On Monday, October 22, a group of LGBTQ rights activists and allies gathered outside Brea City Hall to encourage the Board of the Brea Olinda Unified School District to implement a 2016 state law called The California Healthy Youth Act (AB 329), which says that students in grades 7-12 receive “Comprehensive Sexual Education.” Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the new law is its inclusion of instruction on gender and sexual orientation.
LGBTQ activists and allies gathered and spoke to Brea School Board.
Though the law went into effect two years ago, the Brea School District has not yet officially implemented AB 329 curriculum, in part because of the organizing efforts of conservative activists to prevent its implementation not just in Brea, but in cities around Orange County.
Organizers of the rally said that the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric at a recent Brea School Board meeting, combined with President Trump’s recent memo about not legally recognizing queer and trans people, prompted them to take action.
“Today’s goal is to grow community, to get more people talking about it, and encourage people to show up. Brea School board keeps postponing implementing the law. We want it back on the agenda,” said Liz Sanchez, an organizer of the rally.
Liz Sanchez and others make signs in support of LGBTQ rights.
Around 5:30, folks started showing up in the open-air plaza at the Brea Civic Center to set up tables and make signs which contained slogans like:
Inclusive Sex Ed Can Save a Trans Child’s Life
The Future is Not Binary
Supporting Trans Lives
Among those present to support the rally were Dave and Carol, who attend the socially progressive Brea Congregational church, which recently hosted a “Teach-In” to educate their community about queer and trans culture and history.
“For any social causes, whether it’s climate change, the LGBTQ community…we like think of ourselves as a safe place,” said Dave.
Carol said that their church received some angry backlash for merely hosting such an event.
“It’s interesting because on local sites like Nextdoor, people got so angry—what’s a church doing this for? Our belief is that’s what we should be doing—whether it be educating people, providing a safe space—that’s what our little church believes in,” said Carol, “We don’t believe in telling people “keep out”—it’s the wrong idea of what Jesus would do.”
“Unfortunately, even where there are comprehensive sex ed programs across the country, few of them are LGBTQ friendly,” said Noel, “Of all the places this is happening, California should have comprehensive sex ed that is queer-friendly.”
Shane was wearing a t-shirt that read “Black Trans Lives Matter.”
“I definitely think that comprehensive sex education, especially LGBTQ, is important because it can get dangerous if people don’t have the right information,” said Shane, “You’re letting kids not have the information they need to protect themselves, which is what adults should be trying to do, but instead they’re trying to take away information just because they don’t agree with it, which to me is not right.”
Angel, who identifies as trans, said that people like her have been erased from history, and continue to experience oppression and efforts at erasure.
Anastasia holds up a trans flag.
“We’re out here because queer and trans people have always been in a state of emergency,” said Angel, “I think the recent policy proposals from Trump’s memo, the AB 329 backlash for comprehensive sex ed for queer/trans youth is just a reiteration of just how much of an emergency we are in.”
Angel said that, by not recognizing the rights of trans people, “We’re telling them their existence is not valid, and we’re stripping them of life-saving resources like shelter, mental health services, and health care.”
“It’s exhausting to constantly have to convince the world why we’re valid, that gender is not binary, that biological sex is a social construct,” she said, “We exist and we’re not going anywhere. We’ve always existed.”
Lauren Stearns, a family doctor in Brea, said, “a person’s sexual health is key to their total health. The way that sex ed has been taught is very heteronormative.”
Jose said he was concerned about undocumented LGBTQ folks who are detained and mistreated by ICE.
As more folks gathered to join the rally, Sanchez and other people gave speeches.
“Within the queer and trans community, our heroes from the Civil Rights movement aren’t often heard about, like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Bayard Rustin—there are so many people who are just not in the history books,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez said that ignorance about sex as adult is a direct consequence of not having progressive, comprehensive sex ed.
“I was ignorant because of the school system,” Sanchez said, adding that a lack of correct information about sex can lead to negative consequences— “We’re seeing people confused, depressed, suicide rates are up—we can go on and on.”
Shane, who is trans, said, “I have friends who are afraid to come out, to seek help, to seek resources. Why? Because we have an administration of conservatives…trying to say that we don’t exist. But we do exist. I’m here. I exist. I’m not a figment of someone’s imagination. I’m not a unicorn. I wish I was.”
After speeches, attendees at the rally raised their signs and chanted:
When queer and trans people are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!
