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Efforts to restrict rights of LGBTQ+ youth are ramping up

 June 7, 2023 at 5:20 PM PDT

S1: Welcome in San Diego. It's Jade Hindman. Today we are talking about the challenges Lgbtq+ youth are having in the classroom as some school district policies target their identity. This is Kpbs Midday Edition Connecting our Communities Through conversation. Efforts to erase Lgbtq+ curriculum in schools are ramping up across the country and in San Diego County. Last week , students at Carlsbad High walked out of class to protest what they say is a lack of support for the LGBTQ Plus community. This includes recent actions by their vice principal , who called for no sexual identity or gender ideology , curriculum groups or celebrations on public school campuses at a church event. The district also postponed a vote on raising the Pride flag. Meanwhile , at Escondido Union , two teachers recently sued the district over a policy requiring educators call students by their preferred pronouns and not disclose their gender identities to their parents without permission. Here to talk more about the challenges Lgbtq+ youth are facing is Fernando Lopez , the executive director at San Diego Pride. And Fernando. Welcome back to Midday Edition.

S2: Thank you so much for having me.

S1: All of these actions are part of a larger movement happening across the country.

S2: It's hard for folks to understand in this climate that all LGBTQ youth are really looking for is a supportive home , supportive parents and supportive households. And when you think about the fact that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT identified and they're there because they have families who throw them out on the street like garbage , and that's not really what it looks like when you're supporting or protecting children and families , which is so often the argument that is made on the extreme right. These battles are not new. The lies and misinformation are not new. But I think what is new is that we are seeing a growing amount of support here. Of course , in the state of California and all across the country , that I think the lesson that our LGBT parents , youth and educators need to understand in this moment is that while these battles are not new. Support for our community is at a historic high. More than 80% of the American public supports full , equal protection under the law. And so it's really scary out there to see so many on the far right talk so poorly , so discriminatory and so violently about our youth , our parents and our teachers. But really , the message needs to be you're not alone and support is at a record high.

S1: What challenges are Lgbtq+ students in particular facing today ? Absolutely.

S2: When you're having part of the core of your identity called into question with these deep rooted lies and misinformation , it has a psychological toll on folks of any age , whether you're a parent , teacher or young person. And what we're seeing through some of these recent studies that over 50% of our transgender youth have considered suicide in this last year , and nearly 93% of trans youth are concerned about even their ability to access health care. And so , again , when the when the message on these from these extremists is that they need to protect our young people , they're not seeing they're not understanding the deep emotional and physical toll that they're taking on our youth.

S1: And I know you've worked with a lot of youth through your involvement with San Diego Pride. So what are you hearing from them about their feelings on everything happening at school and really in this climate.

S2: Again , for them , you know , for our young people , they haven't lived through this before , right ? For our young people , this is the first time , especially if they're in support of programs like there are so many supportive LGBTQ youth programs all across San Diego County. So to hear this sort of indescribably disgusting and violent rhetoric being echoed out through media channels on social media and too , oftentimes at their dinner table , they don't know what to do. They don't know how to respond. And yet we're finally seeing some of our youth organize and fight back and walk out. And that's part of what programs like the Center and San Diego Pride and North County Center and in San Diego and so many of these other organizations around are trying to help give parents , teachers and these youth a voice and show them how they can have their own agency and fight back against this discrimination. And I couldn't be more proud to see these folks standing up in the face of hate.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. I'm speaking with Fernando Lopez , the executive director at San Diego Pride , about the challenges Lgbtq+ youth are facing in San Diego and across the country. Chula Vista Elementary School District recently voted on a resolution to raise the Pride flag and other measures that will support inclusivity and equality for students.

S2: The fact that Chula Vista would say not here , not in this school district , that's what our kids need right now. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S2: But even small gestures like rainbow stickers to show that there is supportive classroom or rainbow lanyard or a rainbow sticker on their lanyard to show that they're a teacher that can be approached if the student has an unsupportive household , small things like that , and making sure that there are LGBT resources available in the classroom to these students. Like they said , there are so many organizations around the region that are here to be welcoming , opening and affirming for our LGBTQ youth educators and these parents who are just really trying to figure out how best to support these students , having those resources available to them in the classroom. The students and the parents can be really key to connecting folks to lifesaving services and care. Now , of course , a lot of those services and regional organizations can be found on the San Diego Pride website Pride org slash youth. We don't just highlight our programs , we highlight a lot of the regional programs because we want to make sure that regardless of where you are in the county or what specific service that it is that you need , you're able to find access to that.

S1: There's also been a record breaking number of bills targeting transgender youth across the country and in California. You mentioned earlier some of the challenges trans students in particular are facing.

S2: And folks with no medical training , no medical experience are attempting to intervene in these folks personal lives and medical decisions. I'm there to trust our doctors. I'm there to trust science because none of what this anti-lgbtq and anti-trans legislation has to do. None of it is rooted in fact or science. It's all rooted in fear , discrimination.

