A protest over a Pride month assembly at a Los Angeles elementary school reportedly broke out into fights, forcing police officers to separate groups of protesters and counter-protesters who clashed over the school’s teaching of LGBTQ+ issues.
Tensions at Saticoy elementary school, part of the Los Angeles unified school district, have been rising since last month over the Pride assembly the school has planned to hold on Friday.
The event included a reading of The Great Big Book of Families, which includes details about different family structures including single parents, LGBTQ+ parents, grandparents and foster parents, said Kelly Gonez, a member of the Los Angeles unified school district board.
On Friday, people protesting the event gathered outside wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Leave our kids alone” and carrying signs with slogans such as “Parental Choice Matters” and “No Pride in Grooming”. According to reporters with the Los Angeles Times, the scene outside the school devolved into violence as protesters against the assembly chanted anti-gay slurs and LGBTQ+ advocates tried to block the protesters from advancing. Some people threw punches but their identity was unclear, the Times reported, leading officers to jump in to stop the fighting.
A social media page had urged parents to keep their children home the day the school was holding the assembly. It’s not clear who started the page, which also includes phone numbers and email addresses for district and school officials, urging parents to call them to protest the event.
Protesters against the assembly outnumbered those who were there in support. Some protesters identified themselves as parents of students in the district but would not give their full names during interviews, saying they had agreed not to, as a group, citing safety concerns. Broadly, they said they felt elementary school was too young to discuss LGBTQ+ issues.
Arielle Aldana, whose six-year-old son attends Saticoy, said she didn’t know about the assembly until she dropped him off at school Friday morning. She joined the protest against the assembly and said it was “frustrating” that the school didn’t tell parents about the topic ahead of time.
Aldana said she did not feel it was age-appropriate for elementary school, but added that she thought it would be fine for when her son is in middle school. “It has to do with where he is in development,” she said.
Ray Jones, who uses the pronoun they, said they are a drag queen in North Hollywood and does not have children in the school, but thought it was important to show up to support queer visibility.
“I just don’t stand for that in my community,” Jones said. “If I’m going to go to a Pride parade, then I’m going to show up for a Pride protest.”
Jones said they believe LGBTQ+ topics are appropriate to teach at elementary school. The demonstrators who feel otherwise, they said, are sending the wrong message to students who have queer parents.
The Instagram page, called Saticoy Elementary Parents, had called Pride “an inappropriate topic for our kids”. In one post, the page says that Christian families and those who “share conservative values don’t feel this material is appropriate to teach to the children and believe it’s a parents’ right to choose”.
In May, a transgender teacher’s small Pride flag displayed outdoors was found burned. The school notified parents, saying it was being investigated as hate-motivated.
Earlier this week, the school district’s teachers’ union issued a statement saying that no educator should have to go to work in fear.
“United Teachers Los Angeles condemns the egregious behavior by bigoted protesters that outed the gender identity of a teacher at Saticoy elementary,” the union said.
Alberto M Carvalho, the district superintendent, watched the protest outside the school.
“The sad reality is that over the past two weeks, individuals who work at this school have been threatened and insulted just for being who they are,” he told Fox 11. “A flag that represents many members of our community was burned. That’s just unacceptable. Over what? A reference of a book that represents families in our communities.”
Carvalho said there is no sex education in the book at issue.
“There’s nothing but a fair representation of the reality of families in our community,” he said. “When you exclude some, you are demonizing or dehumanizing some in our community. We are a diverse community and we have to accept that.”
Gonez, the school board member, said the school board wants to “listen and to have these tough conversations” with parents who don’t support the assembly.
“At the same time I think it’s really important to be factual about what content was shared today, the fact that it is age-appropriate and that it’s simply about providing inclusive, welcoming environments to all of our students and families,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed reporting