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The real story about what's going on with Nicole Solas
"I just am female. I don't have a gender. I don't subscribe to gender ideology. I have a right not to subscribe to an ideology just like other people have a right not to believe in my religion."
Chariho School Board member Jessica Purcell who recently took her seat after the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that the Richmond Town Council had illegally appointed Republican Clay Johnson to that position, attended a fundraiser held by Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers Political Action Committee, a conservative group with a mission to “[l]ead grassroots efforts to champion and promote fiscal responsibility, keeping the taxpayers at the forefront of all decisions relative to town and school spending.”
How did Purcell, a Democrat, come to be in that room, listening to a presentation by Nicole Solas, a conservative South Kingstown mother and anti-trans activist who has been publicly railing against a state policy that protects transgender, gender non-conforming, and transitioning students?
“The invitation to this event was being shared in private Facebook groups but a friend sent it my way and I decided to go," said Purcell to me in an email. "The title claimed to have the real story about my school district. As a parent of current students and a Chariho School Committee member, I'm always interested in our school district and open to conversations about school-related matters. This was more of a presentation than a conversation, but I still wanted to attend.”
The presentation was entitled “The Real Story About What's Going On In Your School District & What You Can Do About It.” Tickets were $20 and the funds are going to finance school committee candidates who will fight against “critical race theory” and “gender ideology.”
“I am not a right-wing extremist, nor am I a domestic terrorist, and I imagine that you aren't either,” joked Lousie Dinsmore as she greeted the small crowd of about 40 people who arrived at the Richmond Senior Center in Wyoming, Rhode Island on a Friday evening.1 Dinsmore and Clay Johnson2, who co-hosted the event, are the co-chairs of Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers.
“Who am I really?” asked Dinsmore, “I'm a vocal taxpayer and Richmond resident concerned about how my tax dollars are being spent by the town and the school district.”
Purcell noted that though fiscal responsibility is the public face of the Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers PAC, “they also have ideological and political reasons for their interest in the schools, which was illustrated by this event...
“At the end [Solas] described herself as a parents' rights advocate and a school choice advocate,” continued Purcell. “I was hoping to hear more about her school choice advocacy because I believe that expanding taxpayer-funded school choice is a goal of the current coordinated movement against public education.”
“We are here to listen to a local mom, Nicole Solas, who was sued by the South Kingstown School District and the Teacher's Union for asking questions about the curriculum her kindergarten daughter would be learning,” said Dinsmore. “We as parents have a right to ask questions relative to what's happening in our kids' schools and not be called extremists for doing so. Don't you agree? Please join me in welcoming Nicole Solas.”
To her credit, Solas immediately corrected one piece of Dinsmore's introduction.
“As Louis said ... I’m the mom that was sued by the teacher’s union," said Solas. “Just one correction. The South King Town School district didn't sue me.”
Whether or not Solas was the target of the lawsuit is a matter of debate. She is named in the lawsuit, said National Education Association Rhode Island [NEARI]'s then-Executive Director Bob Walsh, but the lawsuit was done to ensure the protection of collective bargaining agreements and teacher privacy, as is established by law.
Solas presents a very different interpretation of events, of course. “We have lots of evidence showing it was collusive litigation, meaning that the school [committee] and the teacher's union conspired together to sue me.” Solas is represented pro bono by The Goldwater Institute, a conservative and libertarian advocacy group, and sees the lawsuit as a form of harassment meant to prevent her from accessing public records.
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During her presentation, Solas showed images and video clips from her computer to support her claim that schools are indoctrinating children with political ideologies such as Marxism, transgender identity, and critical race theory.
Towards the beginning of her presentation, Solas played the following Goldwater Institute fundraising video, her origin story about becoming “a national parents’ rights advocate, advocate for academic transparency, and school choice.”
Today, Solas works as a senior fellow with the Independent Women's Forum, created to promote a “conservative alternative to feminist tenets.” Solas stressed she was speaking at the Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers PAC fundraiser on behalf of herself, and not on behalf of any particular organization.
“I enrolled my daughter in kindergarten and I called the principal, which I thought was normal to do,” said Solas. “I had never engaged with public schools, this was the first time I was enrolling a kid. I [asked] about class size I [asked] about this certain extracurricular activity that I like, and at the end of the phone conversation I [asked], ‘By the way, I'm hearing in the news about critical race theory and gender theory, are you guys teaching this?’
“And the conversation took a turn,” said Solas, “[The principal] became very quiet and didn't want to talk about it. It turns out that they are teaching gender theory and critical race theory, at least in the South Kingstown School District...”
