Right-wing groups showed up outside a GUSD meeting to express bigotry, chase around pro-Pride protesters, and threaten teachers.
Right-wing protesters once again turned out to object to the existence of queer people in public schools, this time at a Board of Education meeting in Glendale. A group called “GUSD Parents Voices,” along with other right-wing groups, showed up to protest the school board’s meeting on Tuesday June 6, 2023.
On Tuesday, the right-wing anti-LGBTQ+ elements were in full force. A Knock LA reporter who was on the phone with local officials attempting to gain access to the meeting was called a “Gay f****t” by the passenger of a passing car. “Who had the worst coverage of Friday?” said the same protester, who dominated Friday’s protest over his PA while in line to speak outside the building. “Fox 11! The award for worst coverage of Friday goes to Fox 11!”
This seemed to be at least a tacit endorsement of the accuracy of Knock LA’s coverage of that event.
“Gays Against Groomers” — a right-wing 501(c)4 that claims to be a grassroots organization but was founded by political operative Jaimee Mitchell — also magnified the event in their Telegram channel. In addition to those claiming to be parents of students in the Glendale Unified School District (GUSD), known right-wing agitators and January 6th rioters such as Tony Moon and members of the Proud Boys were also present.
The events on Tuesday follow years of right-wing agitation aimed at the GUSD. In 2021, Tammy Tiber, a Glendale elementary school teacher, showed a video about celebrating pride to her third-grade class.
This went unnoticed until Jordan Henry, a right-wing agitator who was a candidate for Glendale City Council in 2022, received documents he requested that included an email that Tiber had sent about the lesson. According to the Los Angeles Times, one parent complained directly to Tiber about the lesson at the time, but did not escalate her complaint beyond Tiber. Since Henry’s request, Tiber has been involuntarily transferred and has received death threats.
Tiber is far from the only educator in Glendale who has faced harassment from right-wing activists. A man and a woman wearing “Leave Our Kids Alone” T-shirts held a poster with the face of teacher Lisa Avery that said: “I’m Lisa Avery. I prey on your kids. I lure them with food. I poach the weak until they call me mom.” When asked about the sign, the woman said that Avery had held a class on “baby gender ID.”
The sign seems to be in reference to a training that Lisa Avery provided for the California Teachers Association — called “Instant GSA: (Just Add Kids!)” — about forming Gay-Straight Alliance or Gender-Sexuality Alliance clubs in schools. The “baby gender ID” comment seems to come from a screenshot of Avery’s talk that featured a slide that said “Advising ‘Baby’ GSAs” and featured advice about the level of advising needed for elementary and middle school GSAs. Based on the content of the slide and the fact that the word “baby” is in quotations, it is reasonable to say that Avery was not literally referring to babies.
A parent of a Glendale elementary school student, who only identified himself as Brandon, said that he had attended the counterprotest with some Glendale school staffers. “They’re actually very afraid,” he said, “because these teachers that are on the side of equality and acceptance are being threatened. Their lives are being threatened. They’re on the front lines.”
Another Glendale parents group, GUSD Parents for Public Schools, released a statement on Wednesday denouncing the protest, saying, “For weeks before this board meeting and at previous board meetings, parents witnessed and documented viral online media amplifying false claims made about the district and attacks on LGBTQ+ individuals and curriculum.”
The group has specifically called out Jordan Henry, who they claim has been spreading disinformation about the school districts for at least two years. He’s been joined in this by a group composed primarily of private-school and homeschooling parents, who, according to GUSD for Public Schools, were also involved with the violent protest at Saticoy Elementary School on June 2.
In addition to anti-trans comments, Henry has made public comment at school board meetings accusing the GUSD of employing “Marxist critical race theory.” According to www.therealjordanhenry.com, Henry has never had a child attending public schools in Glendale, though he does live in the district.
The line to get inside the building stretched down to the end of the block at 4 PM, an hour before the scheduled start of the meeting. The two relatively small groups of protesters and counterprotesters swelled to several hundred total as the night went on. In a role usually performed by police, fascist protesters repeatedly attempted to kettle the smaller group of anti-fascists. “Antifa go home!” they chanted over and over again to the group they label as “anti-fascists,” on the anniversary of D-Day. “USA! USA!” the crowd also chanted, in addition to similar chants such as “Back the Blue!”
One man who was identified as having been at the January 6 Capitol riot said he came “down” from San Diego to join the protest. He claimed to have friends in the “LGB” community, but that he objected to books about “children having sex.” He later was seen lecturing a crowd of protesters through a bullhorn, saying “we’re building, we’re organizing.” Multiple men who have been identified as Proud Boys were also in attendance, as was right-wing agitator Shiva Bagheri.
Some of the protesters wore the white “Leave Our Kids Alone” T-shirts distributed at the anti-LGBTQ+ protest at Saticoy Elementary on June 2. Many more slung or carried them in unconventional ways.
The giant “Leave Our Kids Alone” posters attached to a trailer that was seen at the Saticoy Elementary protest last week also made an appearance. The truck was provided by Saticoy Elementary Parents, a group that, like GUSD Parents Voices, posts images and contact info of LAUSD staff online.
An electronic billboard rotating three images was also at the protest, including one image that appeared to show Joseph Stalin using STEM education as a ruse to indoctrinate a child into becoming gay. Knock LA cannot confirm that the electronic billboard was brought to the protest by GUSD Parents Voices, but based on the content of the billboard and GUSD Parents Voices’ social media, it seems highly likely.
