A Los Angeles elementary school has been rocked by an alleged hate crime after a teacher (who identifies as transgender) discovered their Pride flag was vandalized. The incident transpired amidst tensions between conservative parents and the liberal-leaning school district, all in the weeks leading up to LGBT Pride Month.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the full-time teacher (a transgender man) had displayed a lesbian flag in a flower pot. On May 22nd, the flag was found burnt, and the pot had been destroyed. The Los Angeles Police Department, which is investigating the event, believes the episode of vandalism occurred over the weekend before.
Officer Tony Im, from the LAPD, confirmed that police were regarding the act as a hate crime but refused to share details with BBC journalists. “We know the flag was burned; we responded,” Officer Im summarized and abstained from further comment due to the ongoing investigation.
The teacher has been removed from Saticoy Elementary School, a decision made by the Los Angeles Unified School District on the basis of safety concerns. Likewise, his picture was erased from the school’s website in a bid to protect his identity from additional backlash.
“We experienced a break-in over the weekend at Saticoy Elementary that resulted in vandalism and is being investigated as a hate-motivated incident,” read the school’s official statement to parents. “We are cooperating with law enforcement. This is a reminder that we rely on our entire school community to keep our school safe and secure by reporting any suspicious activity on campus after hours. If you see something, say something.”
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, “Transgender is a broad term that can be used to describe people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be when they were born.” The center recommends that people who identify as transgender should be treated “according to their gender identity, not their sex at birth. … A transgender man lives as a man today and should be referred to as ‘he’ and ‘him.’”
The flag-burning incident occurred during a wave of protests by conservative parents at the Southern California school. On May 16th, they created an Instagram account (@saticoyelementaryparents) to organize a boycott of the school’s Pride Month assembly, an event intended to teach children about same-sex couples. The anonymous account called for parents to keep their kids at home on June 2nd in order to show their disapproval.
Their post quickly drew the attention of the parents. It read: “Keep your kids home and innocent on Friday, June 2nd to boycott Gay Pride Spirit/ Rainbow Day Assembly.
Not long after the account was created, parents withdrew their children from classes being taught by a transgender substitute teacher, reported the LA Times. Prior to the Instagram account’s creation, the teacher had never received any complaints.
“It was awful,” described a Saticoy Elementary staff member, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. “I get that people have freedom of speech and the ability to believe and have their own opinions, but when it directly results in affecting the livelihood of another person, it’s unconscionable.”
In mid-May, the account posted the faces, names, and contact details of city officials and school administrators. This can be regarded as doxxing: “the intentional revelation of a person’s private information online without their consent, often with malicious intent.”
Similarly, a different, conservative-leaning Instagram page shared pictures of someone who they claimed was the transgender teacher targeted at the North Hollywood school before and after his transition. In a statement to BBC News, the city’s teachers’ union (United Teachers Los Angeles) unequivocally denounced “the egregious behavior by bigoted protestors that outed the gender identity of a teacher at Saticoy Elementary.”
On June 2nd, the school’s Pride assembly went on as scheduled. The director of the San Fernando Valley LGBTQ Center, Renato Lira, attended the event. In an interview with BBC journalists, Mr. Lira said the children liked the assembly, where teachers read from a book on all types of families, including ones with same-sex parents.
“[W]e wanted to show our love, respect, we’re united,” Mr. Lira asserted, emphasizing his belief that protesters were “trying to bully us.”
Outside, parents’ rights advocates railed against the event, which they characterized as “indoctrination” and “propaganda.” They argued that schools should obtain parental consent before teaching matters related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and other LGBTQ-related topics. “No sexual indoctrination!” and “The only people who want to teach kids sex: Pedophiles” were among the most inflammatory of their slogans.
Across the street, counter-protesters waved their own rainbow of Pride flags. Through a megaphone, one LGBTQ rights activist shouted: “Today, we’re here to celebrate Pride!” Their homemade signs echoed the sentiment, reading, “Hate has no home here.”
The Los Angeles School Police Department was forced to intercede when a physical struggle broke out among the protesters. No arrests were made, although one adult was treated for minor injuries.
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Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.