Anti-LGBTQ backlash comes to California

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday June 8, 2023
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Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, center, was honored by state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), left, and Assemblymember Matt Haney June 5 where some Republican lawmakers walked out during the ceremony. Photo: From Haney's Twitter
Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, center, was honored by state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), left, and Assemblymember Matt Haney June 5 where some Republican lawmakers walked out during the ceremony. Photo: From Haney's Twitter

The nationwide backlash against LGBTQ equality has reached the Golden State, with queer heroes being demonized, Pride flags being banned, and even physical fights breaking out up and down California.

In Temecula — between Los Angeles and San Diego — a book about slain gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk has been banned from use in schools; in Sacramento, some Republican lawmakers walked out of the Legislature when Sister Roma of the drag nun Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, among others, were being honored; in Glendale, three have been arrested after violence outside a school board meeting; and in Orange County, the Pride flag has been banned from county buildings.

Open vitriol and scorn against the queer community in the United States is reaching a fever pitch just as Pride celebrations get underway across the country. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who just launched his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, signed bill after bill making the Sunshine State perhaps the most restrictive for LGBTQ people in the country, amid a wave of similar laws throughout America, including the so-called "Don't Say Gay" law.

Things have gotten so fraught that for the first time in four decades, the Human Rights Campaign has declared LGBTQ people are in a national state of emergency.

And the rhetoric that LGBTQ people are a threat to children has been heard even in San Francisco; on June 7, Muhammed Abdullah, 20, said during his arraignment in San Francisco Superior Court on hate crime and other charges stemming from a June 5 incident in the LGBTQ Castro neighborhood () that "the LGBT community is going against families," adding that it's "so fucked up" and "you know the truth."

Governor Gavin Newsom, shown at a Legislative LGBTQ Caucus Pride event in Sacramento in 2022, issued a rebuke of a Southern California school board president who called slain gay supervisor Harvey Milk a pedophile. Photo: Courtesy Governor's office.  

Temecula Valley School Board President Joseph Komrosky called Milk, who was the first out person elected to public office in California back in 1977, a "pedophile," just as the board decided to exclude a social studies book, "TCI Social Studies Alive," that mentions Milk in supplemental materials. The board voted 3-2 against the book.

This statement earned Komrosky the ire of the state's Democratic governor and longtime straight ally, Gavin Newsom. A former San Francisco supervisor himself, as well as mayor of the city, Newsom tweeted that Komrosky's remark was "an offensive statement from an ignorant person ... Congrats Mr. Komrosky you have our attention. Stay tuned."

Now, Newsom and straight ally Attorney General Rob Bonta are urging the school board "to provide information regarding its process and decision-making related to the board's decision to reject the Social Studies Alive program."

The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful, or FAIR, Act, signed into law by former governor Jerry Brown in 2011, states that a "teacher shall not give instruction and a school district shall not sponsor any activity that promotes a discriminatory bias on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality, or sexual orientation." It was the first such law of its kind in the nation.

In 2017, state education officials approved a number of textbooks under the FAIR ACT, but the initial rollout was slow, as the Bay Area Reporter reported a year later.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tony Thurmond, a straight ally who's the state superintendent of public instruction, visited Temecula June 6 to discuss the controversy with administrators and teachers. His office told the B.A.R. June 8 that "The California Department of Education is currently handling an investigation regarding Temecula and cannot comment on it."

Thurmond joined Newsom and Bonta in sending a letter to all school administrators statewide June 1 cautioning them against removing books and other materials from libraries, stating that it's forbidden by the constitution and that state law requires local educational agencies "provide a representative and unbiased curriculum."

Bonta stated that "we urge the board to adhere to the FAIR Act's provisions and provide a comprehensive social sciences curriculum that reflects our diverse state and nation."

The remark also led to a strong statement from the five gay living supervisors who represent, or represented, the Castro district Milk served: state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), former state senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), current District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, and former supervisors Bevan Dufty and Jeff Sheehy. (Milk, along with then-mayor George Moscone, was assassinated in November 1978 by disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White.)

