Think tank member shares social and cultural concerns with public education 


On May 3, the members of the Arapahoe County Republican Breakfast Club hosted Pam Benigno, director of education policy at Jon Caldara’s Independence Institute, which describes itself as a libertarian think tank who shared her views on social and culture issues in Colorado’s public schools.

Pam Benigno is director of education policy at Jon Caldera’s Independence Institute.

Benigno opened with, “I’m going to have to give you the tough stuff of what your little grandkids and your older grandkids are dealing with at school.” She continued, “Your children are in a battle right now to have the right to protect their children… I know a mom in Jefferson County who took her only child out (of public school), because in second grade, three kids were transitioning.” 

Benigno told her audience that the source of this behavior is, “queer theory,” which she described as having “been active for years, trying to turn what’s normal upside down…You can be one thing one day and something else another day. They don’t want normal…Gender is fluid.” 

She talked about HB19-1032 Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education, signed into law four years ago, which she said made abstinence only education illegal in public schools. 

After pointing to a third-grade level storybook that she described as being part of public school curriculum, that tells the story of two men falling in love, and the parents of one being happy because their son had found love, Benigno turned to social studies standards that were changed by HB19-1192 Inclusion of American Minorities in Teaching Civil Government, also passed four years ago. 

Aurora City Council candidates Jono Scott and Stephanie Hancock came to listen to Benigno. Photos by Freda Miklin

She said, “For decades, we have been required to teach the historical contributions of minorities in our country, as we should, but it was decided that we need to put that into social studies standards. We needed a commission that was going to advise and we needed resources for teachers. A Republican (who she later identified as former State Rep. Colin Larsen) in the House Education Committee decided that LGBTQ individuals should be included in that list, and he pushed and he pushed and he pushed until finally it was in there.”

“The law says,” she continued, “This educational commission is to make recommendations to include the history, culture, and social contributions of American Indians, Latinos, African-Americans, and Asian Americans, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals within these minority groups, the contributions and persecution of religious minorities, and the intersectionality of significant social and cultural features within these communities, in the teaching and content standard for history and civics.” 

As a result, Benigno reported, social studies standards in Colorado for preschool now include, “By the end of the preschool experience, students may show interest in interacting with developing relationships with others, including those that are African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander indigenous peoples and LGBTQ and religious minorities.” She continued, “Putting LGBTQ aside, I’m not real happy about focusing on groups so much, and you (her audience) all get that. These are all individuals. Little kids don’t usually look at color. They just love each other, which concerns me here because when Bobby and Johnny on the playground really love each other and Bobby reads this book (about two men who fall in love each of them will think), that means, I guess I’m going to marry him some day.”

Social studies standards for first grade, Benigno said, say that kids “discuss common and unique characteristics of different cultures,” adding, “Hopefully they’ll talk about foods and dances, but this opens the door for more, doesn’t it?”

Benigno pointed to standards in first grade civics that talk about “symbols of diverse community groups,” including the American flag, the national anthem, Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and the Emancipation Proclamation,” posing the question, “Emancipation Proclamation? First grade?”

Moving to current issues, Benigno said, “School districts have transitioning plans for kids. Some let the parents know. Some don’t…If you’re in Jefferson County and you’re a high school kid and you don’t want your parents to know that you’re transitioning, the school doesn’t tell (them). If you’re in elementary school and it’s being disruptive in school that you’re transitioning, then they tell the parents. I guess that means that if it’s not disruptive to their education, then they don’t tell the parents.”

The Oxford dictionary defines transitioning as to “adopt permanently the outward or physical characteristics that match one’s gender identity, as opposed to those associated with the sex registered at birth.” defines transitioning as, “To change from one gender identity to another or to align one’s dress, behavior, etc. with one’s gender identity.” It is difficult to imagine how this behavior could apply to young children. It is likewise difficult to imagine how it could apply to teens, without their parents’ knowledge, if they live at home.

A June 2022 study by the UCLA School of Law that used recent data from the CDC’s Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System and Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates that, across the state of Colorado, there are a total of 4,200 individuals aged 13-17 who identify as transgender, which is one-third of one percent of the total population under the age of 18. The study also indicates that 27,000 adults in our state identify as transgender, constituting just over one-half of one percent of the adult population.

Across the country, the UCLA researchers determined there are 1.6 million people ages 13+ who identify as transgender, which is less than one-half of one percent of the total U.S. population.