LOS ANGELES -- A furious debate over how gender identity should be taught to children and protected in schools unfolded on Tuesday, June 6 at the night meeting of the Glendale Unified School District School Board.
At 5 p.m. a crowd of more than 200 gathered outside GUSD headquarters. The crowd stood in two physically and ideologically divided camps with a row of Glendale police officers between them. The protest swelled in size and intensity and police set up physical barriers between the two sides and around the building’s entrances.
Several police helicopters circled overhead. Glendale Police Department officers locked down the building at one point after a fight broke out outside. Police called all staff to return to the building, declared an unlawful assembly and cleared a crowd from the parking lot.
On one side were protesters opposed to teaching children about sexual identities in school and on the other side were LGBTQ+ advocates preaching a message of inclusion. The school board’s agenda included a resolution celebrating Pride month, but the agenda had no items related to curriculum changes or gender policies.
Attendance at the meeting was capped at 75 public speakers who, over the course of several hours, shared their views on the district’s LGBTQ inclusive curriculum, on allowing students to select their own pronouns, and on transgender students’ access to bathrooms and locker rooms.
“I’m here on the side of parents who want to keep the focus in schools on academics rather than on sexual orientation, or on so-called gender identity, which is a fake, made-up concept with no basis in material reality and does not help kids get ahead in life,” said Alyssa Cohen. “LGBTQ+, those letters represents a harmful ideology that’s impacting kids’ education.”
Many parents spoke out on the importance of embracing the LGBTQ community as did members of local advocacy organizations including GALAS LGBTQ+ Armenian Society, the Armenian American Action Network, Southern California Armenian Democrats and the LA LGBT Center.
“My experience as a young LGBTQ+ student was made difficult because I did not see any representations of what it meant to be gay,” said Erik Adamian, a former GUSD student and board president of the GALAS LGBTQ+ Armenian Society. “We are in full support of our public schools’ acknowledgement that diverse families and LGBTQ-plus identities exist, and we ask our community members and allies to push for safe and welcoming schools for all students.”
Planned performances by students, listed on the meeting agenda, were scrapped due to safety concerns expressed by the Glendale Police Department, said Board President Nayiri Nahabedian.
“I feel like that’s a huge loss for all of us in this room, and watching online, to not get to celebrate children because of arguments adults are having about politics,” said GUSD parent Amanda Shiroh. “So I wanted to recognize those children who didn’t get to be here today and express a great gratitude to all of you (school board members) for supporting our inclusive, diverse community.”
The heated meeting comes on the heels of a June 2 protest at Saticoy Elementary School, where parents objected to a book reading that explained same sex parents. LGBTQ advocates organized a counter-protest. Days before the reading, a transgender teacher’s Pride flag was burned at Saticoy Elementary. The flag burning incident is under LAPD investigation.
At GUSD, tension has grown for more than a year over the district’s approach to gender and sexuality identity.
In May 2022, some parents were outraged when a public records request filed by resident activist Jordan Henry revealed that in 2021 a third-grade teacher showed students a video about gay pride and coming out. The teacher was subsequently reassigned within the district and no longer appears in the staff directory.
Some Glendale parents were furthered angered when, at a May 5 City Council meeting, a mother and her special needs daughter claimed that the student was taught about inappropriate sexual acts in a sex education class and was called a “bigot” for using incorrect gender pronouns to refer to others. The daughter also said male teachers were in the girls’ locker room.