A fight erupted outside a North Hollywood elementary school Friday morning as more than 100 parents rallied against a Pride Day assembly, bringing to a head weeks of turmoil that saw a transgender teacher’s LGBTQ+ Pride flag burned.
Parents who said they were protesting against teaching elementary school children about LGBTQ+ people held up signs outside Saticoy Elementary School with messages that included “No pride in grooming,” “Parental choice matters” and “Leave our kids alone.” Across the street, about 100 counterprotesters gathered in support of LGBTQ+ rights and education.
Throughout the morning, police tried to separate the two sides as tensions mounted. Shortly before noon, violence broke out.
Some LGBTQ+ advocates formed a human chain blocking the sidewalk as a group of marchers tried to pass them.
Several of the protesters chanted antigay slurs at the LGBTQ+ supporters, and one marcher threw water at a counterprotester and pulled off a wig. A few unidentified people threw punches, and police diverted the marchers around the line.
Officers jumped in to stop the fight, and within minutes, the remaining counterprotesters had left just as riot crews in the Los Angeles Police Department were deployed.
It was not clear whether anyone had been injured or arrested.
Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian said in a statement that freedom of expression is a constitutional right, but "threatening your neighbors and sowing hatred" are threats to public safety.
“Whatever disagreements may arise among members of our community, violence, hate speech and acts of vandalism directed against any group can have no place in our city," he said.
Late last month, a transgender teacher at the school found that a Pride flag displayed in a flower pot had been burned and the pot broken. Los Angeles police confirmed the vandalism was being investigated, and Saticoy Elementary told parents the incident occurred during a break-in over the weekend of May 20-21.
The group behind Friday's protest, called Saticoy Elementary Parents, claimed in an Instagram post Thursday that they weren't against LGBTQ+ people.
“We want to reiterate that our protest is in no way an attack on the LGBTQ community,” the group wrote. “We recognize the importance of promoting equality and acceptance for all individuals.”
The group, however, had set its sights on Friday's Gay Pride and Rainbow Day assembly and urged other parents to keep their children home that day.
“Keep your kids home and innocent,” a flier posted by the group said. “Videos will be shown to the students including one where it says, ‘some kids have 2 mommies, some have 2 daddies.' This has caused outrage among parents.”
Karine, 40, waved a small U.S. flag as she joined the protesting parents earlier Friday morning. The woman, who asked that her last name be withheld over fears that her Saticoy third-grader would be bullied, said she was tired “of the propaganda” and noted that her child had brought home rainbow-colored stickers and other items from school last week.
“I didn’t come from Armenia for this,” she said of education about LGBTQ+ people. “I came for freedom and for my children to learn about math and education, not about this. I might go back home.”
Renato Lira, director of the San Fernando Valley LGBTQ Center in Van Nuys, found himself at the center of the heated debate. He yelled at protesting parents “to get educated” and grabbed counterprotesters on his side away from potential fights.
“For the other side, they need education," Lira said of the parents group. "They needed to talk to actual gay people and parents.”
Tabitha Davis, 44, a parent educator in the Burbank Unified School District, arrived around 8 a.m. draped in a transgender pride flag, wearing rainbow-colored glasses and a sweater that said “You deserve to be happy.”
Davis is the mother of a trans child at an L.A. Unified school she did not want to identify. She felt compelled to have her voice heard and “support families who are being harassed,” Davis said.
“I have been fighting to feel safe,” she said. “Now, I feel like it’s my position and my place to fight for others to feel safe.”
At one point, Karine and others protesting against LGBTQ+ education crossed the street to the front of the school, where they clashed with counterprotesters and police, who attempted to divide the groups.
The LAPD had stationed officers at the school Friday morning to "support our LAUSD partners and facilitate a peaceful and lawful exercise of constitutional rights," the department said.
The Los Angeles Unified School District "remains committed to maintaining a safe, inclusive and supportive environment for all students," it said in a statement, adding that Los Angeles school police were providing additional patrols around campus for the safety of students and staff members.
District Supt. Alberto Carvalho said that the "vast majority of students" who stayed home did so out of safety concerns and not to protest school activities.
Carvalho briefly attended the assembly, which he said was "absolutely grade-level appropriate and conforms with standards as published by the state of California."
The assembly included a reading of a child-friendly book that "speaks about families in our community, of different religions, races, ethnicities" as well as a reference to households that may "have a mother and a mother," according to Carvalho.
"I usually understand the background noise, and people pick a political side of that background noise," he said. "But when kids become political pawns, that's where I draw the line."
Students were told over the speakerphone to exit the school on Elkwood Street and Coldwater Canyon Avenue just before the regular 2:30 p.m. dismissal. Some staff members escorted students to the gates and to awaiting cars.
Faculty and staff were also invited to an optional meeting to discuss the day’s earlier events.
Saticoy parent Hector Flores wore a yellow Pride shirt with the words “!bien proud!” in rainbow lettering as he and his husband picked up their 6-year-old daughter shortly after the bell.
“As part of the LGBT community, we felt it was a direct attack toward us since we are part of this school,” he said of the protests. “We needed to be heard today and present and show that we are standing with our community.”
The clash outside the school comes as LGBTQ+ rights have been curtailed by some Republican-controlled states that have passed laws prohibiting gender-affirming procedures or hormone replacement therapies for minors and banning drag performances in public spaces.
There are more than 490 bills restricting rights for the LGBTQ+ community this legislative session, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to a recent poll, 7.2% of U.S. adults identified as LGBTQ+ in 2022, more than double the rate when Gallup first started measuring sexual identification in 2012.
People for the American Way President Svante Myrick, whose organization tracks the activities of right-wing political organizations, said he believes that anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and legislation have increased in the past year and a half in part because of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, ending the legal right to abortion that had been upheld for decades.
"Abortion served as a unifying point for evangelical Christians and the far-right wing of this country for four decades," Myrick said. "When they won, it was a little bit like the dog that got the car. How do we keep this coalition now?"
After same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide and LGBTQ+ people could openly start serving in the military, right-wing activists turned their attention to transitional care for transgender minors, barring public drag shows, gender-neutral bathroom laws and getting "progressive" books banned from schools, Myrick said.
The protest at the school, Myrick said, showcases the revitalization of "gay panic" — the belief that being gay is "contagious" and that "we can't let our kids hear there are gay people because it might turn them gay."
"[Right-wing activists] have been on the losing side of this issue for three decades and so they are trying to regain their foothold, not just to stop a book from being taught in the third grade," Myrick said. "They’re trying to gin up a counter-revolution that can roll back the clock on all of those rights and return us to a time when they believe America was great again."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.