On Saturday, Oct. 30 in Palm Springs, the California Teachers Association’s 2021 LGBTQ+ Issues Conference was in full swing. Two middle school teachers gave a presentation titled “How we run a GSA in conservative communities,” GSA referring to gay-straight alliance. The “conservative community” these teachers were describing is right here in Monterey County – Lori Caldeira and Kelly Baraki teach at Buena Vista Middle School located in the Las Palmas subdivision, one of two schools in the Spreckels Union School District.
Caldeira and Baraki were running a GSA club called You Be You, and described recruiting new members and how to manage relationships with members’ parents. If we’re to believe the subsequent media coverage that later proliferated in right-wing outlets, one attendee at the workshop recorded the presentation and provided audio to writer Abigail Shrier, author of the 2020 book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. Shrier wrote on Substack on Nov. 18 with her big reveal – “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids” – in an alarmist post.
Shrier quoted from the recording. There are some comments that certainly skirt the line of protocol and tone – a bit of mockery for the principal and for skeptical parents, the unfortunate use of the word “stalking” to describe identifying prospective new You Be You members. (“We totally stalked what they were doing on Google. One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid,” Baraki is quoted as saying. They described ditching sign-in sheets to offer anonymity.
But the obvious point of their presentation was one of inclusiveness, how to broaden and maintain participation.
Shrier interpreted all this to mean, they’re coming for your kids, and wrote: “‘For those of you that are running or are thinking of running your own GSA, always remember that youth are the drivers of change,’ Caldeira offers. If you want to bring a new world into existence, it seems – a good place to start is with other people’s kids.”
Within a day, the story had been picked up in other right-wing outlets – The Epoch Times, The Daily Caller and The Federalist all ran versions of the story. On Nov. 19, SUSD Superintendent Eric Tarallo, board President Steve McDougall and Principal Kate Pagaran posted a letter saying they had suspended You Be You and were implementing new communication guidelines for clubs and announcements based on Shrier’s reporting.
Social media buzzed into a frenzy, with hundreds of comments on SUSD’s Facebook page. One mom from San Diego posted: “My advice is to swarm the board meetings and speak up. We are fighting the indoctrination of our kids and the government schools. Demand immediate resignation of the teachers who are being PREDATORY!! If the board doesn’t do anything, replace the board! Protect the children.”
Let the irony of that claim sink in.
I spoke to Jacob Agamao, LGBTQ+ services coordinator for The Epicenter in Salinas, who points out there is good reason to offer confidentiality – precisely because of this type of backlash. Attending an LGBTQ+ club might jeopardize a child’s safety. “There are so many situations we find ourselves in as queer people where we feel unsafe,” Agamao says. “We already feel that we don’t belong. But gay people exist everywhere – in church, at your workplace, within the conservative media. We are everywhere.”
Caldeira and Baraki declined to speak to me on advice of CTA, their union. I imagine they wish they’d said some points differently. But a few lines out of an hour-long session should not put their club, and its members, in jeopardy. (For kids who find themselves without support while You Be You is suspended, you are welcome to contact The Epicenter at 998-7291.)
The next SUSD board meeting is Dec. 15 at 5pm. I expect a lot of angry parent voices will be there expressing their fear of “predatory” behavior from teachers just trying to help.
To Agamao, the saddest part is that while parents fight out the culture wars, it’s kids who suffer while the club is canceled. “We hear it all the time: ‘Won’t somebody think of the children?’ But please, won’t somebody think of the children?”