"The most shameful aspect of this vicious attack on Harvey's memory is the use of children in this assault," the men stated. "Two of us are parents, all of us are uncles, and we can attest to the impact of homophobia and transphobia on the mental health of vulnerable children in California and across the country. When children's differences are acknowledged and celebrated, regardless of whether they stem from sexual orientation or gender identity, all children who feel different, who march to a 'different drummer,' feel safer and freer to be themselves and achieve their full potential."

In response to the Temecula school board's action, gay Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Ph.D. (D-Perris), the first Black LGBTQ person elected to the Legislature, on June 6 unveiled Assembly Bill 1078, which would mandate that any school within the K-12 system must secure a super majority on the school board to vote in favor of banning a book.

Under the current circumstances, school boards throughout California have been swayed by a small but vocal group of individuals who are determined to strip away the diversity that makes our state so vibrant, according to a news release from Jackson's office.

"Their agenda is rooted in hate and seeks to erase the historical narratives and perspectives of people of color, as well as communities that do not conform to the social norms dictated by white Christian nationalism. Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson, himself a person of faith, finds these actions deeply disturbing and strongly condemns the weaponization of religion to cause harm," the release stated.

State Capitol
On June 5, Sister Roma joined Wiener and straight ally Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) to be honored as part of Pride Month.

The Sisters, which is an international organization, had been involved in a row of their own last month after the Los Angeles chapter was invited, disinvited, and then re-invited to the Los Angeles Dodgers Pride Night on June 16, as the B.A.R. previously reported. Conservatives and right-wing Roman Catholics had claimed they were a hate group, as they accuse them of mocking religion, including with their drag nun attire.

"The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus is proud to honor Sister Roma for her tireless work raising millions of dollars to support HIV/AIDS patients, as well as creating the 'Stop the Violence' campaign to raise awareness about attacks on members of the LGBTQ+ community," the caucus stated. "We look forward to giving her the recognition she deserves at the state Capitol."

Some Republican lawmakers chose to walk off the Assembly floor during the celebration.

Assembly Minority Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) stated that though he recognizes that "the Sisters have done charitable work in the community ... their vulgar mockery of our Christian faith is extremely insulting and disrespectful. We cannot condone this."

Haney called the walk-out "disgusting."

"Seeing the California Assembly Republicans get up and walk out was one of the most shockingly infuriating and cowardly things I've seen since I've been in elected office," Haney stated to the B.A.R. "That type of homophobia must be roundly condemned, confronted and those who engage in it should face repercussions for their behavior. Homophobic officials who blatantly violate the rules of the Assembly should not be in positions of leadership in our legislature."

When asked about the backlash, Roma told the B.A.R., "I've never seen drastic measures like this in my entire life."

"Our community is under attack and we can't win this alone," Roma stated. "Now, more than ever, it's important for our allies to speak up. We need elected officials, school teachers, news media, corporations, and every single person who loves someone gay, lesbian, bi, queer, or trans to join us to combat this wave of hate."

Los Angeles County
When the Glendale Unified School District met June 6 to discuss whether to recognize June as Pride Month, hundreds of people gathered outside to make their voices heard on both sides of the issue.

According to media reports, a physical melee ensued and three people were arrested as a result. The school board sheltered in place as law enforcement declared an unlawful assembly and issued a dispersal order.

The school board did end up recognizing June as Pride Month.

Terra Russell-Slavin, a lesbian who is the chief impact officer of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, stated, "Glendale parents and educators overwhelmingly showed up in support of the LGBTQ+ community."

"The school board was simply voting on whether or not Glendale Unified should recognize June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month," Russell-Salvin continued. "What should have been an amicable meeting — even if there was disagreement among some community members — turned into a shelter-in-place order that frightened participants. This is, of course, the goal of far-right extremists: They want us to be afraid."

Russell-Salvin also clarified that "there is a difference between sex education and LGBTQ+ competent curriculum in schools."

"In the case of Glendale Unified, there are specific policies in place that allow any parent to review sexual education curriculum ahead of its implementation, and decide as to whether or not they should remove their child from those lessons," Russell-Salvin explained.

