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Protests against LGBTQ inclusivity in schools have turned violent in LA County

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Topics like pandemic measures, race and LGBTQ rights have turned ordinary school board meetings controversial in recent years. In Los Angeles County this month, several protests against LGBTQ inclusivity in schools escalated to physical fights. As Sergio Olmos reports, the recent pattern of violence has parents and extremism experts concerned.

SERGIO OLMOS, BYLINE: Last week, outside a school board meeting in Glendale, a city in Los Angeles County, police stood ready in riot gear. Barricades separated hundreds of protesters, some shouting homophobic slurs, from a few dozen counter-protesters there to support the LGBTQ community. Then a fight broke out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Stop, stop, stop.

OLMOS: This isn't the first time where things got violent. In early June, a brawl erupted outside another Glendale school board meeting, where the board voted to recognize June as Pride Month. And shortly before that, a smaller fight broke out in front of an elementary school in North Hollywood, where protesters were opposing a scheduled Pride assembly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stop grooming our kids. Stop grooming our kids. Stop grooming our kids.

OLMOS: Sergio Julio was one of the people at the elementary school protest, though he says his son is in high school.

SERGIO JULIO: They were going to show them there's more than a man and a woman. There's a man and a man and a woman and a woman. You know what? Why don't you teach them math - you know? - science, history?

OLMOS: It's not clear if there's a central group organizing these protests in Los Angeles County. Some of the same people showed up to all three events. And at all three, protesters wore T-shirts that read, leave our kids alone. But no one would disclose who was buying or distributing the T-shirts. The protests have been promoted on social media platforms, including Instagram. Attempts to interview people behind some of those accounts were declined. For parents who support LGBTQ rights, these protests have been frightening.

EMILY: They're very aggressive, yelling a lot on the megaphone, calling us slurs, calling us groomers, calling us pedophiles.

OLMOS: Emily, who didn't want to use her last name out of concern for her safety, was at both Glendale protests. She's a parent with a child enrolled in elementary school in the Glendale School District and says she wants to support the LGBTQ community.

EMILY: I have a lot of friends in that space, and there are a lot of kids in our school that identify with it. And I just - I want to protect them and make sure that they're safe.

OLMOS: She says there's been pushback against the district before regarding mass vaccines and how race is discussed in school, but that this feels like a new level of disruption.

Heidi Beirich is co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. She calls the violence this month around these California schools an escalation.

HEIDI BEIRICH: This kind of activity at school boards is actually something new, although the last year has been absolutely horrific in terms of violence targeting Pride events, the LGBTQ community and anything really associated with that community.

OLMOS: In a statement after the protests, the Glendale School District said they were, quote, "committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment, where every child can learn and thrive." The school district has dedicated a section of their website to correcting disinformation about the school's curriculum and policies, including around LGBTQ issues.

For NPR News, I'm Sergio Olmos in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sergio Olmos

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