Fact Check

Did Tennessee Republicans Ban Seahorse Book Because It 'Normalized Gender Fluidity'?

In the world of seahorse relationships, males are the ones that carry fertilized eggs, in a pouch, until they hatch.

Published Feb 22, 2023

Republicans in Tennessee are "trying to ban a book about seahorses, claiming it ‘normalizes gender fluidity & the idea that males can get pregnant.’"

The Williamson County, Tennessee, chapter of "Moms for Liberty" does not represent Tennessee Republicans as a whole, but this special interest group has sought — unsuccessfully — to remove a book about seahorses from a first grade curriculum in part over concerns that the content would normalize the concept of gender fluidity.

On Feb. 22, 2023, a viral tweet accused Republicans in Tennessee of "trying to ban a book about seahorses, claiming it 'normalizes gender fluidity & the idea that males can get pregnant.'"

Based on the alleged objections stated in the tweet, it is clear that this tweet is a reference to a fight led by the Williamson County chapter of the right-wing political group "Moms for Liberty," and not the Tennessee GOP or political leadership as a whole.

This chapter formed, at least in part, to object to reading recommendations made in an education curriculum — "Wit & Wisdom" —  recently adopted in that county, as explained by the Tennessean in June 2021: 

One of the most vocal groups has been the Williamson County chapter of Moms for Liberty ... The group includes members with children in and outside of Williamson County Schools. The group shared their findings from a review of several "Wit & Wisdom" books to audiences at their "CRT 101" event last month.

That Moms for Liberty "review of several books" included complaints over a book and an associated video titled "Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea." Both complaints in the viral 2023 tweet stem from this review. Of the objectionable content found in the book, Moms for Liberty listed:

[M]ating seahorses with pictures of postions[sic], and discussion of the male carrying the eggs. Describes how they have sex, how long they have sex, only male fish get pregnant, bending[,] squeezing and pushing.

Of the objectionable content found in the video accompanying that book, Moms for Liberty listed several quotes: 

Quotes from video: "a mating pair of orange pygmy seahorses", "scientists watched the male and female sea horses performing their daily courtship dance", "they saw the baby seahorses pop out of their father's brood pouch", and the last line of the video, "We humans tend to think of who we are as mostly fixed, but in the ocean, identity can be a fluid and mysterious thing."

Moms for Liberty also raised concerns over gender fluidity, as documented in a report made by a joint committee of parents and educators following the Moms for Liberty campaign:

Complainants stated during the hearing that there is "social conditioning" in the book, that there are concerns about the book and video "attempting to normalize that males can get pregnant" and the "suggestion that gender is fluid is too early" to be taught in first grade. It was stated that the book paired with the video is "indicative of an agenda".

Ultimately this committee disagreed with Moms for Liberty's assessment of the book and video, though it recommended not reading aloud two pages of the book (below) describing and illustrating seahorse copulation: 

As explained by seahorse researchers Jessica Suzanne Dudley and Camilla Whittington in The Conversation, this is a fairly accurate depiction of the scientific process by which new seahorses are created:

In seahorses and pipefish, it is the male that gets pregnant and gives birth. Seahorse fathers incubate their developing embryos in a pouch located on their tail.

The pouch is the equivalent of the uterus of female mammals. It contains a placenta, supporting the growth and development of baby seahorses.

Seahorse dads provide nutrients and oxygen to their babies during pregnancy, using some of the same genetic instructions as mammalian pregnancy.

Moms for Liberty, though an increasingly prominent group in the anti-CRT movement, which paints education about racial and other social topics as harmful to students, the group is not the Tennessee Republican Party or associated with that state's leadership. 

While Moms for Liberty may not have sought to have this seahorse book "banned" universally, they did seek to have it removed from an educational curriculum. Further, those concerns were based, at least in part, over the perception of a gender fluidity agenda lurking in an illustrated book about seahorse reproduction. 

For these reasons, the claim is a "Mixture."


Committee for the Reconsideration of Instructional Materials Elementary ELA Curriculum Conclusion and Outcomes Report. Williamson County Schools, Jan. 2022, https://docs.wcs.edu/pdf/ela/ELA-Reconsideration-Conclusion-Report-2022.pdf.

Napolitano, Jo. Critical School Board Race Tests Conservatism in Williamson County, Tennessee. 23 Mar. 2022, https://www.the74million.org/article/after-losing-high-profile-book-battle-conservative-moms-for-liberty-turns-to-critical-tennessee-school-board-race/.

Schorsch, Peter. "Gov. DeSantis, Moms for Liberty Target 5 Tampa Bay Area School Board Members in 2024." Florida Politics - Campaigns & Elections. Lobbying & Government., 22 Feb. 2023, https://floridapolitics.com/archives/590101-gov-desantis-moms-for-liberty-target-5-tampa-bay-area-school-board-members-in-2024/.

Wit and Wisdom Book Reviews V2. Moms For Liberty - Williamson County, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5c7ee90c9d41492399f3a2bd/t/61549dd5cf9dab6130601f35/1632935382054/W%26W+Book+Reviews+v2.pdf.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.