Parent Claims Outrage Over Denver Elementary School’s Trans and Queer-Inclusive Assembly

A Denver elementary school is standing firm in support of their scheduled diversity program despite alleged parental backlash — a backlash that might not even actually exist.

Superior Elementary School is planning a school-wide assembly in late November, featuring a live performance about diversity and self-acceptance. Teachers will also show videos about being kind to peers of varying gender identities and orientations.

But in a note sent anonymously to local media, a person claiming to be a parent said that the lessons — which have already been vetted by staff — were not age-appropriate.

“We are saddened that this highly controversial and divisive topic would be invited to be presented to such young children,” the individual wrote. There is no indication who “we” refers to, or how many people actually take issue with the program.

The planned assembly will feature a play by Phoenix, Colorado’s transgender community choir. Performers will enact a story about a raven that is misidentified by other animals until they are encouraged to listen to the raven’s self-identification.

Prior to the performance, individual classrooms will also watch videos by Queer Kid Stuff, an LGBTQ-inclusive YouTube channel designed for young viewers. Hosted by Lindsey Amer, the friendly videos are described as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood meets Gender Studies 101.” Titles of recent videos include “I is for intersex,” “We have so many feelings about mental health,” a sing-along about consent, and “What’s a SPECTRUM?!?”

“This is fairly typical in the Boulder Valley School District, to have our students learn about inclusivity and about compassion to other people and their differences,” Randy Barber, chief communications officer for the district, told a local CBS station.

The dust-up comes less than a month after another anonymous gripe about a different Denver school’s drag queen story hour. In October, an unidentified individual sent angry letters to the same local news station claiming “parents are in an outrage” after a drag performer read a story about bullying to kids at Rocky Top Middle School on Career Day. Again, there was no indication who sent the notes, whether they are actually a parent, or whether they represent anyone with children attending the school.

In that case, the school apologized for not informing parents about the drag queen’s visit — but they did not apologize for having invited a drag queen. The Principal pledged that parents would be advised about all Career Day guests in the future. Following that resolution, Superior Elementary School sent notifications to parents about their upcoming diversity event.

Trans inclusion has been an issue in Colorado schools for years, particularly after a 2013 incident that grabbed international headlines. Fountain’s Eagleside Elementary School, about 80 miles south of Denver, attempted to force a six-year-old transgender girl named Coy to use the boy’s restroom. Coy’s parents resisted, enlisting the help of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.

In response, school district attorney Wm. Kelly Dude wrote a letter misgendering Coy, insisting that the decision was made with regard to “other students in the building, their parents and the future impact a boy, with male genitals, using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older.”

Of course, in reality, sex, gender, and genitals do not always adhere to a binary male or female.

Eventually, the Colorado Civil Rights Division overturned Eagleside Elementary School’s policy, writing that educators had violated Coy’s rights in a manner that was “hostile … intimidating … and offensive.”

Filmmakers followed the family through their ordeal, releasing a feature-length documentary called Growing Up Coy that is currently available on Netflix.

The Superior Elementary School assembly comes just in time for Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20. According to organizers, the international event was founded in 1999 and “honors the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.” TDOR events are scheduled around the world, including at East High School in Denver where the Gender Identity Center will offer food, refreshments, and community programming.

Last year, Denver’s City Council marked TDOR for the first time, issuing a proclamation of support ahead of a candlelight vigil.

Discrimination and violence that targets trans people have been on the rise in recent years in the United States. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 29 trans people were violently killed in 2019, with 22 deaths tracked so far this year.

Research indicates that anti-bullying programs can be key to reversing the trend in violence against queer people, particularly for vulnerable trans populations. Studies released last year show that anti-LGBTQ bullying is at an “unprecedented high,” and that abusive treatment is tied to negative health outcomes for trans youth. Other research from the National Institute of Health shows that sexual minority youth are more at risk of being abused.

A report by GLSEN illustrates that when school districts specifically protect LGBT students with anti-bullying policies, those students feel safer in educational settings.

So far, the person who complained about Superior Elementary’s assembly has refused to identify themselves. They told a local news station that they wanted the school to require permission slips for the assembly and for watching videos.

Randy Barber, the district’s chief communications officer, didn’t offer that as an option, and instead invited any parents with concerns to attend the performance.

Image via Phoenix’s Facebook page

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