Update: On February 23, 2021, The Family Policy Alliance, the Heritage Foundation, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, in coalition with other known anti-Trans advocacy groups, jointly released their “Promise to America’s Children” with an online webinar and speakers from all the major partners and endorsers.
Amid a spate of legislation in early 2021 targeting trans-affirming health care for youth and trans and gender nonconforming athletes, Ohio State Representative Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) announced this week that she had signed on to The Promise to America’s Children, a collaborative effort between the Family Policy Alliance, The Heritage Foundation, and Alliance Defending Freedom. The ten principles set forth a vision for childhood in which comprehensive sex education is banned in schools, teachers aren’t allowed to talk about LGBT people, students can openly discriminate against their LGBT classmates and teachers, parents are encouraged to submit their LGBT children to unethical conversion therapy and schools are powerless to protect them, trans student athletes are prohibited from playing sports, trans children are unable to access life-saving trans-affirming care, child-welfare organizations are encouraged to discriminate against LGBT prospective parents, and schools are forced to out LGBT students to their parents, regardless of safety considerations.
An interesting note about this Promise to America’s Children: it doesn’t seem to exist. Yet.
A search of the websites and social media channels of the three named organizations came up empty. Broader internet searches only produced Powell’s press release posted by local Ohio news outlets. Did the Ohio representative jump the gun on announcing the initiative? Is it circulating among lawmakers affiliated with the Christian Right anti-LGBT advocacy that these three organizations espouse?
Powell is a legislator in her second term serving Ohio’s 80th House district. She was profiled by Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 Law & Policy feature during her first campaign, in which she declared her intentions to “reduce regulation, cut taxes, enact pro-life legislation, and defend Second Amendment rights.”
On February 9, Powell tweeted “Biological males don’t belong in women’s sports” along with an image branded by the organization Save Women’s Sports. Save Women’s Sports and its founder Beth Stelzer have thrown their support behind the bills proposed across the country in 2021 to restrict who can participate in girls’ sports and promote invasive tests for student athletes who would like to participate. Stelzer has already testified this year on behalf of Montana’s anti-trans sports bill.
Powell herself is a sponsor of Ohio’s companion legislation, the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” introduced in the Ohio State legislature on February 3, 2021. The bill would, like others of its kind, bar transgender girls, intersex athletes, and gender non-conforming girls from participating in girls’ sports in the state of Ohio. If a student athelete’s sex is “disputed,” the bill would require an invasive and dehumanizing process through which a physician would need to establish the participant’s “sex” based upon the following: “(1) the participant’s internal and external reproductive anatomy; (2) the participant’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone; (3) an analysis of the participant’s genetic makeup.”
Powell is heavily connected to the Christian Right forces behind legislation like Ohio’s Save Women’s Sports Act. She graduated from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and is an alumna of the Forge Leadership Network, an Ohio-based fellowship program founded in 2014 by her brother Justin Powell to assist “young conservatives” to “examine public policy and ethics from a Judeo-Christian worldview.” The Forge Leadership Network boasts testimonials from conservative policy leaders around the country, including Alliance Defending Freedom’s Michael Farris, Daily Signal Editor in Chief Rob Bluey, and Tim Throckmornton from the Family Research Council. In 2019, the Powell siblings sat down with the Family Research Council to discuss their “their desire to empower Christian millennials to impact politics.”
The Promise to America’s Children contains ten “guiding principles.” Briefly, the Promise appears to consolidate Christian Right advocacy against trans-affirming care, trans athletes, comprehensive sex education, abortion care, nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, and protection against conversion therapy into a single document laden with dog-whistles and overt messages to the anti-LGBT Right.
“Rep. Powell has made it clear time and time again that she has no interest in protecting LGBTQ+ youth,” said Dominic Detwiler, Public Policy Strategist from Equality Ohio, the state LGBT advocacy group. “In fact, she seems to take every opportunity she can to bully them from her seat in the Ohio House. If she cared half as much about protecting youth as she claims, she would stop her extreme attacks on their basic rights to exist and support common sense legislation like the Ohio Fairness Act and efforts to protect youth from the harmful practice of so-called “conversion therapy”.”
The Promise describes a childhood in which a narrow Christian-Right worldview governs, and parents are encouraged to “protect” their children from anything that doesn’t fit into that worldview. Couched in language that reads as supportive of children’s growth and education, the ten principles in fact offer a vision of a future in which LGBT children should be subjected to torturous conversion therapy. “Every child deserves a relationship with their mother and father. No child should be taken from their parents over disagreements between their parents and the state about sexual orientation/gender identity counseling, therapy, or medical procedures.” This ninth principle is a direct rebuke to the case of Luna Younger, a young trans girl whose mother sued for full custody after Luna’s father opposed her social transition. A Texas judge affirmed custody for Luna’s mother, then after violent attacks from the Right, reversed her decision, granting joint custody to Luna’s mother and father. A hashtag created by Daily Signal’s Matt Walsh and shared by Texas Senator Ted Cruz united the Right behind Luna’s father’s quest to deny his daughter’s gender identity.
The Luna Younger case isn’t the only litigation implicated by the Promise. In Spring 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue its opinion in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, in which Catholic Social Services (CSS), a child-welfare agency in Philadelphia, is suing the city for an exemption to its fair practices ordinance that prohibits city contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. CSS would like to deny its services to LGBT prospective foster and adoptive parents, while continuing to receive City contracts and funding. The Promise insists “authorities should not limit or reduce the pool of foster or adoptive parents by forcing either child welfare agencies or prospective adoptive or foster care parents to violate their moral or religious beliefs, including the belief that every child deserves a mother and a father.” Every child deserves a “forever family,” the Promise promises, if that family is headed by a married man and woman who adhere to a narrow interpretation of the Christian Bible.
The Equality Federation is the national coalition of state LGBT equality groups, currently providing support for the myriad states facing anti-trans legislation this session. “This confirms what we already suspected,” said Vivian Topping, Director of Advocacy & Civic Engagement. “The rise in attacks on transgender youth across the country is a coordinated attack. From anti-transgender youth sports bans, health care bans, bathroom bans, and now these ‘guiding principles,’ the language is nearly identical from state-to-state. This is just the latest iteration of anti-LGBTQ opponents’ attack on transgender youth under the guise of protecting all children.”
Despite Rep. Jena Powell’s assurances that “we have a collective responsibility to protect the health, privacy, safety, and relationships of children in America,” the Promise does the opposite: promising instead a United States in which children are forced to adhere to the restrictive norms of Christian Right ideology.