Solas related the following conversation:
Principal: In South Kingstown, they don't call children boys and girls. They refrain from using gendered terminology.
Principal: Well, that's just a common practice that we have.
Solas: What's a common practice?
Principal: I don't know.
Solas: You don't know what a common practice is, but you do it?
For Solas, the devil is in the details, a level of the details that are difficult or even impossible to quantify. She presented an email in which the principal explained that teachers “embed some gender-neutral language and gender ideals within the classroom as topics present themselves through storytelling or conversations. They're worked through at the appropriate developmental level but there is no set curriculum for gender identification.”
Your mileage may vary with this explanation, but it appears that when we get down to the kinds of questions kids might ask, teachers are given some latitude as to how to express difficult concepts at an age-appropriate level. Solas sees this as a problem because, in her opinion, the exact responses and course of action a teacher must take in response to any hypothetical question from a child must be set by a curriculum.
“If they don't have a set curriculum for something they're teaching, how do you know they're teaching it?” asked Solas. “What are they doing? Especially when this is in kindergarten and they're teaching something about gender identification, which, if you don’t know… is teaching children that boys can be girls and girls can be boys. And schools will start referring to children, a girl as a boy or a girl as a boy at the request of the student because they believe in gender ideology, which says that there is not a sex binary, meaning, it's not just males and females. There are many genders that you can identify as, and you can identify as the opposite sex as early as three years old.”
The principal, said Solas, told her to ask her questions through the Access to Public Records Act [APRA]. “The school is telling me to do the thing that they're later going to sue me for.” [Note, the school, per Solas herself, did not sue her.]
“I have all these questions that I send asking for their policies and their pedagogies on why they’re teaching this political propaganda,” said Solas.
Solas ended up submitting over 200 APRA requests. The cost of accessing these files would run the South Kingstown School Committee thousands of dollars.
Then, in response to her APRA requests, a special meeting of the South Kingstown School Committee was held. At this meeting, Solas contends she was subject to a “show trial.”
“They had arranged all of my public records requests into Excel spreadsheets,” said Solas. “Imagine the taxpayer money that went into my superintendent organizing all of my public records requests on Excel spreadsheets to present as evidence against me at my show trial. Why is my school spending all this money talking about my public records request that they told me to submit on this screen?”
Note: APRA in Rhode Island is a mess. It is far from an adequate system and is in urgent need of reform. That said, every APRA request costs a government agency time and money. Each request must be evaluated. Each document deemed to be responsive to the request has to be checked to make sure that releasing the document doesn't violate the legal exceptions outlined in APRA. So it was a surprise to hear that Solas was complaining about the money the government "wasted" in tracking her APRA requests. If they aren’t tracking her requests, how can they be filled?
One of Solas’s many APRA requests inquired about the cost of a “racial equity audit and [the] … reconciliation budget costs incurred by the district for any additional anti-racist or equity-related professional development, [and] district and school committee communications, including all emails and memos that mentioned critical race theory."
CRITICAL RACE THEORY [CRT]
Solas quoted an anonymous Chariho Middle School teacher who wrote to her, “If we are teaching slavery, it's important to focus on positive things too, such as being one of the first countries that slavery with many whites fighting in the Civil War, so students don't develop racism against whites.
“I think our nation needs to address how the white race founding our country is represented in the curriculum,” continued the teacher writing to Solas. “It's either not addressed at all, or if it is, it's in a context of oppression, which is sad because there are lots of positive contributions... most curriculum addresses almost every race, except positive representations of the white Americans, European race. I've been teaching for 13 years and have been at different schools, and this is consistent. Most curriculum shows the white race as the oppressor. When we teach about the founding of America, which is rare, it is never about positive contributions.”
“The anti-racism task force is the mechanism by which political ideologies will come into your school district because they act as an auditing force,” said Solas, no longer quoting an anonymous teacher. “When they say culturally sensitive, that's another way to say culturally responsive. That's all CRT lingo. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if you call it CRT or anti-racism, it's all about a focus on race [like] you saw with the gender ideology, a focus on gender and teaching children topics inappropriately through this focus on either gender or race.”
"The overarching belief of anti-racism or critical race theory or race essentialism, whatever you want to call it, is the idea that America is inherently racist. It's that racism is baked into the system by design. And [in] that way it's kind of a conspiracy theory.”
