Community members, local government officials and activists joined together on Thursday for a press conference at City Hall to speak on the effects anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and practices are having on communities, specifically within the Glendale Unified School District, ahead of the March 5 School Board Election.
Speakers at the press conference addressed social media harassment, the spread of misinformation regarding school curriculum and protests organized by what many called “far right extremists.”
Representatives from the Glendale Teachers Association, National Union of Healthcare Workers, Los Angeles LGBT Center Equality California and GlendaleOUT, alongside GUSD parents, teachers and local officials, attended the press event, called “Our Community is for Everyone.” School Board member Ingrid Gunnell, City Clerk Suzie Abajian, Mayor Dan Brotman, School Board Vice President Shant Sahakian, Board candidate Telly Tse and Burbank City Councilman Konstantine Anthony were present, staying after the event to discuss issues.
GUSD parent Angie Givant described the negative effect that “incendiary language of manufactured moral panics” has had on the community.
“We’ve experienced what happens when targeted online misinformation spills over into real life when our queer children are afraid to go to school, when our beloved teachers and community leaders’ faces are plastered on slanderous fliers around town, when death threats force a teacher into hiding and when School Board meetings become sites of violence,” Givant said.
A series of protests and counterprotests unfolded this summer — and in one case, turned violent — outside of GUSD Board of Education meetings after the panel voted to honor Pride Month in recognition of the LGBTQ+ community. There were also two protests encouraging parents to keep their children home from school on specific days by a group that calls itself “Parents’ Voices.”
GUSD teachers and Board members have also been publicly and falsely accused of “grooming” students on social media and through flyers posted around the city.
In her speech, Assemblywoman Laura Friedman addressed the book banning phenomenon happening in school districts nationwide and closer to home, in Chino Valley and Temecula. Friedman said children who have access to books that represent diverse family compositions, such as portraying a child with two mothers will not harm or “make [anyone’s] child gay,” but will serve to normalize queerness and foster inclusivity for those who may be figuring out their identity.
“Every student should see themselves reflected in our curriculum and in the library books, so that they never feel that there’s something wrong with them because of their gender identity,” Friedman said. “They should be able to understand the reality of sexual expression and have that available to them.”
Friedman went on to say that not having the proper resources to educate students and provide them with diverse, representative materials leads to bullying, depression and suicide.
Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo also spoke about the prevalence of teen
suicide, referencing statistics from the Trevor Project, saying “nearly half of LGBTQ+ students 13 to 17 years old considered suicide last a year, and 18% attempted it. Seventy percent reported anxiety and 57% experienced depression.”
Another sentiment echoed among press conference speakers was the feeling that society is going back in time, away from
State Sen. Anthony Portantino spoke about his experience growing up in the 1970s with a gay older brother who he saw being “ostracized” in school.
“I thought we were beyond that,” Portantino said. “I thought we had made progress, and we have in many respects, but we cannot let people take us backwards… There’s this national movement to divide us and it is important to stand on the side of truth and honesty and protect students and teachers.”
Joey Espinoza-Hernández, the director of policy and community building at Los Angeles LGBTQ Center, which provides services including advocacy for the queer community, said in the nonprofit’s decade of working at the center, they have never seen such an “unrelenting wave of anti-LGBTQ and, specifically, anti-trans legislation and attacks” as they have seen recently.
“As someone with firsthand experience with school-based violence at the hands of adults and peers, I know the emotional and physical toll it can take on a student who is forced to go to schools that reject them or make them feel unsafe,” Espinoza-
Hernández said. “No student should ever have to experience this.”
Espinoza-Hernández, along with other speakers, stressed the importance of voting in the March 5 Board election to ensure GUSD leaders continue cultivating an inclusive environment for students.
“On March 5, vote your values,” Portantino said. “Vote your values, vote your conscience and vote with love.”
On Thursday, the district told the News-Press that “the Board and superintendent’s commitment to creating safe, inclusive learning environments for every student” remains steadfast.
Currently, GUSD provides students and faculty with instruction and training on hate speech and discriminatory conduct. If instances of hate speech and bullying occur, the district provides the victim with counseling, guidance and support, and will create a safety plan for the affected student, according to the Board’s policy.
Any student who uses hate speech at school or social media will receive counseling on their first offense, including education about the history and social ramifications of the speech, and warned not to repeat this behavior. If the behavior persists, students can face suspension or expulsion.
Taline Arsenian, president of the Glendale Teachers Association, emphasized that despite the challenges the GUSD community has faced, teachers and staff will not allow their spirits to be broken.
“Glendale public school teachers will not be intimidated,” she said. “We will continue to teach a rich, inclusive and age-appropriate curriculum with historical accuracy and fact-based science to ensure that students of every race, background, gender, religious affiliation and sexual orientation receive a high-quality education while feeling safe, included and welcome in every Glendale school.”
Givant echoed this strength, adding that “amidst all of the chaos and ugliness, the sadness and fear” the Glendale community has pulled together.
“As some have attempted to divide us and weaponize our differences, families, teachers, students, civic groups, unions, truly our community as a whole, realize that the only way to protect what we have and to grow something even better is to reach out, connect with each other and use all of our skills and resources and voices to fight for our schools and for our community,” Givant said.
First published in the January 27 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.