S1: What are some of the legislative issues that are being brought forward ? I mean , I know , you know , in April , California had a bill requiring schools to out transgender students to parents , and that bill died.

S2: And I think some of the most terrifying pieces of legislation are ones that would put people in prison , pieces of legislation that would take parents and health care providers and either put them in prison or take their children away simply for attempting to provide life saving health care. One of the other new pieces of legislation that's coming out of Florida says that if you have a difference in belief , the person whose life you're trying to save , that you wouldn't have to provide life saving services and health care. That's some of the most terrifying pieces of legislation that we're looking at right now. So when we say that LGBTQ folks are terrified and we're not doing okay right now , and that is having a mental psychological toll , it is because of the real world , real lived implications that are happening from a legal standpoint all across this country right now. This is 2023 and we're looking at this deeply fascist attacks on the LGBT community. This is happening right here , right now , this year in the United States. And it's time now more than ever for the LGBT community and our allies to stand up to this sort of disgusting , reprehensible and un-American attack on the LGBT community.

S1: I've been speaking with Fernando Lopez , the executive director at San Diego Pride. Fernando , thank you so much for joining us.

S2: Thank you so much. Happy pride.

S1: Happy pride. We'd love to hear your thoughts. Give us a call at (619) 452-0228. Leave a message or you can email us at midday at Coming up , we continue the discussion on book bans and explore who's behind them.

S3: Overwhelmingly , we saw books that have Lgbtq+ characters or identity. It is being challenged and banned and books that feature characters of color.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman. We've been talking about the movement to restrict the rights of LGBTQ plus youth in schools. Book bans are escalating in classrooms and libraries across the country , all in an effort to censor stories on race , history , sexual orientation and gender. Many of the titles in question at the moment center on LGBTQ plus themes and characters , and the battle over banning books is also happening right here in San Diego , as some activists and parents push to remove books with LGBTQ plus themes in Poway Unified and Oceanside Unified. And just last year in the Rancho Santa Fe School District , staff removed some LGBTQ Plus titles from a fall book fair. So what's happening here ? I'm joined by Casey Meehan , the director of Pen America's Freedom to Read Project. Casey , welcome. Hi.

S3: Hi. Thank you for having me.

S1: So first , how did school literature become the target of book bans ? We first saw this with the banning of black history , black authors and just really an honest account of history.

S3: So as you mentioned , it started with educational gag orders or restrictions from , you know , legislated state policy to prevent teaching of certain concepts or ideas or identities. And then that has been coupled with a movement , a very well coordinated movement across the country to restrict access to certain books in public schools. Many of those books being targeted are books that feature Lgbtq+ characters or talk about Lgbtq+ themes , books that talk about race and racism or future characters of color. And then this fall , we have started seeing the challenges expand to also target books discussing any sexual content. So that could be books about , you know , sexual experiences as well as books about sexual assault books that , you know , talk about general like sex health and wellbeing as well. Okay.

S1: Okay.

S3: You know , traditionally , there have always been avenues for parents or , you know , concerned individuals or educators to challenge books that are being made available to students. And historically , like traditionally , that has looked like , you know , maybe an individual objecting to a specific book based on a specific set of challenges. But what we see now is a more coordinated effort where lists of books are being shared or being submitted as books that are being challenged to districts. And we also see the way in which rhetoric around this is shifting and evolving , where books are being labeled as pornographic or obscene. When these books that are being challenged do not meet any well-established legal or colloquial definition of pornography or of obscenity. So this increased rhetoric has really been used to advance justification for removing books. And , you know , oftentimes those decisions are being played out at school boards.

S1: As you mentioned earlier , book bans often focus on censoring specific concepts and identities. Talk a bit more about that.

S3: So now we're looking at the second , you know , academic school year that we've been tracking. And in that first school year , you know , overwhelmingly we saw books that have Lgbtq+ characters or identities being challenged and banned and books that feature characters of color. This fall , that trend persists in addition to seeing book bans sort of go after a wider swath of titles. So some of our data from the first semester of this academic school year or the or the fall also show that books that portray violence or abuse , books that discuss topics of health and wellbeing and books that cover grief and death , sort of , you know , what we're calling is like books that talk about things that can make some people uncomfortable or that are challenging. Those are the books that are also being challenged as well. So we've really seen how this movement is shifting and shifting and growing and expanding.


S3: That book bans limit students access to diversity of views and stories that school libraries that have historically served the educational. By making knowledge and ideas available are. You know , being restricted and that this effort to censor books is kind of shaping school libraries through a very narrow political or personal ideology when school libraries really should be , you know , a place where books remain available regardless of personal or political ideologies and ideas. So we we continue to bring awareness to this issue through our research. We continue to partner with folks on the ground that are pushing back to really make sure that , you know , individuals are equipped with the resources and the knowledge to keep books on school library shelves rather than restricting them from access.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman speaking with Casey Meehan , the director of Pen America's Freedom to Read Project. We're talking about book bans across the country and more specifically , its impact on LGBTQ youth.

