Calls For More Education on LGBTQ Issues

Board of Education President Dr. Suzie Abajian (from left), Clerk Dr. Michele Kipke, Board Member Jon Primuth and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Karen Reed at a school board meeting June 11, at which concerns were raised by some parents over LGBTQ education at the elementary level. At the June 25 meeting, the board heard support for such a curriculum. Photo by Skye Hannah

More than two dozen speakers came out to the South Pasadena Unified School District school- board meeting on June 25 to voice their support for continuing and expanding LGBTQ education and awareness in the elementary schools’ curriculum.

A fundraiser started shortly after and raised money for all the city’s elementary schools to have books on the topic available to students and teachers.

The speakers were responding to comments made at the June 11 school-board meeting, at which a group of parents noted concerns that LGBTQ books were being taught in local schools without their permission.

Marengo Elementary School parent Alan Ma presented a set of children’s books he said were from the school’s classroom.

“We the parents feel extremely uncomfortable for our kids to be exposed to this LGBT content at this very early age,” said Ma. “We truly believe the LGBT content is not age appropriate for elementary kids.”

Speaking at the June 25 meeting, Ed Donnelly, co-founder of South Pasadena DUDES (Dads Uniting Dads in Education and Service) shared that he and other SPUSD parents he spoke with were “launching a fundraising campaign to ensure that every teacher, every student and everyone in South Pasadena has the resources they need to continue to teach LGBT curriculum in our schools, to our kids, now.”

In the fundraiser, parents raised money to buy two sets of 11 books for each elementary school, with one set going to the school library and the other to be a shared resource for classroom use. The fundraiser was created June 28 on and raised $1,468, with 43 people donating.

South Pasadena High School senior Caroline Kimble said she felt “disheartened” that opposition to LGBT education was happening within the community, which she felt was always diverse and inclusive.

She said she hoped the education would help children of all identities in elementary schools to know that their sexual orientation was valid and normal. It would also help children who were heterosexual, she said.

“Even for children who don’t identify, they need to understand it’s normal too, especially if their parents aren’t talking to them about it,” said Kimble. “So then children who come out, like maybe later on or in elementary school, aren’t tormented from children who were never educated on the topic or don’t understand as well.”

Helen Mendoza, a self-identified lesbian mother of two biracial children raised in South Pasadena, shared with strong emotion her own thoughts on the warm acceptance they have felt throughout the community for her family. She noted that, to erase the histories or stories of any group of people would lead to marginalization, then to discrimination, then violence, then death.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s LGBTQ, if it’s POC [People of Color], black lives, blue lives — that’s what happens,” said Mendoza.

After the public comments, Board Clerk Dr. Michele Kipke shared that she was touched by the presence of so many supportive community members.

“As a member of the LGBT community, I wish I had been raised in a school district like this,” said Kipke. “As a member of the LGBT community and with two daughters who have two moms, I am so happy they don’t experience any type of discrimination or stigma at all, and that is what makes this community so special.”

She thanked all the families who attended to voice their beliefs on the issue and noted “everyone is entitled to all beliefs” while saying she would work to collect evidence on the data that they shared, feeling it was inaccurate.
“To the families who were here at our last board meeting, who had such strong opposition to the manner in which we support our students, I will say this: the factual data that they presented to the board is wrong. The messages that they shared are potentially harmful to all of our children.”

Board Member Jon Primuth shared that the administration listened to parents’ concerns and worked to explain and clarify the LGBT curriculum while respecting their parental authority and rights.

“I think that what I’ve really seen tonight is people who are committed to making a more perfect union, a better community and a community where all people feel like they can have a chance at being treated fairly and having happiness in society,” said Primuth.

“The way we create a better community is through more understanding. More understanding requires empathy and understanding personal experience. If you don’t have personal experience of being ostracized, or marginalized or in the minority, you have to borrow that from someone else, and the way to do that is … through friendship, through listening to other experiences, through stories, and if we can increase our capacity for empathy in our children, we can progress as a society.”