Insurance company State Farm canceled its partnership with a program that aims to raise awareness among children that "transgender and non-binary youth are just like all other kids" after coming under attack by an anti-LGBTQ campaign by right-wing political figures and media.
On May 24, 2022, State Farm announced it had ended its participation with GenderCool, an organization that describes itself as a youth-led project that, among various public-outreach activities, offers three books, titled, "A Kids Book About Being Non-Binary," "A Kids Book About Being Transgender," and, "A Kids Book About Being Inclusive."
The books were written by teens in partnership with the company A Kids Book About. The company's publications, according to USA Today, tackle difficult topics like racism, anxiety, body image, and cancer.
Gia Parr, the author of "A Kids Book About Being Transgender," told USA Today in 2021 about her motivation for writing the book:
"For people who have trans kids already, I hope it teaches them the future will be OK. For trans people all over, it’s not easy. My experience hasn’t been easy; I still struggle,” she said, but the book’s message is "'Wow, look at all you can do.'" (Parr was 17 at the time of the interview with USA Today).
The fracas over State Farm's participation in the GenderCool project started on May 23, 2022, when conservative activist Will Hild tweeted an internal company email from a State Farm corporate responsibility analyst, encouraging agents to donate the GenderCool three-book bundle to their communities. When donating the books, the email urged the agents to "highlight our commitment to diversity on their social media pages."
Hild, a former deputy director for the influential conservative group Federalist Society, currently leads Consumers' Research, a nonprofit organization founded in 1929. In 2021, Consumers' Research launched an ad campaign targeting CEOs over what it described as "woke capitalism."
Hild also tweeted an ad created by Consumers' Research. The ad plays on State Farm's jingle that says, "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there." But the ad replaces the phrase "good neighbor" with "creepy neighbor," and accuses the company of "textbook indoctrination." The ad claims (falsely) that State Farm asked employees to donate "books aimed at making kindergartners question their identity."
"This gross and blatant attempt to indoctrinate our children by [State Farm] is shameless and consumers should be aware a company founded on family values is now encouraging five-year-old children to question their gender," Hild tweeted.
We reached out to Hild's organization Consumers' Research via the contact form on its website with a list of questions, including how it defines the term "woke indoctrination," what the group's current focus is, and whether the group has views specific to the LGBTQ+ community. We didn't receive a response in time for publication, but will update this story if we do.
We also reached out to State Farm asking when and why it chose to partner with GenderCool and why, specifically, it ended the partnership.
State Farm spokesman Roszell Gadson responded by pointing to a statement issued by the company on May 24, 2022, which answers none of those questions, but states, "We do not support required curriculum in schools on this topic," even though GenderCool doesn't seek to make its books required school reading.
The State Farm statement further said, "We will continue to explore how we can support our associates, as well as organizations that align with our commitment to diversity and inclusion, including the LGBTQ+ community."
The Washington Post reported that State Farm's announcement came shortly after an "online uproar from conservatives." The Post also quoted Gadson as stating that State Farm had been "the subject of news and customer inquiries."
So, What Is GenderCool?
GenderCool was founded in 2018 by Jennifer and John Grosshandler, who are parents of a transgender girl, and Gearah Goldstein. The project is intended to provide real-life stories of transgender and non-binary youth in an effort to help dispel what the organization described as a "tidal wave of misleading, sensational, negative content about these amazing young people."
The books offered by GenderCool aren't "textbook indoctrination" — they are autobiographical accounts written by transgender and non-binary youngsters, with the intent of demystifying and destigmatizing kids from those minority groups.
"These books were written by young teenagers about their own personal lives," Jennifer Grosshandler told Snopes in a phone interview. "It’s important to know these teens. They are honor students, they are musicians, they have won awards for community service. They are normal kids writing about their own life story."
Contrary to what the State Farm statement says, the GenderCool books were not written with the intent to be included in school curricula, Goldstein pointed out in a phone interview.
"They’re not curriculum-based or written from the perspective of an educational learning tool. They are simply autobiographical accounts of experiences young people have had with their own lives," Goldstein said.
The attack on GenderCool and State Farm for partnering with the group follows an old political tactic of smearing LGBTQ people as child predators. In the 1970s, for example, anti-gay activist Anita Bryant launched an organization dubbed "Save Our Children," campaigning against legislative rights for gay people by claiming members of the gay community were out to "recruit" children.
Following that tactic, the anti-LGBTQ Twitter page Libs of TikTok twisted the words of the book title, "A Kids Book About Being Transgender," tweeting that State Farm "is working to fill schools with books on kids becoming trans and non-binary."
Goldstein said that one doesn't "become transgender."
"You don’t catch the idea of transgender and then become transgender," Goldstein, who is transgender, said. "It’s something you are born with. There’s no way, regardless of what they say, that the written word or a movie or anything can make somebody change their gender identity."
The campaign against GenderCool reflects a wider conservative campaign targeting books by LGBTQ+ authors about their life experiences, along with topics like race and racism, attempting to get such books banned from school libraries.
But despite the raging culture war surrounding the issue, Goldstein said what's getting lost in the conversation is the kids in the middle of it.
"How do you tell a kid that they’re not valuable, regardless of who that child is?" Goldstein stated. "We’re not indoctrinating or trying to infiltrate. We are just families who support our kids."