South Florida elected officials and activists are denouncing a local anti-LGBTQ rally held over the weekend attended by uniformed members of the Proud Boys, and newly elected Broward County school board member Brenda Fam .
On Saturday in Fort Lauderdale Beach, crowds of beach goers and holiday shoppers milled under palm trees at Las Olas Boulevard and A1A.
Nearby, a group of activists working to reform public policy in some of the state’s largest school districts bowed their heads in prayer, asking Jesus to bless them as they “reclaim land for the kingdom of God.”
The event was organized by the Miami-Dade County chapter of Moms for Liberty and Florida Fathers for Freedom, who have advocated against gender-affirming care, LGBTQ inclusive instruction Y comprehensive sex education in public schools.
Counter-protesters gathered across the street, waving rainbow flags and chanting. “When LGBTQ rights are under attack, what do we do?” chanted the crowd. “Stand up! Fight back!”
Promotional materials for the “Protect Children” event featured stick figures protecting children from a rainbow, an internationally recognized symbol of the LGBTQ community.
Brenda Fam, who was elected to the Broward County school board in November, warned rallygoers about “barbers.” She received a warm welcome from the group as she spoke from the raised ledge separating the sidewalk from the arena over a sign that read “Grooming Leads to Sex Trafficking.”
Fam did not respond to interview requests for this story.
Real grooming occurs when adults manipulate children to sexually abuse them.
experts says there is no evidence that LGBTQ people are more likely to abuse children. According to report of Politifact, research indicates that school employees most likely to abuse children identify as white heterosexual male adults. Experts also say there’s no evidence that simply talking about LGBTQ issues makes kids more likely to identify as LGBTQ.
Nonetheless, the event seemed to play on these longstanding false claims.
Advocates say this kind of rhetoric fuels anti-LGBTQ sentiment, at a time when federal data shows hate crimes have been increasing in recent years. Last month, a 22-year-old shooter killed five people and wounded 18 others at a queer nightclub in Colorado Springs.
“The things they protest about are the things that protect children. I know when I walked into a campus or a classroom that had a pride flag or a safe space sticker, I felt more confident that this was it.” a place where I would be safe to learn”.
Maxx Fenning, President of PRISM
“This hate… even if the violence doesn’t happen on the spot itself, that kind of message itself incites violencesaid Maxx Fenning, who helped organize the counter-protest. “These are dangerous things that lead to loss of life, that incite violence, that incite actions like what we saw in Colorado Springs.”
Fenning, who is also president of the LGBTQ education organization. PRISM, says it is “very revealing” that members of the Proud Boys have aligned themselves with so-called “parental rights” groups like Moms for Liberty. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center Y ADLmembers of the Proud Boys are known for their misogynistic, white supremacist, and anti-Semitic ideology.
In June, the group’s former leader, Enrique Tarrio of Miami, was accused for his alleged role in the January 6 insurrection. He faces charges of conspiring to “prevent, hinder, and delay the certification of the Electoral College vote, and forcibly oppose the authority of the United States government.”
The demonstration on Saturday was billed as against so-called parental alienation, gender ideology and gender-affirming care. The signs say “There are only two genders” and “You were not born in the wrong body.”
“The things they protest about are the things that protect children,” Fenning said. “I know that when I walked into a campus or a classroom that had a pride flag or a safe space sticker, I felt more confident that this was a place where I would be safe to learn, where there was staff or administration to help me. would help. defend me if I was harassed because of my sexual orientation”.
Joseph Zolobczuk is the CEO of YES Institutea South Florida nonprofit whose goal is to prevent suicide and improve youth health outcomes. Research shows that LGBTQ youth are much more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide. Zolobczuk says that having a safe and supportive environment can make all the difference.
“I can absolutely empathize with the parents’ reactions to safety,” Zolobczuk said. “I also want to remind people, given the suicide and bullying statistics that we have, young people are also not safe if there isn’t a place that works for families and communities to have discussions about these issues.”
“I can absolutely empathize with the parental reactions to safety. I also want to remind people, given the suicide and bullying statistics that we have, young people are also not safe if there isn’t a place that works for families and communities have discussions about these issues.
Joseph Zolobczuk, Executive Director of the YES Institute
Both inspired and disheartened
State Senator Shevrin Jones D-West Park attended the counter-protest on Saturday. Jones, who is gay, came out to support student activists like Fenning, with whom she worked to oppose the Rights of parents in education bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Jones says that activism both inspired and discouraged him.
“The unfortunate thing is that young people have to use their voices to fight against adults who act like children,” he said.
Jones called the message from rallygoers “horrendous” and said he saw a sign saying “you weren’t born this way.”
“What kind of example are you setting as adults when right in front of you… you have kids that you’re talking about protecting, but you’re still holding up signs like that,” he said. “You don’t know what kind of trauma that brings to a child when he sees things like that.”
Elijah Manley is a political consultant in Fort Lauderdale. He wasn’t at the counter-protest, but he wasn’t surprised to see reports that Fam was present. Manley campaigned for Fam’s opponent, Steven Julian.
“She said that she will try to lead by listening and respecting everyone,” he said of Fam’s message during the campaign. She is showing her support for extremist groups”.
He said Fam’s win should be a wake-up call for Democrats to pay attention to school board races.
Elon Gerberg, leader of the Florida Fathers for Freedom and one of the organizers of the rally, said he is delighted to have Fam on the Broward school board, though he says he has removed his own children from public schools.
“I think Brenda has already done a fantastic job of discovering a lot of books that don’t belong in our school. She is very passionate about it,” she said. “I’m very excited to see what she can do.”