Former state Rep. Lori Saine, who is a GOP congressional candidate and self-proclaimed conservative firebrand, seemingly took umbrage with gender-nonconforming children earlier this month, posting a meme to Facebook decrying a supposed decline in the masculinity of young boys.

Lori Saine Campaign Facebook page, April 10, 2022

The meme positions two images against one another: the first, “What Boys Did In My Day,” shows two children dressed in military costume playing with toy guns; the second, “What Boys Are Doing Today,” shows two children with makeup, styled hair, and nail extensions.

Essentially, the meme expresses the following idea: that it is bad and/or laughable for young boys to deviate from cultural norms of masculinity. 

It also supposes a cultural decline over time, one that is responsible for boys acting in ways that are deemed inappropriate by Saine and other conservatives.

Throughout her political career, Saine has courted controversy with comments that some have called problematic. In 2019, she embraced an inaccurate view of historical racism when she said that following the Civil War, “whites and blacks alike were in nearly equal numbers lynched for the crime of being Republican.” 

Now, Saine joins an extensive list of Republicans who have begun to use children as the staging ground for a culture war: specifically, taking aim at the LGBTQ community and their growing mainstream acceptance.

Discourse like this can be linked to a growing trend in right-wing politics, which proposes that knowledge of LGBTQ culture, or even the notion that LGBTQ people exist, is inappropriate for children. Some conservatives take this to an extreme, claiming that any such education is part of a widespread conspiracy to groom and indoctrinate children – dredging up age-old bigoted stereotypes of gay and trans people as sexual predators.

Recently, these issues were brought into the national spotlight with Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which ostensibly bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 classrooms but contains such vague language it could be applied far more broadly. 

But the Florida law has national implications, too. In January, 18 Colorado House Republicans signed a letter which said that including the LGBTQ community in social studies curricula was part of a “radical leftist takeover. ” 

Additionally, a wide coalition of Colorado conservatives recently united to demand that any mention of the LGBTQ community be removed from Colorado’s social studies standards, which are being revised to be more inclusive of minorities. Many public comments for these revisions contained homophobic and transphobic attacks, Colorado Newsline reports.

What these talking points ignore: LGBTQ children exist regardless of current societal trends, and creating a supportive environment for them is beneficial to their mental health. A 2010 study indicates that LGBTQ adolescents who receive acceptance from their families show positive mental health outcomes as a result, including improved self esteem, as well as decreased depression and suicidal ideation.

One Colorado, an organization advocating for LGBTQ people, gave the following statement:

“Elected officials have a responsibility to represent all constituents in their district. The behavior of targeting trans community members – in this case by sharing a transphobic meme – is based on misinformation and distortion. Actions like this encourage violence and discrimination that leads to disproportionate rates of bullying, lack of access to health care, and negative mental health outcomes that so many in the LGBTQ community experience.  Rep. Saine, your constituents see you, hear you, and are impacted by your actions.”

One Colorado

Saine did not immediately respond to a request for comment. This article will be updated with any comment received.