Tensions rose at the first San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education meeting of the 2023-24 school year on Tuesday as members of the public debated the display of Pride flags on school campuses.
Before the meeting, people filled the meeting space and spilled out into the hallway and filled the lobby of the small building in Danville on Old Orchard Drive. Occasionally, murmurs, chatter and cheering would make their way from the hallway into the meeting room.
Much of the debate came as the school board prepared to vote on several resolutions for the school year, including ones that would mandate flying a Pride flag during the month of June and recognition of the National Day of Silence, a day meant to bring awareness to anti-LGBT bullying.
Dozens in attendance Tuesday signed up for public comment, prompting the school board to split the public comment section so that board members could address other matters before the end of the meeting.
In a scene that has played out in school board meetings across the country, the room was split between those who approved of the board's efforts toward diversity and inclusion, and residents who felt the measures were an overreach by the district.
During the public comments, some questioned the school district's role in discussions of sexuality and gender, saying that those topics should be left to the parents to talk about with children at home.
In attendance were several members of the Contra Costa County chapter of Moms for Liberty, a controversial group that organizes against LGBT content in schools and recently came under fire when a chapter in Indiana put out a newsletter that quoted Adolf Hitler. Several others in the crowd attended in "Stop Moms for Liberty" T-shirts and handed out pamphlets arguing against the group's agenda.
Occasionally, visibly frustrated board members would rein in the crowd or ask speakers to limit their comments to items on the agenda.
One speaker who objected to the use of the Pride flag was Mike Arata, questioned if they would fly the Gadsden flag -- a Revolutionary War-era flag with a serpent and the phrase "Don't tread on me" that has become a symbol of libertarianism -- or the flag of Gays against Groomers, a group known for campaigning against gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
Other speakers brought up concerns that children who do not participate in Pride celebrations or the National Day of Silence might be bullied or ostracized by their fellow students.
Terry Thompson, who said two of his children attended SRVUSD schools, objected to the celebration of Pride month, saying it was the district's duty to teach students basic reading, writing and arithmetic, rather than promoting "pornography, wokeness and LGBT ideology," which he said children should be shielded from.
Taylor denBroeder, president of the Danville-San Ramon Valley chapter of PFLAG, a pro-LGBTQ group, spoke to the importance of recognizing Pride month and LGBTQ history in schools based on his conversations with local students and parents.
"The ability for them to have even a day, much less a month, or any event where they can feel seen and feel loved and feel supported by the district is amazing," denBroeder said.
Bob Allen, a math teacher at California High School, said that SRVUSD was the first school district he has worked for where he feels comfortable being an openly gay man and praised the board for their commitment to diversity and inclusion.
"Are you going to talk to the people who will have a discussion with you, or are you going to talk to the people who are up here dehumanizing our students, dehumanizing our teachers, or dehumanizing the members of this community who happen to be different from them? And that is why we still need these resolutions," said Allen.
Several students of SRVUSD schools spoke in favor of the resolutions, telling the board that they objected to discrimination based on sexuality or gender and that they appreciated the welcoming environment created by open acknowledgment of LGBT issues or the display of Pride symbols.
Anya Ayyappan, the student member of the school board, said that in conversations with students, most attendees at SRVUSD schools have asked for more attention to be paid to issues involving race or sexuality, and also pointed out that Pride month is celebrated during June, which is during summer break when most students are not on campus.
The board passed the resolutions unanimously, at which point the room began to clear. Several stayed to comment on non-agenda items, which caused the meeting to run long and required a vote by the board to extend.
"If we want students to learn and teachers to support their academic success, then we need to be able to ensure their safety, both physically and emotionally," said board member Shelley Clark. "The Pride flag is not an explicitly political symbol. It displays support for the values of diversity, equity and inclusion so that all students can thrive. It is a symbol of support for students which should not be politicized."
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