Newsom stated that it "should have been a routine vote."

"The words of the resolution did not change from years past, but what has changed is a wave of division and demonization sweeping our nation," Newsom stated. "With hate on the rise nationally, we must rise together in California to affirm what both Pride Month and Immigrant Heritage Month represent — that in the Golden State, no matter who you are or what diverse community you are from, you belong."

Wiener warned that "LGBTQ Californians ... are at significant risk of harm due to inflammatory rhetoric that incites violence."

"It's an orchestrated national campaign to erase LGBTQ people from history and intimidate us back into the closet," he stated. "This harassment campaign targets LGBTQ-focused curricula — for example, the recent banning by a Temecula school board of a textbook that discusses Harvey Milk — and even Pride celebrations. Driving the mob last night in Glendale are years of slander against LGBTQ people that far-right extremists use to stoke hate — particularly the slander that LGBTQ people are 'groomers' and 'pedophiles.'"

Tony Hoang, a gay man who's executive director of statewide LGBTQ rights group Equality California, stated that "school board meetings across the country have been turned into arenas for anti-LGBTQ+ political propaganda."

"We applaud the Glendale Unified School Board for supporting the Pride Month resolution, and GUSD administrators and educators for supporting and affirming LGBTQ+ students every day," he continued.

The Glendale incident came just days after anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations at Saticoy Elementary School in North Hollywood, also in Los Angeles County.

A Pride assembly had been scheduled at the school for June 2. The Los Angeles Times reported that 100 people showed up to protest, with signs like "No pride in grooming."

Russell-Slavin stated, "I am beyond disappointed to read about the events unfolding at Saticoy Elementary School — and not just from where I sit as the chief impact officer of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. To be completely frank, I am more so concerned as a lesbian mother who's raising a child in Los Angeles County.

"The Pride celebration scheduled at Saticoy Elementary School was meant to celebrate LGBTQ+ community members and families like mine," she added. "My wife and I are proudly raising our child to be accepting, welcoming, and loving to everyone — and hope that his education reflects those same values of basic human dignity and decency. The fact that this is somehow a controversial or 'hot-button issue' is not just alarming, it's deeply saddening. Families like mine deserve to be included and represented in our classrooms and our school events. My child should not be educated to be ashamed of his mothers. I am not a threat to anyone by loving my family."

LGBTQ caucus member Senator Caroline Menjivar (D- San Fernando Valley) condemned the violence and the burning of a Pride flag on school grounds. She attended the June 2 Pride assembly at Saticoy Elementary to show her support for the school's students and staff.

She posted on Twitter about the importance of increasing recognition of the LGBTQ community.

"As a lesbian and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as a strong advocate for inclusivity, I believe it is crucial to foster an environment where all students feel accepted and celebrated," stated Menjivar. "I commend Saticoy Elementary for taking the initiative to organize a Pride event.

Such inclusive programming "is vital," added Menjivar, "in promoting a positive and respectful school culture, one that embraces differences and encourages students to appreciate the identities of each other and their families. By recognizing and celebrating LGBTQ+ identities, the school is setting a shining example of acceptance and understanding for all its students, staff, and parents.

Orange County
The same day as the Glendale melee, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 that the county — famous for having been a conservative mainstay for generations before recently becoming more moderate — will only fly federal, state, and county flags.

Stephanie Camacho-Van Dyke, M.A., the director of advocacy and education for Orange County's LGBTQ Center, told the B.A.R. that this comes in the context of the wider national backlash, stating "we condemn the actions that have taken place over the last year, where over 525 state bills have been introduced and 70 bills that attack LGBTQIA+ people have become law."

"Earlier this week, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to remove all Pride flags, as well as non-governmental flags, from county buildings," Camacho-Van Dyke wrote. "The timing was too coincidental. The fact that the decision was made during the beginning of Pride Month amid the relentless attacks on the LGBTQIA+ community is suspect. What does this message send to queer and trans students and youth? We cannot stand by while this happens."

The State of California offers help for victims or witnesses to a hate crime or hate incident. This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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