“State Farm tells us they’re a good neighbor, but would a good neighbor target 5-year-olds for conversations about gender identity?” says the narrator in a video posted Monday by the conservative group Consumers’ Research. “That’s what State Farm does.”
Hours after a report about the partnership caused an online outcry from conservatives, State Farm announced it was dropping its support for Project GenderCool, aimed at helping raise awareness of what it means to be transgender, inclusive and non-binary.
State Farm spokesperson Roszell Gadson confirmed to The Washington Post on Tuesday that the insurance company ended its support of GenderCool after it was “the subject of news and customer inquiries.”
“Conversations about gender and identity should take place at home with parents,” Gadson said in a statement. “We do not support the compulsory program in schools on this subject. We support organizations that provide resources for parents to have these conversations. We no longer support the program allowing the distribution of books in schools.
The company said it would “continue to explore how we can support organizations that provide tools and resources that align with our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
The company’s decision was reported by the Washington Examiner on Monday evening.
GenderCool founders Jennifer Grosshandler and Gearah Goldstein told the Post that State Farm informed them early Tuesday that their partnership last year had ended.
“They entered into their partnership with us; it’s done,” Grosshandler said. “We’ve done some cool things together and I appreciate the work we’ve done with them.”
The State Farm move is the latest in an academic year that has seen far more challenges for books in the United States than usual. In early May, Pen America, a nonprofit organization that champions free speech, found that 1,586 books had been removed from libraries or classrooms in the previous nine months, with the majority secretly disappearing outside appropriate procedures. In comparison, 2018, 2019 and 2020 each saw about 300 book challenges or bans, according to a tally by the American Library Association. Most targeted books feature LGBTQ or Black characters or address LGBTQ, race, or racism themes.
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The recent pullback of LGBTQ books is part of how Republican-led states are reshaping public education. Seventeen states have passed laws restricting what teachers can say about race, racism and sexism, according to an Education Week tracker.
The mission of GenderCool, founded in 2018 in Chicago, is to “replace misinformed opinions with positive experiences of dating thriving transgender and non-binary youth,” according to its website. The organization, which describes itself as “an inspiring disruptor”, has partnered with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Bank of America, Dell, General Mills, NBCUniversal and Nike.
“The companies we work with support our mission to replace those misinformed views people might have about transgender and non-binary people,” Goldstein said.
GenderCool’s partnership with State Farm drew attention on Monday when Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research, a conservative group that has targeted “woke capitalism,” tweeted an image from a January email from an employee. It shows a corporate responsibility analyst urging State Farm agents in Florida to volunteer and donate LGBTQ children’s books to libraries.
“State Farm is partnering with Project GenderCool to help diversify the shelves of classrooms, community centers and libraries with a collection of books to help bring clarity and understanding to the national conversation about being transgender, inclusive and non-binary,” the manager wrote in the email, according to Consumers’ Research. “The goal of the project is to increase representation of LGBTQ+ books and help our communities have empowering, meaningful, and empowering conversations with kids ages 5+.”
In a video posted to Twitter on Monday, Consumers’ Research accused State Farm of supporting “textbook indoctrination.”
“Like a creepy neighbor, State Farm is there,” the narrator says.
The video circulated among right-wing media and far-right Republican politicians such as Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers, who falsely accused State Farm of seeking to sexually groom children — a recent trend of GOP attacks on the LGBTQ community.
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State Farm also caught the attention of Libs of TikTok, a Twitter account that has turned into a social media phenomenon spreading anti-LGBTQ sentiment.
“.@StateFarm strives to fill schools with books about kids who go trans and non-binary,” Libs of TikTok tweeted.
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As the backlash boiled over on Monday, a State Farm executive wrote an email to staff members announcing that the insurance company would no longer support the GenderCool program, according to the reviewer.
State Farm’s move is a departure from its previous public support for the LGBTQ community. In 2019, State Farm was among hundreds of companies and industry associations to sign an amicus brief supporting LGBTQ equality in the workplace before three LGBTQ discrimination cases were heard by the Supreme Court. The High Court eventually ruled that the Civil Rights Act 1964 protected gay, lesbian and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex.
Steve McManus, general counsel and senior vice president of State Farm, said in a press release at the time that the insurance company believes “in a workplace free from discrimination, and we value and promote diversity, equality and inclusion”.
“As good neighbors, our long history and success is built directly by committed, caring people helping others,” State Farm wrote in 2019. “Sometimes the way we help people involves supporting what we appreciate and believe.”
On Tuesday, as critics and liberals on social media slammed State Farm for canceling the partnership to promote inclusivity, Gadson, the company’s spokesperson, told The Post in a statement that State Farm still appreciates members of the LGBTQ community.
“We recognize and value the diversity of all people and support a culture of respect and inclusion in the communities in which we live and work, as well as in our workplace,” he said.
Despite the attention State Farm received, Grosshandler and Goldstein said they have received an outpouring of support over the past 24 hours from those interested in helping the organization and its mission. Grosshandler, who only described the online attention from conservatives as “noise,” said the support stemming from the State Farm fallout has been “invigorating.”
“We now have more attention, more interest and more appetite for people to know who the transgender and non-binary kids are,” she said.
Goldstein noted that while criticism of GenderCool has intensified due to the partnership with State Farm, she said misinformed opinions about transgender and non-binary people are nothing new to them.
“For us and our families, it’s not just noise. It’s everyday for us,” Goldstein said. “It happens every day.”
Hannah Natanson contributed to this report.