In St. Louis, an "Anti-Woke" Radio Host Endorsed 13 School Board Candidates. They All Lost

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More than a dozen right-wing school board candidates across St. Louis lost their races this week, in a major upset for anti-LGBTQ+ conservatives hoping to crack down on “wokeness” in schools.

Out of 13 conservative school board candidates endorsed by area right-wing radio host Marc Cox, none were elected to their districts on Tuesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. While much debate across the region focused on “school choice” and opening charter schools (a longtime conservative bucket list item), conservatives also ran heavily on anti-diversity talking points and opposition to LGBTQ+ rights and protections — a message that evidently failed to find enough resonance, even among Missouri Republicans.

In the Francis Howell district, where the previous school board had pushed to remove Black American history over protests from teachers and students, conservatives Sam Young and Adriana Kuhn both lost their races by over 1,000 votes apiece. Kuhn took a particularly hard line against progressive positions, railing against “gender indoctrination” and COVID-19 mask mandates on her campaign website with the endorsement of the similarly anti-transgender PAC Francis Howell Families. Another conservative group, St. Louis County Family PAC (which some locals worried was a front for a corporate takeover of the school board), endorsed candidates David Kirschner and David Randelman with anti-diversity direct-mail flyers.

Cox, who hosts The Marc Cox Morning Show with cohost Kim St. Onge on conservative talk radio station KFTK, shamed Republicans for not turning up to the polls in greater numbers during his show Wednesday, warning that “your children will be subjected to God-knows-what curriculum” as a result of the conservative defeats. Cox objected to the Post-Dispatch’s characterization of his chosen candidates as “right-wing,” but has espoused openly far-right views on his shows for years and given others a platform to do the same. Last year, Cox offered time for virulently anti-trans Sen. Mike Moon to falsely claim that gender-affirming care is “mutilating children,” and more recently promoted Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s lawsuit against the Wentzville School District over the board’s trans-inclusive bathroom policies. In March 2017, Cox interviewed white nationalist Nick Fuentes on his show as a rising star of millennial conservatism, just a few months before Fuentes became a poster child for the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA that led to the death of 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer.

A rebuke for right-wing school policies in Missouri is significant, as Republican legislators continue to push for a new bill that would force LGBTQ+ affirming educators to register as sex offenders. Last year, as Attorney General Bailey mounted a legal effort to restrict trans healthcare for youth and adults, conservative activists and pundits lined up to harass 17-year-old Tristan Young, a trans girl who was voted Homecoming Queen by her classmates.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 13: Mauree Turner and Zooey Zephyr appear on stage during the 34th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at New York Hilton on May 13, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for GLAAD)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 13: Mauree Turner and Zooey Zephyr appear on stage during the 34th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at New York Hilton on May 13, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for GLAAD)

A new survey finds that the recent, massive wave of anti-LGBTQ\+ legislation is motivating queer candidates to run.

In the past several years, conservatives have increasingly focused on school board elections as a method of advancing various “culture war” agenda items, such as rolling back diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs and prohibiting gender-affirming medical care. In some areas, clashes over school board control have turned chaotic and even violent with the involvement of far-right groups like the Proud Boys. While conservative electoral defeats are helpful in turning the tide, there are still few out LGBTQ+ school board members in the U.S., in part due to physical safety concerns, according to a 2022 report from the Victory Institute.

“From ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills to bans on trans kids in sports, our schools have been ground zero for anti-LGBTQ vitriol this year,” wrote Victory Institute president Annise Parker in a statement lamenting the lack of LGBTQ+ board members in 2022. “In many cases, school boards have the power to determine the rights LGBTQ kids do — and don’t — have.”

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