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Wahl discusses AEA influence, parental rights and “grooming” in education

Wahl recently called the AEA a “liberal education union” and said that their influence in the Republican Party would need to be looked at.

ALGOP Chairman John Wahl ALGOP
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During an interview with APR Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl said the Alabama Education Association’s (AEA) priorities were in conflict with the ideas of the state party.

Wahl recently called the AEA a “liberal education union” and said that their influence in the Republican Party would need to be looked at and addressed. Wahl told APR that he has heard from many voters and Republican Party members that the AEA’s influence is concerning.

APR asked Wahl what specific influence was troubling to him and other Republicans, to which he replied that the goals of the AEA and the National Education Association (NEA) conflict with the Republican Party’s ideas of parental rights.

“The question is becoming is the AEA and NEA at conflict with parents, and the idea of parental rights in our education system,” Wahl told APR. “So we’re looking at issues like banning critical race theory, school choice, transparency in curriculum, and other issues that kind of address our children in Alabama being taught what their parents want them to be taught.”

“Parental rights” has become a cultural movement pushed by conservatives attacking “woke” policies in schools they disagree with including discussions of race, gender and sexuality, and even diversity and inclusion. The current iteration of parental rights also has similarities to a push in the 1990s from conservatives against progressive changes in education. 

“While the conservative push for parents’ rights in education has been a long and arduous journey with ebbs and flows throughout modern American history, its recent resurgence is reminiscent of the parental rights movement of the 1990s,” Catherine Caruso writes for Dame Magazine. “Once referred to as a ‘parents’ revolt,’ Republicans rallied around the Christian conservative movement in an attempt to increase political fervor, reinvigorate the right, and dismantle the public education system.”

Wahl revealed that the state party will also be looking into new rules regarding Republicans taking contributions from the AEA. 

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“The state party has received at least three different standing rule changes or amendments to our current, standing rule that we will be looking into and potentially taking up at the August 4 meeting,” Wahl said.

There have also been recent calls from multiple Republican lawmakers to defund or take back funding from the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) due to a lecture given on LGBTQ+ history in Alabama last month. 

APR previously spoke with Maigen Sullivan, co-founder of the Invisible Histories Project, who said that Republican calls to restrict marginalized history was “fascist.”

When asked his thoughts on the calls to defund ADAH Wahl said that taxpayer money should not be going to divisive issues and “that does not necessarily fit the views of the people of Alabama.” He expects it to be an issue in the special election or the next legislative session.

ADAH released a letter Friday that was sent to legislators clarifying the specifics of the event.

The chairman also mentioned that while history was good, children should not be “groomed” or indoctrinated. The lecture was not intended for children or marketed to them, and Sullivan said she did not recall any children being present at the event.

The current “groomer” and anti-LGBTQ+ panic has historical antecedents like the Lavender Scare, Satanic Panic, and the anti-LGBTQ+ conspiracies of Anita Bryant and the “Save Our Children” campaign.

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Bryant routinely promoted the idea that gay people were targeting children, trying to recruit them. 

APR asked Wahl if he understood how dangerous his comments were and the implication that LGBTQ+ people were pedophiles. Wahl said he was not talking about individuals but more of a social agenda being pushed.

“I believe that it’s more the education system and some of the curriculum that you put out that are that are encouraging grooming,” Wahl said. “And I don’t have any factual information on whether those are actually LGBT community members or not. So I’ve actually never accused the LGBT community of being groomers was more the overarching push from a liberal, centralized department of education that I believe is out of touch with the American people.”

Wahl said that Alabama’s children needed to “get back to the basics” and that Alabama’s educational rankings have fallen since the rise of more discussions of sexuality and gender in schools. However, Alabama’s educational rankings routinely were among the country’s worst before the rise of parental rights and groomer panic.

The groomer and transgender panic will also have bad consequences for straight people — even children. Last month a Canadian man verbally attacked a 9-year-old at a track event and questioned her gender and called her parents “genital mutilators.”

When asked about queer and trans children in schools, Wahl said he doesn’t view children or anyone with labels. 

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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