by Micah Peregrino
“Philly is a trans city” echoed outside the Marriott hotel in anticipation of the Moms for Liberty (M4L) National Summit in Philadelphia June 29-July 2. The Southern Poverty Law Center designated extremist group organizes under the slogan “We do NOT co-parent with the government,” but their advocacy encourages the use of state power to censor books and criminalize healthcare. M4L co-parents with rightwing politicians Donald Trump and Ron DeSanti,s both of whom spoke inside. Outside,children stood holding signs advocating for “Democracy NOT theocracy” and to “LET QUEER YOUTH LIVE.”
The extremist group shrouds the violence of its policies under a guise of concerned parenthood. Rather than bemoaning gun violence, traffic accidents or substance abuse–all of which do kill kids–M4L advocates against the inclusion of black and queer children in public schools. In their worldview systemic racism, slavery and segregation are not real, but simply fabrications of critical race theory. They view any inclusion or mention of queer people in schools either as curriculum or in passing (such as a queer student discussing their identity) as a form of indoctrination.
M4L’s recent ‘The Parent Brigade’ newsletter emphasized the need for Biblical Citizenship and defunding public schools through vouchers before quoting Adolf Hitler’s assertion that “He alone, who OWNS the youth, GAINS the future” according to the Indianapolis Star. The group chapter that glowingly quoted Hitler initially apologized. Christian Ziegler, Florida’s Republican Party chairman and M4L co-founder Bridget Ziegler’s husband condemned the apology arguing “I think apologizing makes you weak” while conducting the summit’s June 30 media training seminar for volunteers unaware media from NBC were in attendance.
M4L’s self presentation as parents looking to make choices independent of state interference serves to obscure their position in the bigotry industrial complex. Rightwing think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation, who awarded M4L a 2022 Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship, develop talking points with focus groups. Those talking points are then deployed through networks such as Fox News, Newsmax, & Breitbart before echoing through more decentralized propaganda pages like ‘Libs of Tik Tok.’ Action oriented groups like M4F and the Proudboys then utilize the furor stoked by reactionary media to galvanize shows of force at PTA meetings or campaigns of threats and harassment directed at the targets of their anger. These displays of anger are then used to justify banning history books or outing queer students to intolerant parents by politicians.
M4L is an optically useful figurehead for the white supremacist heteronormative movement they represent; their tactics are not new. Their advocacy follows the playbook established by groups like Daughters of the Confederacy. Both groups weaponize the imagery of white womanhood as a cudgel against marginalized groups; historically the Daughters of Confederacy advocated for segregation while contemporarily M4L uses similar messaging to advocate against the teaching of historical segregation. Before M4L’s rise to prominence in 2021 a previous generation of bigots spearheaded by Anita Bryant waged a similar war in Florida in the 1970s, opposing queer rights and also centering her group’s hatred in concerned motherhood.
Conspicuously absent from the advocacy of these concerned parents groups– who are supposedly fighting for children– are grievances raised by actual children. M4L cosplays as defenders of children while minimizing their funding sources through their 501(c) tax status that doesn’t require donor disclosure.
Children are the victims when dark money groups descend on their towns with a mission to gut their libraries. My lack of vocabulary to express my identity growing up didn’t make me any less queer. The alienation I experienced just made me suicidal. My childhood’s version of M4L, “Focus on the Family,” feels quaint in the context of M4L’s current embrace of fascist rhetoric.
The initial distress caused by M4L’s presence in Philly was partially eroded by the love of the actual community members who came out to protest their conference, chanting “Philly is a trans city.” Without opposition, M4L’s propaganda becomes policy. We need solidarity. We need action. Unchallenged bigotry may initially fester on the fringes of discourse; however, eventually it organizes. What begins as snide remarks gathers money and backing and occupies Marriott ballrooms to export their vitriol. Queer people must bash back.
Micah Peregrino (They/Them) is a historian examining the intersections of labor, politics and gender.