“We're not saying that individual acts of racism don't exist,” continued Solas. “Of course, it exists. It's always going to exist, especially when you're in a multicultural society. But what anti-racism or critical race theory says is that it is a deliberate, by design racist society, which I don't know how that can happen when we are one of the only countries in the world that have anti-discrimination laws with our very proud, crowning achievement in 1964, the Civil Rights Act. It's very hard to be a systemically racist judiciary when you have that Civil Rights Act... I just want to caution you about this anti-racism task force, because that is the way that political ideology is going to continue coming into your school district...”
During her presentation, Solas didn’t present evidence against the existence of transgender children and people. Instead, she presented evidence of a manufactured debate about the existence of transgender children and people. The debate is manufactured the same way that all anti-science debates are created, whether you're talking about the denial of evolution, climate change, or the dangers of smoking.
“I just wanted to enroll my daughter in kindergarten, know what she was learning,” said Solas. “They're teaching them biologically incorrect information. They're teaching them medically incorrect information because this is all political ideology and it's coming from the top down, from the Rhode Island Department of Education, into school districts...
“This is again political ideology. It is teaching children that the sex binary is, like, so yesterday. There's not just male and female. Instead, what they tell children is [that] gender isn't binary,” continued Solas. “Look, if you want to believe that gender isn't binary and that you can identify as many different genders or sexes, that's great. But teaching this to children in public school is a one-sided political ideology and you're misleading students into believing that this is objective truth or settled science, [but] it is not. Even if you love gender ideology and you think it's the new frontier of the civil rights movement, this is still a debate.”
Contrary to what Solas said, every single major medical organization, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, supports the provision of age-appropriate, gender-affirming care for transgender and non-binary people, per the Human Rights Campaign.
“They say that your gender expression is in your style, your grooming, your clothing, your mannerisms, your effect, your appearance,” said Solas. “I thought that was a gender stereotype that we're not supposed to be teaching kids. So you can see how this ideology is a little convoluted. And this is all to tell children, at the end of the day, that your sex is assigned at birth, meaning a doctor looks at you, they look at your genitals, and they guess who you are. It's just a guess because if you have a penis, you might not be a boy, and if you have a vagina, you might not be a girl.”
"Transgender is not the new gay. Plenty of gay people will tell you that transgender is a political ideology. If you want to believe in it, fine. But they're trying to wrap it into a non-discrimination civil rights framework that will say you have to let boys into the girl's bathroom based on gender identity, which is a protected class, and that any girl that feels uncomfortable with it will have to go get mental health counseling so that way they can learn how to be comfortable with people that are different from them.”
“And ... they say that there's this thing called intersex. Intersex is a very rare genetic mutation of your chromosomes,” said Solas. “It is not gender identity. People who are born with intersex have abnormal genitals or it might be ambiguous. It's normally corrected with surgery. There are many treatment options. However, even an intersex person has xx chromosomes or xy chromosomes and they have a body that can, may, or will produce either ova or sperm, and that is the definition of a male or a female. But you'll hear this argument: ‘What about intersex people who are born with maybe one ovary and one testis and we have to protect them?’ No, even an intersex person, which again is a genetic mutation, they have one sex that is either male or female. This is scientifically incorrect. How does this stuff get in schools?”
Solas also has an issue with Pride flags.
There “are all the pride flags they teach kids about,” said Solas. “Now look, I'm not saying pride flags don't exist. I'm just saying, why are we teaching sexual politics in school? Right? These are political flags. This, to me, is something that should not be funded by our taxes...”
“Cisgender privilege [is] another highly charged political term,” said Solas. “This says that if you are cisgender, which by the way, is a term that means your sex aligns with your gender, you have privilege, and other people are oppressed because of that. [We're] training teachers and staff like this is a normal thing, but I don't believe in cisgender.
“I just am female. I don't have a gender. I don't subscribe to gender ideology. I have a right not to subscribe to an ideology just like other people have a right not to believe in my religion. I'm not going to force that on you in a public school. But gender ideology is very much a religion because they believe that this is the objective reality. And all you folks in this room right here, you're just not as evolved as they are. You just don't get it and we need to help you get it. It's very condescending…”
THE BOOK BAN HOAX
Solas referred to the effort ongoing across the country to ban books in publicly funded libraries as a “hoax.” Her words belie that claim.
“Our side is saying, ‘We don't want sexually explicit books in our school. We don't want pornography in our school.’ The other side says, ‘Well, you're a book banner because you just want to get anything that has to do with gay people out of school.’
