological Association and Teaching Tolerance, a Southern Poverty Law Center project. Those organizations urge schools and school staffs to respect students’ right to privacy regarding their sexual orientation and gender identity; they also promote school policies that prohibit disclosure of such information to anyone without students’ permission.
In a 2022 statement, the National Association of School Psychologists’ recommended opposing laws or policies requiring the disclosure of a student’s gender identity or sexual orientation without that student’s explicit consent. "School psychologists can meet with students and their families to help all parties develop mutual understanding; however, protecting the individual student’s safety and wellbeing remains the priority," it read.
Allowing youth to come out to their friends and family members on their own terms is important — and "outing" a student to their parents "could result in catastrophic consequences," Willingham-Jaggers said.
PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
Instagram post, May 26, 2023
Facebook post, May 28, 2023
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