S3: So of the books that have been banned this fall , many of them touch on LGBTQ plus themes. So the most banned book last year , as well as continuing in this first half of the school year is Gender Queer , which is tied with flamer. So they talk about , you know , real lived experiences of Lgbtq+ individuals. Of the 11 titles that have been banned , four of those books are written by authors of color and four are written by Lgbtq+ individuals. And we know these ideas and these stories have been historically underrepresented both in publishing as well as in school library collections. So it's at this moment where , you know , more and more educators and librarians and district administrators are making efforts to increase the representation of their school libraries being faced with this pushback to keep those identities off school library shelves.


S3: We also know that when those books aren't available , students often like look for resources in books to help them understand themselves , help them understand the world that they live in. Help them understand others who have different lived experiences. So by removing those books , we're really removing resources for our young , young learners. And we also know , you know , students are upset that these decisions are being made without their voice , without centering , you know , their own educational experiences in this conversation.


S3: I mean , librarians , you know , our sense and from what we hear from librarians that we're partnering closely with on this issue is that , you know , they feel like their own kind of professional training is being questioned. In addition , you know , there is this chilling effect that pen America speaks to where , you know , educators and librarians are a bit more timid to talk about certain identities or ideas or concepts or to , you know , hand a book to a student that they think that student might mean if it has , you know , Lgbtq+ identities or is talking about race and racism and segregation. So we do see the way in which there's direct effects on educators and librarians , as well as these more indirect effects of just building out a larger chilling effect where our professional educators and specialists are kind of questioning or have a little bit more reserve around what they are providing to students.


S3: We do know that most people are not for book banning. There's a vocal minority that's demanding censorship here. And often they're doing it in ways that , you know , kind of are really provocative. So taking books out of context or holding up a few , you know , images from a book or pulling out some lines. So the challenge here is to really help people who are for books , kind of take books in their wholeness , understand the principle of. Speech that is at risk here and then , you know , really support them in coordinating and resourcing across schools , across districts to push back and to keep those books available for students in school.

S1: Libraries in states like Texas and Florida obviously lead the country in the number of banned books across school districts. But this is also happening in California , too , and in our own backyard here in San Diego. Do you see these book bans spreading ? Yes.

S3: I mean , we you know , we really we are doing everything we can to stop the spread of book bans. And the movement is rather persistent and it is showing up in places that are perhaps surprising , such as San Diego or Los Angeles and California in general. We saw , you know , earlier this week that in Temecula Valley at a school board meeting , they voted to reject an elementary school social studies book that contained information about the gay rights activist Harvey Milk. So we do see these instances across California that are really driving decisions here on what books are and are not available. You know , we did also see last week the governor's office , the attorney general's office and the state superintendents office , you know , really speak out that they , you know , book bans have no place in California. So we do hope that there's sort of enough awareness and resistance across the state that , you know , we won't see it proliferate in the same way we do in other states. But we certainly do see this movement show up in in all places , some some of which are surprising as well.


S3: It's open org slash action AC tion on that website. We have lots of ways that pen America is pushing back. We recently filed a lawsuit against a school district in Florida challenging the constitutionality of their book bans. We offer , you know , talking points for parents and educators and librarians. You know , if books are being challenged in their particular community , there's different tip sheets that we offer around how to fight a book ban. We're also offering free expression advocacy institutes for high schoolers and college students to learn more about their rights and how to protect their own free speech and the freedom to read for themselves. So there's lots of ways that we're , you know , kind of working from research to helping resource , you know , coalitions and and advocates that are pushing back against bans.

S1: I've been speaking with Casey Meehan , the director of Pen America's Freedom to Read Project. Casey , thank you very much.

S3: Thank you.

S1: Still ahead , an excerpt from Kpbs Freeway exit podcast now.

S4: And this is like the visceral experience of our urban and natural environment that , you know , massive car infrastructure drowns out.

S1: You're listening to Kpbs Midday Edition. We'll be right back.

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Pictured, Carlsbad High School students staging walk out. May 30, 2023.
Tania Thorne
Pictured, Carlsbad High School students staging walk out. May 30, 2023.

Efforts are underway to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ youth across the country, including San Diego County. Last week, students at Carlsbad High walked out to protest what they said was a lack of support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Book bans are also escalating in classrooms and libraries in an effort to suppress certain content, particularly about race, history, sexual orientation and gender. Many of the books in question have LGBTQ+ characters and themes.

As we enter Pride Month, we look at what is happening at both the local and national level, and the concentrated efforts to censor LGBTQ+ voices and stories.


Fernando López, executive director at San Diego Pride

Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read program director at PEN America