When queer and trans people are under attack, what do we do? Resist! fight back!
Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Bigotry has got to go!
2,4,6,8 Don’t assume your kid is straight!
Speeches and chants outside the School Board meeting.
A PR person from the school board came out and said that they could hear the chanting inside the School Board meeting. A few Brea police officers stood by, perhaps waiting for things to get out of hand, which they did not. Their presence merely prompted the rally to chant still louder:
We’re here! We’re queer! We’re not going anywhere!
Ho Ho! Hey Hey! Queer and trans people need rights today!
Around 6:30, rally participants entered the Brea Council chambers and lined up along the back wall, holding up their hand-made signs. Several people spoke during the “Public Comment” section.
A handful of people spoke against SB 329 or aspects of it.
A woman read from a report put out by a group called The American College of Pediatricians, which has been called an anti-LGBT domestic hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center: “The American College of Pediatricians (ACpeds) calls attention to the failure of the so-called Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) to protect our children.”
“California is overreaching with our children…We’re responsible for them until they’re 18, according to our beliefs and values,” said one parent.
Robert, an elderly man wearing a Make America Great Again hat, urged the School Board to visit www.stopcse.org, a web site dedicated to stopping California’s comprehensive sex education, which is sponsored by a group called Family Watch International, which is also an anti-LGBT domestic hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The California Healthy Youth Act is a war against our children,” he said.
A man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat speaks against the California Healthy Youth Act.
Another parent expressed her frustration that her high-school age daughter was already receiving sex education that included information about sexual orientation.
“AB 329 is not about being more inclusive or more tolerant, but it’s but the early sexualization of our children, and losing our right as a parent to say when is the right age to learn about sex. I don’t feel my children are the state’s property,” she said.
Another parent expressed her outrage that, in a unit on LGBTQ history, students were taught about the ancient practice of “pedistry”—in which an older man would take a young boy as his sexual partner and mentor.
“No place under this does it say that this is an illegal act, that no child should consent to an adult,” she said, holding up a worksheet, suggesting that teaching about a historical practice was the same as condoning that practice.
She said that the activists were engaging in “reverse bullying” and that she herself is not intolerant because she has a gay nephew and a lesbian cousin.
LGBTQ supporters lined up along the back wall at the school board meeting.
The vast majority of those who spoke during public comment spoke in support of AB 329 in general, and inclusion of LGBTQ education in particular.
Sharon, a 30-year resident of Brea, a parent, and retired school administrator said, “I think it’s important for the board to know that there are long-time Brea residents and educators who are fully supportive of a complete and comprehensive implementation of AB 329.”
Another speaker said, “I wish AB 329 was something implemented when I was in elementary through high school, because maybe I wouldn’t have been so afraid to come out. I would have known it’s okay to be queer…I wouldn’t have been so scared to use the bathroom that I would hold it until after school.”
A Brea parent and a school psychologist said, “It’s a huge and tragic part of my life as a psychologist treating individuals who are isolated, with no one to turn to. I picture them as basically walking on a tightrope, many of them without any net to catch them…The Assembly Bill seeks to create a curriculum to help individuals understand a bit more about themselves, and their families to understand about what they’re going through.”
A local professor with a doctorate degree in anthropology said, “The anthropological record, when we look at it across time and geography, gives us numerous examples that show us that the idea that gender is a binary is simply not universal…So, in light of that, I encourage you to recognize the full array of humanity and reflect that in your educational decisions by supporting AB 329.”
A family doctor and parent in Brea said that the American Academy of Pediatrics is already citing benefits since the advent of AB 329—an increase in the percent of sexually active youth who use birth control, and a decrease in the number of students who have multiple sexual partners.
She cited a study which found that LGBTQ youth experience high rates of physical and emotional bias and violence, rejection by families and peers, and inadequate support in schools and communities because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Insisting on a strict gender binary is simply not supported by medical fact,” said this doctor, “There are at least 40 genital variations in sexual development. Up to 1.7 percent of people worldwide have what are known as ‘intersex traits’—roughly proportional to the people with red hair.”
Angel, who identifies as trans, said, that she was traumatized by going through ‘conversion therapy’ for a big part of her schooling.
“I’m still here and I’m still queer. And this shows how we will not cease to exist regardless of all the steps that people try to take to erase us from existence,” she said.
For now, the Brea Olinda School Board has not taken action to implement AB 329.