“Stop grooming our kids,” shouts a group of parents. “No hate in the 818” yells back a group of LGBTQ+ advocates.
These chants rang out for hours outside Saticoy Elementary School on Friday morning, June 2, where a group of predominantly Armenian parents protested a Pride-themed book reading that described same-sex marriage and counter-protesters defended the school’s right to teach grade school students about forms of sexuality.
“I don’t like the idea of my little kid coming home and saying it’s fine for a family to have two dads, two men to love each other. We don’t respect that, it’s not in our culture as Christians and Armenians,” said Sean Karapetyan, a father of two students at Saticoy Elementary School.
Erik Adamian, a counter-protester and board president of the GALAS LGBTQ+ Armenian Society, pushed back on this sentiment.
“LGBTQ+ individuals exist in all cultures and communities and our representation and our voices being heard is not a matter of discussion, it is a civil right that was earned through decades and decades of LGBTQ activism,” he said.
The conflict at Saticoy Elementary School began about two weeks ago when members of a parent group expressed outrage over the school’s plan to read at a student assembly “The Great Big Book of Families.” The book describes types of families including multicultural and multi-religious families, families with adopted children and families with same-sex parents.
Tensions escalated when a transgender teacher’s Pride flag was found burned outside a classroom on May 22. The parent group says it was not connected to the incident and LAPD is investigating it as a possible vandalism hate crime.
On Friday morning, frustration from both sides poured from a crowd of more than 100 who represented a microcosm of the national debate over whether schools should teach young children about sexuality. The protest pitted Armenian and conservative parents, and other community members, wearing black and white “Leave our Kids alone” t-shirts against rainbow-clad LGBTQ+ advocates bearing “Love is love” posters.
The LGBTQ+ counter-protest was coordinated by local organizations including GALAS LGBTQ+ Armenian Society, Somos Familia Valle and San Fernando Valley LGBTQ Center, who appeared to outnumber the Armenian and conservative parents.
While some in the crowd hurled insults and slurs, the scene did not turn violent. Several dozen LAPD officers were on scene and a police helicopter circled overhead.
“In the past two hours we have been called pedophiles, groomers, every horrific slur that we’ve dealt with our whole lives as queer people we’ve found shouted at us,” said Noah Maldonado, a San Fernando Valley native and co-founder of non-profit organization Classroom of Compassion. “It is really is heartbreaking for that, but I’m reminded of the mightiness of supporters that this counter protest is larger than this organized protest.”
A group of volunteers from the San Fernando Valley LGBTQ Center chaperoned three LGBTQ families and their children, as well as five teachers who identify with the LGBTQ community as they entered the campus Friday, said center director Renato Lira. Lira said the group is seeking a meeting that calls together LGBTQ advocates, parent protesters and district personnel.
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Board Member Scott Schmerelson, whose district includes Saticoy Elementary School, attended the protest in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ advocates, as did several LAUSD officials.
“We came out of an absolute level of concern for the protection, the safety of not only our students, but also our workforce,” said Carvalho. “Over the past two weeks, individuals, particularly a teacher at this school, have been threatened, insulted, a (Pride) flag representing many in our community was burned, that should concern the entire community.”
The transgender teacher in question remains in good standing with the district, but is no longer assigned to Saticoy Elementary School due to safety concerns, Carvalho added.
Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian issued a statement on Friday afternoon condemning the burning of the Pride flag and acts of hate.
“Free expression of disagreement over public policy is a constitutional right, and civil debate is always welcome, and will be protected,” he stated. “Threatening your neighbors and sowing hatred, however, are threats to public safety and will never be tolerated in the City of Los Angeles.”
Several of the protesting parents made it clear that they were not opposed to LGBTQ+ people in general, but rather they believe elementary school students are too young to learn about this subject.
“Do you think a four-year-old can understand what is LGBTQ? This is grooming,” said Manuk Grigoryan, a father of four Saticoy Elementary School students. “I’m not homophobic, I’m just saying it’s my child, let me teach my way about the birds and the bees.”
Saticoy Elementary School alumni and former staff members were also among the protesters.
“Having been a teacher for many years I really believe the subject they are trying to teach is too advanced for these children to understand,” said a former Saticoy teacher who served 28 years with the district and did not wish to be named due to safety concerns.
“We should not condone hate, we should respect everyone equally, treat everyone the same, but at the same time we should be allowed to have our differences,” said Miriam, a Saticoy Elementary School alumna and local resident who did not want her last name shared. “If parents don’t feel the need to have their children learn this (LGBTQ identities) at such a young age, then they shouldn’t have to.”
But Scott Mandel, Valley East area chair for United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing LAUSD teachers, said, “This (protest) goes against every concept of education we teachers have. We teach tolerance, we teach acceptance and we teach love.”
“Can you imagine what it’s like for a second grade child to be told that ‘Oh, your two dads, your two moms are bad, they are wrong’?” he added.
Kevin Perez, president and co-founder of Somos Familia Valle, an LGBTQ+ support group in the East San Fernando Valley, said he was saddened to see the how many protesters showed up. Perez grew up in the San Fernando Valley and has spent the last decade offering support programs for LGBTQ+ youth and participating in Pride activism.
“I think this is destroying the movement our impact is having in the community, because folks are finally starting to come out and feel accepted and feel safe,” he said. “I think this is really part of a national movement trying to bring us down and put us back in the closet.”
Alfredo Feregrino, a priest at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, joined the counter protest to show support from the Christian community.
“There are different faith leaders who use the Bible or twist the message of the gospels to inject hate,” he said. “For me the God that I love, the God that I try to proclaim, is the God that loves everyone, so for me it’s important to be here and show that.”
Staff Writer Steve Scauzillo contributed to this report.
Source: Orange County Register