Democratic politicians across California condemned a volatile anti-gay protest outside a suburban Los Angeles school board meeting on Tuesday, as the school board heard public comment on whether to officially designate June as LGBTQ+ Pride month.
Footage from a local television station showed crowds of people shoving, kicking and throwing punches outside a school district building in Glendale, California.
Adam Schiff, the Democratic congressman who represents Glendale, shared video of the melee, condemning the “continued acts of violence and hate towards our LGBTQ community” as “horrific”.
“We will not apologize for celebrating the strength and the diversity of our LGBTQ community,” he wrote on Twitter.
These continued acts of violence and hate towards our LGBTQ community - especially towards students, parents, and teachers – are horrific.
All of our children deserve to both feel safe and be safe regardless of who they love or how they identify.
We will not go back. We will… https://t.co/spnxY8uDwp
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) June 7, 2023
The violent demonstration in Glendale comes less than a week after protesters and police clashed outside a North Hollywood elementary school during a demonstration over a planned Pride assembly. A transgender teacher’s Pride flag at that school had previously been set on fire, prompting a police investigation.
The protests in California, a state politically dominated by Democrats and seen as one of the most liberal in the US, are a sign of the resurgent power of anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry across the United States.
In conservative Orange county, south of Los Angeles, the board of supervisors this week voted to limit which flags can be displayed on government property, including parks, a move widely seen as designed to block the display of Pride flags during Pride month.
One OC supervisor reportedly called the Pride flag “divisive”, while another, a Democrat, said, “I like to be neutral,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The city council in Huntington Beach had previously voted not to display the Pride flag on city property.
In the state’s Inland Empire region, a school board in Temecula rejected a history curriculum because of its mention of the murdered civil rights activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California history, who was posthumously awarded the presidential medal of freedom.
“My question is why even mention a pedophile,” the conservative school board president said, according to the Press-Enterprise. “What does that got to do with our curriculum in schools? That’s a form of activism.”
The decision means that many of the school district’s 11,000 children will have to start the school year without a textbook, a representative for the district’s teachers, who are protesting the decision, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
In Glendale, local journalists and advocates said that multiple rightwing activists who have a history of violence – and who live elsewhere in California – were present at the local school board protest, including several people who were alleged to have participated in the 6 January 2021 insurrection at the US capitol, as well as in previous pro-Trump, anti-trans and anti-mask demonstrations.
One local journalist posted photographs of stickers left at the Glendale protest site with the logo and name of the Proud Boys, a violent far-right group whose leaders were recently convicted of sedition for their role in the 6 January attack. Canada and New Zealand have previously designed the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization.
“It’s time we call out these attempts for what they are: fascism,” the Los Angeles LGBT Center, a longtime community organisation, said in a statement on Wednesday, calling on media outlets to investigate the role far-right and extremist groups are playing in local protests.
“The press needs to do a better job at naming misinformation and false accusations, rather than giving unfettered airtime to people making bogus claims about LGBTQ+ education in schools,” the center said. “There is a difference between sex education and LGBTQ+ competent curriculum in schools.”
Local news accounts and footage of the volatile anti-gay protesters in Glendale and North Hollywood showed some protesters using rhetoric now common in far-right protests across the United States, suggesting that LGBTQ+ people are pedophiles or predators, and arguing that any mention of the existence of gay people or gay families is inappropriate for young children. Many wore identical T-shirts reading “Leave our kids alone,” and some invoked Christian faith as the reason for their opposition to Pride events in schools.
These are familiar lines of attack that have often been mobilised by anti-gay activists in the past, including by Anita Bryant in her “Save our Children” campaign in the 1970s, which also focused on “parents’ rights” as a way to push back against advances in civil rights for gay Americans.
But as equality for LGBTQ+ people has become increasingly popular and accepted in the US, with 71% of respondents in a recent Gallup poll expressing support for same-sex marriage, many Americans described the renewed attacks as frightening and disturbing.
“Being tolerant of the intolerant has brought us to this moment,” the California Democratic state assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, who also represents Glendale, said in a statement on Tuesday night, calling the violent protest “unacceptable”.
— Wendy Carrillo (@AsmCarrillo) June 7, 2023
The Glendale police department said hundreds of people, including both anti- and pro-LGBTQ+ demonstrators, gathered outside the school board meeting on Tuesday. At least three people were arrested “for various charges, including unlawful use of pepper spray and willfully obstructing officers in the course of their duties”, Glendale police said in a statement.
Police gave a dispersal order after 6pm and called additional officers to the scene, the department said, noting that, “After the initial arrests, additional attempts to de-escalate the crowd failed.”
Across the country, state legislatures have introduced at least 491 anti-LGBTQ+ bills so far this year, according to a database of the bills compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union. Trans people have been singled out as the focus of much of the legislation, and continue to be the target of many particularly virulent political attacks, but, as in Florida’s “don’t say gay” law, which regulates what educators are allowed to discuss in public school classrooms, any mention of gender identity or homosexuality is now coming under attack.