Since 2020, the Burlington School District has hosted a series of equity-focused online workshops, covering topics such as anti-racism, ableism, and restorative practices.
The monthly webinars aim to “highlight inequalities and disparities” and “create public forums for open dialogue as community problem solvers,” said Autumn Bangoura, head of equity education at the Burlington School District, in a news release announcing this school year’s schedule. .
But this week, school administrators discovered it wasn’t just Burlingtonians watching.
On April 6, conservative Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham aired a series of clips from one such workshop — sparking a flurry of disturbing messages aimed at the Burlington School District, the superintendent said.
“Over the past 24 hours, BSD staff and members of the LGBTQIA+ community have received hateful, harmful, and discriminatory messages from people across the country,” the Burlington school superintendent wrote. , Tom Flanagan, to community members in an April 7 email.
School officials contacted the Burlington Police Department to “ensure our staff and our community are safe and protected,” Flanagan wrote.
The incident highlights the renewed focus of the media and conservative politicians on school equity efforts — and the potential consequences for local school districts.
On her April 6 Fox News show, ‘The Ingraham Angle,’ the commentator claimed college kids are “bombarded by efforts to undo any semblance of traditional values their parents might have taught them,” then played a clip a workshop organized by the Burlington School District.
This webinar, titled “Let’s Talk About Gender Identity and Expression,” took place on February 8 and featured Edmunds High School Vice-Principal Nikki Ellis talking about their experiences as a trans person. non-binary.
In an email, Ellis said he received messages about “my physical appearance, speculation that I’m a pedophile for being transgender, and comments about the state of my mental health” after the segment aired.
“Some posts even demanded that I be imprisoned or fired because of my identity as a non-binary transgender headteacher,” they said.
School officials have since removed the video of this event. But according to the district’s webpage, attendees discussed, among other topics, the question, “How can we support transgender and non-binary youth in our schools and community?” »
Ingraham called these efforts predatory. The segment, a clip of which was titled “Ingraham: They go after the kids,” included a caption that read “Doom & Groom.”
Conservative media and politicians have recently embraced the term “grooming” — with its connotations of pedophilia and child abuse — to attack LGBTQ+ advocates and figures on the political left.
This rhetoric is “massive dog whistling,” said Dana Kaplan, executive director of Outright Vermont, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+ youth. “It plays on stereotypes and outright lies about a quote-unquote ‘queer agenda’.”
Events like the one in Burlington are an important way to create a safe environment for LGBTQ+ students, Kaplan and Ellis said.
“When you’re a queer kid and society tries to erase you, adulthood can seem a long way off,” Ellis said. “With visibility comes conversation, understanding and acceptance.”
Flanagan, the Burlington superintendent, said the district likely received more than 20 messages after the segment. There were no direct threats to the district, he said, but school officials are passing the messages on to the Burlington Police Department.
This isn’t the first time the neighborhood has found itself on the front lines of the culture wars. After a drag ball-themed halftime show at a Burlington high school football game received national media coverage, Flanagan said, the district also received a flood of messages from anger.
School officials plan to continue hosting the monthly workshops, which are optional for students and residents, but consider whether or not to film them in the future.
“It’s just important to me that our LGBTQ+ community knows that we care about them and are here for them, and that we are a space that sincerely strives to be a place where everyone feels at home. “, said Flanagan.
The reaction to the workshop “shows why we need to have conversations”, he added.
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