Image via Sen. Nancy Barto / Twitter Sen. Nancy Barto, Maria Syms, and Vera Gebran attending services at Dream City Church in Phoenix.
Image via Sen. Nancy Barto / Twitter

The trio, which seeks to represent Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Paradise Valley in the state legislature, has consistently promoted bigoted rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.

In the leadup to Arizona’s state legislature election, three GOP candidates have banded together, pitching themselves as a conservative slate. Maria Syms and Vera Gebran, running for Arizona state House, and Nancy Barto, running for state Senate, hope to strengthen each other’s political campaigns.

“We’re so aligned in our philosophy. There was just, it was a no brainer to run together,” said Syms in a July 12 interview on “The Seth Leibsohn Show” on 960 The Patriot radio in Phoenix. “We were stronger together because we are so philosophically aligned for our conservative principles, for border security, for educating our children, not indoctrinating our children for life, religious freedom, and getting the government out of our lives.”

The trio call themselves the “LD4 Strong Team,” referring to the legislative district in which they are running. LD4 covers central and north Phoenix and Scottsdale, as well as the town of Paradise Valley.

A History of Harmful Rhetoric

All of them have promoted bigoted rhetoric against the LGBTQ community. Each one has relied on fears that classroom instruction on LGBTQ issues is an attempt to “groom” children – a scare tactic that relies on false stereotypes of gay and trans people being child predators.

Notably, Gebran says that she wants to introduce an “anti-grooming bill” that would ban all discussion of sexual orientation in schools.

“So one of the bills that I would like to introduce is an anti grooming bill that will just allow … zero exposure on sexual topics,” Gebran told Seth Leibsohn in a July 13 interview. “The teachers will not be allowed to discuss their personal orientation or their preferences with the children, as we have seen happening in our state and in other states.”

The bill Gebran is proposing is similar in nature to Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which was also labeled as “anti-grooming” legislation by proponents. The Florida bill, signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Ron DeSantis, ostensibly bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 classrooms. However, the Florida bill’s vague language could allow it to be applied to any public school setting.

Gebran’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on what grades her proposed legislation would affect, or if there is an appropriate time for students to learn about these topics.

Claims Without Evidence, Misattribruted Statistics

Barto has claimed, without evidence, that “education unions and leftist activists” are “forcing” public schools to teach students about LGBTQ issues. Syms, meanwhile, claims that the left is increasingly attempting to push children in the US into the LGBTQ community. 

“And I also talked about how this is part of the social indoctrination,” Syms told Leibsohn. “Gallup did a poll: Americans’ self-identification as LGBTQ and by generation, and it shows that the millennials identify 10.5%. Generation Z identifies by 20.8%. So if there’s any doubt that this model, as you put it, is confusing our children into this very amorphous world of gender identity that the left is pushing. It’s right there in the numbers.”

Many commentators have been quick to use these statistics as evidence that it is ‘trendy’ for young people to identify as trans, or that they are otherwise being pushed towards it. However, this is a misinterpretation of the statistics. Importantly, it exaggerates the number of Americans who identify as trans: according to the aforementioned Gallup poll, only 2.1% of Generation Z respondents self-identify as transgender, compared to 1% of millennials. 

Syms and others single trans people out. However, among the 20.8% of LGBTQ respondents from Gen Z, nearly three quarters said they identify as bisexual, i.e. experiencing attraction to more than one gender. 

The poll itself does not attribute the growth in LGBTQ identities to any social pressure or indoctrination. Rather, it explains that this is most likely linked to increased acceptance in US culture.

“These young adults are coming of age, including coming to terms with their sexuality or gender identity, at a time when Americans increasingly accept gays, lesbians and transgender people, and LGBTQ individuals enjoy increasing legal protection against discrimination,” Gallup editor Jeffrey M. Jones writes.

Equality, Not Indoctrination

Syms continued by claiming that the left is engaged in a coordinated attempt to indoctrinate children from an early age. She compared pro-LGBTQ activists to the Camel cigarette company, which was accused of creating the cartoon mascot “Joe Camel” to target advertisements towards children.

“That’s why they want to push sex education and gender identity down to preschool and kindergarten, because those kids, they’re a blank slate. They’re very innocent and they’re very accepting and respectful of authority. And they see their teachers as authority figures and they’re going to listen to them,” said Syms. “And that’s where they can get them. It’s sort of like, do you remember the tobacco industry, when they were exposed for using Joe Camel to indoctrinate the children into smoking, that it was a good thing with a cartoon character and they were slapped with the fines … because it was shown they were trying to hook you at a very young age.”

Gebran also sees LGBTQ education as a coordinated effort – not just to indoctrinate children, but to undermine the very fabric of American society.

“This is tremendously disturbing, upsetting and an absolute assault on our wholesome American values,” Gebran said in her July 13 interview. “It’s not what the typical American family dreams about when they are envisioning what their family life is going to be like. This is all part of a larger agenda by those who want to undermine the power and dignity of the United States of America. This is an unapologetic and blatant assault on everything we value.”

All three Republicans have said that LGBTQ identities are an issue that should be left at the discretion of parents to discuss with their children – and that it should be fully out of the public eye.

“I am proposing that classes be taught to the parent so that the parents are given the tools to address this matter privately and according to the way that they see fit and is best for their families,” Gebran said. “And in private.”

Toeing the (Conspiratorial) Party Line

All three of them also promote conspiracy theories that claim significant fraud took place in the 2020 election. Barto signed a letter asking for the 2020 election to be overturned. Gebran claims, among other things, that dead people voted and that voting machines were connected to the internet. Syms has also thrown her support behind the idea that the election was unfair and insecure.

The LD-4 Strong Team has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who reportedly pushed for the decertification of Arizona’s election results and is alleged to have requested a presidential pardon for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection. They are also endorsed by the Center for Arizona Policy Action, a conservative activist group that has called acceptance of gay marriage “a deceitful and angry ideology” and lobbied for “the foundational biblical view” of marriage.

Barto, Syms and Gebran did not respond to emails requesting comment.

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