Several hundred protestors filled a Dearborn Public Schools board meeting in Michigan Monday night, forcing it to shut down as they loudly expressed their concerns over certain LGBTQ books they say are too sexually explicit for their children.
Despite a heavy police presence, the meeting took a catastrophic turn as attendees continued shouting at one another.
While most of the crowd appeared to be protesting the explicit material, a portion of those attending were representing the American Federation of Teachers supporting the inclusion of LGBTQ people.
“Vote them out,” the crowd chanted repeatedly.
Meeting of Dearborn Schools has descended into chaos and confusion as board members walked out. Mobs opposed to some LGBTQ books took over the meeting as various factions jostled for power. Police themselves were unsure if meeting was still on. “Vote them out,” crowd chants. pic.twitter.com/YJtLWGsX7k
— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) October 11, 2022
In a crowded room filled with angry parents, signs displaying anti-gay rhetoric in English and Arabic were held high. One sign read, “Keep your dirty books in the closet.” Another said, “Save children no porn in schools.”
Packed crowd in Dearborn for school board meeting tonight discussing LGBTQ books in schools: “If democracy matters, we’re the majority,” reads sign. “Homosexuality Big Sin,” says another. pic.twitter.com/ioJaYb15e1
— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) October 10, 2022
It wasn’t until Dearborn Police Chief Issa Shahin arrived that the protestors started to settle. “Please, calm down, let’s have respect for each other,” Shahin said. “We can have a spirited debate, but we can’t conduct ourselves in this way, guys, we just can’t. We’re better than this. Dearborn is better than this. This community is better than this. We’re brothers and sisters regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion.”
According to Shahin, the board has rescheduled the meeting for Thursday to accommodate a larger crowd.
The event reflects an ongoing debate among concerned parents and political actors. According to the most recent report from PEN America, an anti-censorship organization, more than 1,500 books have been banned in public school libraries, driven by a variety of political activist groups.
“It has nothing to do with race,” said Julie Page, president of the Wake Couty chapter of Moms for Liberty, one of the organizations highlighted in the report, in an interview with The News & Observer. “It has nothing to do with LGBTQ. It has nothing to do with gender identity. It is purely about the age appropriateness of these sexually explicit books that are in school libraries.”
Yet, according to the report, among the 1,648 unique book titles that were banned, 41% of them address LGBTQ+ themes or include LGBTQ+ characters. Additionally, 40% include protagonists or secondary characters of color and 21% discuss race and racism.
In response to this movement, the AFT has launched the “Reading Opens the World” initiative, so that while groups are working to ban books, the AFT is distributing free books to children. So far, 838,563 books have been given out, according to their website.
“You see the joy when kids have a book where they see themselves,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a webinar last week discussing teacher shortages and student success. “So instead of social media, shaming, blaming on Instagram with these confession false accounts, they have books at home that they can read.”
“As others are doing rhetoric, we are trying to do this kind of very concrete, tangible action on the ground to restore hope and a sense of belonging and rebuild relationships.”