About 150 demonstrators who oppose LGBTQ+ education marched on Monday from City Hall to the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, where two counterprotesters were taken into custody as dozens of officers kept the opposing groups apart after heated exchanges.
The demonstrators came from across Southern California including San Diego, Antelope Valley, Glendale and Los Angeles. A few identified themselves as parents at Saticoy Elementary School, where fighting broke out between opposing sides during a demonstration over a Gay Pride activity in June.
Demonstrators had a long list of issues, demanding that discussion about the LGBTQ+ community and sex-related education be kept out of schools. They also want school districts to notify parents if their child asks to identify in school in a manner different than the gender assigned to that student at birth.
"We believe that there is a radical indoctrination system that has seeped from academia and now into K through 12. We've been trying to get kiddie porno smut books out of the schools," said Ben Richards, who described himself as a San Diego parent and the founder of SoCal Parent Advocates. "And we don't want people to talk about sex with our children without telling us and behind our backs."
Richards carried an American flag and wore a military green T-shirt emblazoned with "Dad Army." He said his group also opposes critical race theory and vaccine mandates.
Critical race theory examines how racial inequality and racism are systemically embedded in American institutions.
The Los Angeles protests are part of recent clashes over gender issues and race in education, where school boards in some conservative pockets of California are supportive of their demands. Several Southern California school districts, including Chino Valley and then Murietta, have mandated parental notification if a child is transgender. The Orange Unified School District is also considering a mandate.
On Monday, the demonstrators' soundtrack over loudspeakers included Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall," containing lyrics that participants emblazoned on T-shirts: "Leave Our Kids Alone." The group also played "God Over Government" and a rap recording that proclaimed Donald Trump the greatest president ever.
At the counterprotest, the soundtrack included "I'm Coming Out" from Diana Ross and "Got to Be Real" from Cheryl Lynn. The Los Angeles teachers union was able to muster a small delegation — the protest was during school hours — and other groups also took part.
Counterprotesters brought up the recent killing of Laura Ann Carleton, 66, outside her store in Lake Arrowhead, in what's being investigated as a possible hate crime after an armed man railed about her display of a LGBTQ+ pride flag. The suspected shooter was later confronted and killed by sheriff's deputies.
"In this disguise of parents' rights," the protesters are "unleashing ... a nationwide attack against LGBT people," said Michelle Xai, who said she belonged to a revolutionary community group.
The anti-LGBTQ+ education protesters insisted they oppose violence.
Initially, at City Hall, the police presence was minimal as the groups gathered on opposite sides of the street on different parts of the block. But they began to mix and get in each other's faces. About three dozen police cruisers and motorcycles, sirens screaming, descended on the scene. Dozens of officers in riot gear established a human barrier.
Leaders of both groups urged their members to stay apart and keep the peace. Demonstrators held cameras and cellphones as people filmed themselves and opposing demonstrators. Protesters used a banner to block one person with a camera from entering their ranks, but others got through.
The anti-LGBTQ+ education protesters talked of plans to regroup in the evening at the Temecula school board meeting.
The L.A. Board of Education was meeting at the time, but had nothing on its agenda related to LGBTQ+ issues. Still, board President Jackie Goldberg responded to the allegations against public-school curriculum.
"We follow state laws and state-approved curriculum for all of our students," Goldberg said. "Approving curriculum is a long, arduous process and one that includes multiple opportunities for public input."
She also responded to the demands about notifying parents when a student asked to be recognized as a different gender in school.
"Our first priority is always always the children," she said. "We encourage family engagement when a student is having issues unless it is not safe for that student."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.