“Here's an example of a book that a parent like me does not want in our school district,” said Solas. “This is an excerpt from This Book is Gay. Sorry, this is going to have explicit material and I blurred out the penis here, which is more than a child in public school would get. This is a book that's supposed to teach children that it's okay to be gay, which by the way, I believe it is okay to be gay. I celebrated the gay rights movement. I wrote my essay in law school about gay marriage and how wonderful it was to pass.
“This [book] right here says it's instructing children on how to have anal sex, on how to use sex toys and insert them in your anus. Right here it says, ‘after the train has left the station so to speak and you've had a chance to wash up or douche back there, you can have a load of fun with a healthy heaping of lube.’ This is a book [available] in public schools. Now I checked [and] this particular book is not in the Chariho School District…
“If your library is only so big, you have to select which books you want in and which books you want out,” said Solas. “You have to select the books that you think reflect the values of your society. I do not believe that books instructing children how to insert butt plugs are appropriate as tax-funded material in public schools.”
“This is a book called Fun Home. It's also a Broadway play. I'm a theater girl. I think it's a great play. It's amazing. However, I don't think it's appropriate for kids to be looking at this in school. This was in the Pawtucket School District where they wanted to do the play. The play was removed from a Pawtucket classroom after a parent complaint… Now, I don't know if the play has that exact example of oral sex happening in it, but I know the play and it is full of profanity. It's very depressing. There's suicide. It's a great story if you're an adult, but it's inappropriate for 14-year-olds in school and parents have a right to say, ‘Hey, I don't want my taxes funding this.’”
Solas recommended a website, BookLooks.org, that rates books from 0 to 5, with books rated 0 as being for everyone, and books rated 5 as containing "explicit references to aberrant sexual activities (sexual assault/battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse).” LookBooks.org rates books based on violence, hate, profanity, and drug use, but is mostly concerned with content concerning gender and sexuality.
“The American Library Association is the biggest in our country. They're political activists, okay?” said Solas. “I didn't know anything about libraries until I became familiar with them.”
At the end of the presentation, “there were three questions from the audience and the last one was from a mother who was nervous that her children would receive inappropriate lessons about sex and/or gender in elementary school,” said Chariho School Committee member Jessica Purcell. “The advice given to this parent by Ms. Solas was the same advice I’d give, which is to ask the teacher directly and specifically. Teachers and parents must have open and honest lines of communication. Every parent is a partner in their child’s education, and their involvement is important to the success of a school district.
“Ms. Solas did make an incorrect statement to that parent when she said the ‘main job of a School Committee is to create curriculum.’ That is not true in Chariho. Curricula are presented to the board and voted on but the board does not create them.”
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The culture war issues pushed by right-wing conservative groups can seem arbitrary and random, even cruel, and on one level they are. For example, as the ideological furor over critical race theory abated, the conversation pivoted and conservative groups targeted gender-affirming care for transgender, non-binary, and transitioning youth.
“It's amazing how strongly people feel about that,” said former President Donald Trump earlier this year after his tough talk on trans issues elicited wild reactions from the crowd. “I talk about cutting taxes, people [politely applaud], I talk about transgender, everybody goes crazy. Five years ago you didn't know what the hell it was...”
For right-wing extremists like Trump, the content is not the point. They don’t care about lowering taxes, government secrecy, Covid lockdowns, vaccine mandates, critical race theory, anti-bullying initiatives, banning books, abortion, or the existence of transgender kids. They care about driving a base that will give them the political wins they need to cater to corporate interests.
This is not to say that activists at the local level are not sincere in their beliefs. They sincerely want to force everyone back inside the binaries that have long ruled the way we think and the way we see the world - black or white, male or female, commie or capitalist, Christian or Satanist, good or evil - one culture über alles.
But the victims of their rhetoric - non-white students, immigrants, women, teachers, librarians, artists, rebels, nonbelievers, gay and trans people - feel these attacks in their souls. And for some, it makes life unlivable.
Among those attending was former Rhode Island State Representative Justin Price.
Clay Johnson made headlines last year when he was installed as a member of the Chariho School Committee, only to be removed by the Rhode Island Supreme Court this January in response to Purcell’s lawsuit. Johnson chairs the right-wing Gaspee Project in Rhode Island. The Gaspee Project “pledged 100% of [the group's] support ... to elect the [#ParentsUnitedRI] slate of candidates in November 2022.”
#ParentsUnitedRI was founded by Lauri Gaddis Barrett, a conservative anti-trans activist seeking to convince the Foster-Glocester School Committee to challenge the state-mandated Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Transitioning Students policy in court. One of Gaddis Barrett's allies in this effort is Nicole Solas, the night’s featured speaker.