One protester wearing an SEIU Local 99 shirt carried a sign that read “Teach ABCs, not LBGTs.” The man went on to say that he was a former union vice president and to claim that unions pay counterprotesters to show up to these events.
Inside the meeting room for the Glendale Board of Education, counterprotesters showed up early enough to deliver comments to the packed room. Statements from progressive organizations — like GALAS LGBTQ+ Armenian Society, Armenian-American Action Network, and Southern California Armenian Democrats — were read. These same groups also worked to organize turnout from their communities to peacefully counter the opposition’s narrative.
One Armenian mother and Glendale resident, Anahid Yahjian, who gave public comment said she was attending to “show that the Armenian individuals who are claiming to speak for the Armenian community with their homophobic rhetoric and unacceptable behavior, in fact do not represent the Armenian community, let alone me.”
She added, “if I could look the instigators of this movement in the eye [I would] let them know that their manipulation and radicalization of immigrant groups to serve their extremist agenda is not lost on anyone, nor will it be forgotten. You can only blame the sheep so much in a situation like this — ultimately, you need to question who is their shepherd. The fish always rots from the head down.”
“Excluding LGBTQ+ representation from school curricula and programming directly harms the already marginalized LGBTQ+ community by reinforcing the dangerous misconception that the lived experiences of all human beings are identical. The inclusion of our voices is not a subject of discussion. It’s a civil right,” said Erik Adamian, president of the board of directors of GALAS.
More comments from the pro-LGBTQ+ crowd — which included Burbank mayor and candidate for Los Angeles County District Five supervisor Konstantine Anthony and Glendale city clerk Dr. Suzie Abajian — were all met with raucous applause from those in attendance. (With the exception of one older man who booed each speaker and a woman sitting next to him who took issue with her photo being taken — something the Brown Act legally protects.)
While comments were being delivered relatively peaceably inside, things escalated outside.
Eventually, the right-wing protesters were able to outflank the police and assault members of the pro-LGBTQ+ crowd. Knock LA observed only one person among the counterprotesters, and none among the protesters, being arrested as a result. Immediately after, a contingent of protesters armed with brass knuckles and mace assaulted a group of counterprotesters. It was at this point that Pastor Mike Kinman with the All Saints Church in Pasadena was hit in the face with pepper spray.
Kinman was also at the protest at Saticoy Elementary last Friday. He told Knock LA that the LA Queer Interfaith Clergy Council, of which he is a member, had been approached by an Armenian LGBTQ+ group asking for support and aid in de-escalation if needed. He said, “The more privileged and less targeted you are means the greater responsibility you have to put your body on the line for marginalized people,” adding that he had learned this from young Black queer activists he worked with during the Ferguson uprising.
Kinman was trying to insert himself at friction points in between those delivering threats and those being threatened when he observed what he thought to be Proud Boys and other agitators trying to move around the police. Once those protesters broke through the police line, he tried to evacuate counterprotesters who were being beaten. He was walking back to the main pro-LGBTQ+ crowd when he and the small group of allies were pepper-sprayed by a protester.
“That is but one taste for me for what trans people experience all the time,” he noted. “If you are trans or queer, you have to live with the fear of being attacked constantly … there are just so many beautiful images of God who are trans or queer.”
Knock LA observed Glendale police reading a dispersal order around 6:20 PM to the crowd of counterprotesters and the contingent of protesters confronting them at the time. Prior to their issuing the order, the police were also using their motorcycles to attempt to herd the counterprotesters. However, likely due to the noise of sirens created by the police in an attempt to disperse the crowd, many counterprotesters interviewed did not hear the order. Several minutes later, the entirety of the counterprotesting crowd was cleared out of the parking lot, leaving only the protesters left chanting for another 30 minutes.
At least one duo of counterprotesters reported being followed by protesters and had to run to their car.
At this point, police began to move their skirmish line against the anti-LGBTQ+ protesters’ side, ordering them to move to the sidewalk. One protester lay on the ground refusing to move. He was also eventually arrested for this, although his handling appeared much gentler than that of the counterprotester who was arrested earlier. The arrested protester was seen attempting to kiss his arresting officers.
Knock LA spoke to one protester who said this was about “theology being taken out of schools.” They continued that third-graders were being taught about sexual education. (A version of sex ed is taught by state mandate in public schools, but not until fifth grade). When pressed as to where or when this happened, the protester said he didn’t know, but that it’s “all online.” Knock LA performed an internet search, but was unable to verify his claim.
Knock LA also attempted to speak to two students who claimed to be attendees of the school, as well as their mother, but when pressed on why they were at the protest, they declined to comment further.
This protester and all others interviewed were unwilling to give either their names or any comment at all to the press.
Another protester, holding a video camera, accused Knock LA and other nearby journalists of being “communists” who are ultimately responsible for this conflict and the “grooming” of children in public schools. When asked for further comment, the protester initially refused, accusing a Knock LA photographer of being a “traitor.” When the photographer informed the protester that he was a US military combat veteran, the man seemed to change his mind, saying, “Thank you for your service.”
Reporting contributed by Sean Beckner-Carmitchel and Jon Peltz.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that Jordan Henry does not live within GUSD, which he does, and that Gays Against Groomers is a 501(c)3. It is a 501(c)4. These errors have been corrected.