A protester at the July 20 rally carries a sign denouncing being transgender as "a religion." The Council on American-Islamic Relations, however, says sentiments like that, and those espoused by Moms for Liberty, do not represent the Muslim families at the heart of Thursday's protest. Credit: Em Espey

This article was updated at 4:16 p.m., July 21 to include context about Moms for Liberty’s presence at the June 27 protest.

As hundreds of protesters rallied outside school board headquarters for the third time this summer to protest the school district’s no-opt-out policy on reading LGBTQ+ inclusive storybooks, organizers made it clear some groups were more welcome than others.

An upcoming decision by a federal judge will determine whether the opt-out will be reinstated until the legal dispute is resolved. Recently filed legal documents show that the volume of families opting their students out of the books in question had created “significant disruptions” in the classroom, leading to the opt-out option being revoked in March. The school board recently doubled down on its decision following a series of protests.

While the Montgomery County Board of Education campus in Rockville was poised to accommodate thousands on Thursday morning—with the entire parking lot blocked off by security—turnout was lower, with a MoCo360 reporter estimating around 300 people in attendance. The previous protest on June 27 saw at least triple the turnout.

Parent action committee Family Rights for Religious Freedom organized the event in collaboration with the Coalition for Virtue and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“This is not an anti-LGBTQ+ movement,” Family Rights for Religious Freedom leader Wael Elkoshairi said. “We understand this is a pluralistic society. If we become anti-LGBTQ+, we’ve lost the point.”


Elkoshairi said protest organizers have created intentional distance from the far-right group Moms for Liberty, who have also been vocal in demanding an opt-out. The organization has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center due to anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, and news reports recently discovered one chapter quoted Adolf Hitler in its promotional materials.

Several people affiliated with Moms for Liberty were present at Thursday’s protest, but Elkoshairi said if one of them had asked to take the microphone and address the crowd, they would have “absolutely” been denied. Elkoshairi said his organization has “no collaboration” with Moms for Liberty and that to partner with them would diminish their message.

At the previous June 27 protest, Elkoshairi handed the microphone to Moms for Liberty’s Montgomery County chapter leader Lindsey Smith, who gave a brief speech to the crowd ending in an evangelical prayer. Elkoshairi told MoCo360 he “had no idea who she was” at the time and that she wasn’t visibly affiliated with Moms for Liberty, resulting in what he called “an honest mistake” on his part.


“It was a bad situation. It was my fault,” he said. “I found out afterward because people in the coalition were kind of upset at me.”

Elkoshairi reiterated that the Family Rights for Religious Freedom group is nonpartisan and unaffiliated with any particular religion.

“Any group that has partisanship attached to it, any group that has baggage and has put themselves out there in a way that doesn’t really align with our beliefs and the way we think in this pluralistic society—we don’t want them on this platform,” he said.


Moms for Liberty’s Montgomery County chapter did not respond to requests for comment on the distancing from other pro-opt-out groups.

A group of around a dozen openly LGBTQ+ supportive residents gathered farther back from the crowd. They set up a table with an array of inclusive MCPS elementary school books and copies of relevant school policies available for anyone to peruse.

After hearing testimony from residents on the opt-out issue and at the request of board member Grace Rivera-Oven (Dist. 1), MCPS officials gave testimony to provide context on the history of the storybooks’ approval process and the next steps for the opt-out lawsuit.


School district attorney Stephanie Williams said the lawsuit would take “some time” to get through the judicial process. In the meantime, she said plaintiffs have filed a motion that, if granted, would legally require MCPS to reinstate the opt-out until the suit’s resolution. The motion will be heard in Greenbelt’s U.S. District Courthouse at 10 a.m. on Aug. 9. Williams said it is possible the judge would issue a ruling before the new school year kicks off Aug. 28.

To cap off the day’s discussion on the opt-out, Superintendent Monifa McKnight shared thoughts that were met with a round of applause from the audience.

“I think for all of us, this is about reflection on change—change even though we may see it all differently,” she said. “This is not going to be easy for us, but I will say the board and myself continue to make a commitment to listen and to hear and to engage with our community. Because after this decision and many other decisions that will impact us, we still have to be able to come together for our children.”