The right-wing, anti-gay movement has reached California schools. Thankfully, it’s not Florida | Opinion

Keith Birmingham/AP

Now, unbelievably so, the third-most and largest Democratic state in the country is living its own “Don’t Say Gay” moment.

With the launch of Pride Month, a vocal minority of Californians have taken Florida-style, hate-fueled conservative grievances to two school district boards, the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale and Temecula, Southern California wine country.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest system in the nation, a transgender teacher’s Pride flag was burned at an elementary school and a demonstration held to protest a Pride assembly.

Parents, including Mom for Liberty chapters, and school board conservatives are weaving the same “parental rights” vs gender-identity narrative that led to Florida’s explosion of book and curriculum restrictions at all educational levels, anti-transgender laws — and the whitewashing of Black history, even at universities.

But despite a vote in Temecula in favor of erasing inclusive education in grades 1 to 5, thankfully, this isn’t Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Florida.

Education leaders are speaking out and standing up to the gay-bashing.

“This is not the time when silence is an option,” Alberto Carvalho, the former Miami-Dade Schools superintendent, now in charge of Los Angeles Unified, told me. “Because what’s next, right? It starts with ostracizing, dehumanizing, humiliating the minority, whichever that minority is, and before you know it, the majority sees its rights gone, too.”

Although gaining chapters in California, Moms for Liberty, founded in Florida — and recently labeled an “extremist” group by the civil-rights watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center — is still seen as fringe by the mainstream.

Politicians are not eagerly embraced them — or, as happened in Miami-Dade — recruited to the task of political censorship by elected officials, one of the reasons the group is able to claim that they successfully helped turn anti-gay and anti-Black history views into law and School Board action.

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Not happening in Los Angeles, says Carvalho, where the gay community’s “place is not in a dark corner.”

“It’s on stage with bright lights, and I’m deeply passionate about this. It’s part of our school system policy, our curriculum and our theory of action [to be inclusive at all grade levels],” he said.

“Treating immigrants as merchandise, as commodities that can be moved without consent or enacting policies against human beings because of who they are and who they love, that may be politically expedient for the short term, but for the long term it isn’t,” he added. “Times have changed already. That’s not the America we all want.”

This is why his leadership is sorely missed in Miami-Dade County Schools, unrecognizable under DeSantis’ anti-gay and anti-immigrant mandates.

“It breaks my heart,” Carvalho said. “I read the future well. I would have been their biggest target. Good people are being pushed out and left. So many great people are fearful, tormented and left behind.”

Newsom vs. DeSantis

In California, the anti-gay movement also has met with strong rejection from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“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,” Newsom said in a statement, referring to the DeSantis migrant flights to Sacramento and clashes in the two school districts over LGBTQ+ curriculum and Pride celebrations.

READ MORE: By turning immigrants into crime victims for publicity, DeSantis guarantees their stay | Opinion

Like every other state, California may have problems, like the housing affordability crisis, that go unsolved, but how refreshing it is to hear a unifying message instead of DeSantis’ dribble of lies and divisiveness for political purposes.

Californians in Sacramento will hear a mouthful of them when DeSantis flies in next week for a “roundtable breakfast” fundraiser priced at $3,300 per ticket.

Florida — once a battleground state where, only five years ago, politicos had to earn votes courting minorities, not dissing them — serves as a lesson on how quickly and fearlessly the right can push its message and win.

Newsom has his work cut out for him.

Temecula & Glendale anti-gay acts

In the Temecula Unified District, the School Board president led a move to strike LGBTQ+ discussions from elementary school curriculum and ban a biographical supplement about civil rights activist and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, calling him a “pedophile.”

“Ignorant,” Newsom called the baseless claims about the first openly gay man elected to office in California and assassinated in 1978 at San Francisco’s City Hall.

And on Wednesday, his office issued a joint-statement with California Attorney General Rob Bonta “urging” the Temecula Valley Unified School District Board of Education to provide information about its decision to reject the Social Studies Alive program in elementary school, a possible violation of the state’s FAIR Act.

“ . . . our kids have the freedom to learn — and there are consequences for denying that freedom,” Newsom said, using the same “freedom” verbiage DeSantis manhandles to deny representation and civil rights.

“California,” Newsom added, “is closely watching the actions of malicious actors seeking to ban books, whitewash history, and demonize the LGBTQ+ community in Temecula and across the state. If the law is violated, there will be repercussions.”


It was about time somebody took on homophobia and prejudice without fear of political liability.

In Glendale, the fourth largest city in Los Angeles County, conservative groups wearing T-shirts that read “Leave Our Kids Alone” clashed with gay-rights defenders outside of a school board meeting in a brawl that led to three arrests after punches were thrown and pepper spray dispersed.

The issue: whether the school district would recognize June as Pride month.

Speakers debated how sex education and gender issues are handled under school policy. Some argued that LGBTQ+ children must feel safe and included. Some made the same arguments as Moms for Liberty in Florida, claiming that by discussing gender identity in classrooms educators are usurping parental rights.

Everyone was heard, but the school board voted in favor of a resolution designating June as LGBTQ+ Pride month for the fifth year in a row.

That’s because, unlike Florida — where only Democratic civil rights activists fought DeSantis and the rest of the people caved — in California, from the school board level to the governor’s office, elected officials and education leaders are eloquently verbalizing the obvious.

‘False dichotomy’

There’s no question where the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education stands on gay issues, and following the burning of the teacher’s Pride flag at Saticoy Elementary in North Hollywood and a parents protest against a Pride school assembly, they took action.

All members not only voted in favor of, but also signed on as co-sponsors of board member Nick Melvoin’s resolution celebrating Pride Month and affirming support for the gay community.

Melvoin told local television station Fox 11 that he welcomes parental involvement and they should see how lessons are imparted “on the ground.” But he rejects the premise that sex and gender-identity education “sexualizes” and “grooms” students.

Similar cause-and-effect arguments were used in the 1960s and 70s to act against immigrant and Black families, he said.

He called the framing of issues as parent rights vs. inclusive education “a false dichotomy.”

“We need to prepare kids for the world as it exists and as it will be when they leave the schools,” Melvoin said. “ . . . Talking about families and different types of families is an appropriate thing in our school communities. It’s about making kids ready for the world as it exists.”

Words — and a reality — DeSantis and Florida conservatives, with their heads stuck in sand, don’t want to hear.