Moms for Liberty co-founders Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich reflected on their experience debating progressive activists and educators over what children should be learning in school on a recent episode of “Dr. Phil.”
The guests talked at length about the Parental Rights in Education law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R., which bans teachers from giving classroom instruction on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade. Critics have blasted the bill as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith explained why she opposes the bill.
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“This law is a direct attack on LGBTQ students and families,” Smith told Fox News Digital. “And it is also a declaration of war by DeSantis against teachers who care about creating a safe environment for all children to learn and for all families to be respected.”
Smith accused Justice and Descovich during their “Dr. Phil” appearance of trying to ban books or “censoring anything that allows LGBT students to see themselves.”
“As far as the critiques or the things that were lobbed at us, it’s not true,” Justice told Fox News Digital. “There were comments being made about stickers being placed on books that we know nothing about… During the episode we interjected quite a bit to… say you’re presenting more misinformation. So that was my attempt to not be rude, but try to correct the record.”
The opposing sides also debated the appropriateness of certain materials found in classrooms, and what role parents should have in their kids’ education. Smith, they said, came “armed with a list of hit statements.” In addition to accusing the pair of wanting to “censor” LGBT materials, Smith said the Moms for Liberty were “smearing teachers.”
“My follow-up, which didn’t air, when she was talking about smearing teachers, I was like, ‘What? No!’ We were school board members during the pandemic. We know what was thrown at teachers,” Descovich told Fox News Digital.
“We were not criticizing teachers,” she added. “We are not against teachers.”
Descovich said she witnessed teachers go above and beyond the call of duty to teach students when schools were forced to close, including educators who rode around on bicycles with books in their baskets so they could sit at the end of driveways and read to kids at a safe distance.
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“But that’s what they wanted,” Justice said of their onstage opponents. “They very much came with, OK, we’re going to try to make them look like they hate teachers, they hate the LGBTQ population.”
“We’ve seen this before,” Smith responded, saying it reminded her of former pop singer Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” crusade. “When I was a child growing up in Florida it was Anita Bryant who began a national campaign to attack the gay community. Like Pennywise the clown in ‘It,’ that same dangerous rhetoric has popped back up to stir up rage and pit people against each other. Anita Bryant made schools more dangerous for kids like me and DeSantis, and the GOP political operatives in Moms for Liberty are once again whipping up violence-inspiring anti-LGBTQ hysteria. They are calling teachers and parents ‘groomers’ for opposing the banning of all books that include any gay characters. They have pushed for policies that deny parents the right to decide the best healthcare for their own child.”
Justice said many teachers “feel under attack” and have retired early or quit in the wake of DeSantis’ education bill. She added that the Florida Teachers Association and other organizations have condemned the policies.
“I’m not surprised by their phony pearl clutching,” Justice later added. “Bullies are always shocked when the people they pick on finally stand up to them.”
Justice and Descovich both said TV personality Dr. Phil McGraw did a “good job” and was “fair” as moderator. At one point in the debate, the host asked the progressive side of the stage, “What makes you think you know better than a parent about what should happen to a child when they have a life-determining decision about whether they’re going to make a decision about gender or anything else?”
Moms for Liberty also credited him with not shying away from other controversial topics on recent episodes of the show, such as critical race theory.
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Justice said that while she and Descovich wished to greet Smith and their other sparring partners ahead of taping, they were largely kept “separate” behind the scenes.
The Moms for Liberty co-founders said that many parents have reached out to them since the show.
“It’s been excellent reaction,” Descovich said. “Not a lot of parents know this was going on and so this show woke them up to what is happening. We’ve gotten a lot of emails and messages and social media response.”
“Parents are shocked,” she continued. “They’re appalled this is happening. They have no idea this stuff is in their schools. They’re asking the questions now.”
It wasn’t all positive, however, with Justice showing Fox News Digital a threatening letter she received at her home in the wake of her appearance.
One thing Justice said did not get as much airtime on the show as they would have liked is the literary process in America. Scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress released on Monday found losses across the board in math and reading since the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the NAEP’s first full report since 2019.
“Here we are discussing all of these things, but the truth is that children are not learning to read in America’s schools,” Justice said.
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She added that while Monday’s numbers seem stark, schools were “bad before” the pandemic.
“We are failing a generation of children, and we have to do better and Moms for Liberty is just working to try to shine the flashlight on that,” she said.