The co-founder of the national Moms for Liberty organization called trans acceptance “pseudo-scientific nonsense” and a Canadian anti-trans influencer wore a sandwich board that said, “Children cannot consent to puberty blockers” during a demonstration by dozens Tuesday morning on a street corner outside Gaithersburg High School.
Many of the messages during the demonstration —among the most visible in a growing number of Moms for Liberty activities in Maryland—were protesting not just an LGTBQ+-inclusive curriculum in Montgomery County Public Schools but gender-affirming care for youth generally.
Across the road, a smaller group of LGBTQ+-allied counter-protestors stood in the drizzly, cold weather and made a point not to engage with “Billboard” Chris Elston. The Canadian activist has previously video-recorded confrontations with ideological opponents that ended with him being assaulted. Montgomery County police officers stayed present Tuesday.
Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice told MoCo360 that the organization wants to remove gender ideology in public schools.
“It’s pseudo-scientific nonsense,” Justice said. “Schools need to focus on teaching kids to read, to write, to do math, and to stay away from all this other stuff that they have no business teaching.”
Justice continued: “The bottom line is that children are being taught in school that they can be a boy or girl, or boy and a girl, or maybe a tree if they want to be a tree that day.”
However, the American Medical Association this summer strengthened its stance endorsing gender-affirming care for trans youth, adopting a policy drafted by the Endocrine Society and co-sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Urological Association and the American College of Physicians, among other groups.
The Endocrine Society noted that data show, “Gender-affirming care can be life-saving for a population with high suicide rates.”
Maryland lawmakers this year passed the Trans Health Equity Act, which expands access to gender-affirming care, but elsewhere in the country, 22 states have enacted laws or policies barring such care for trans youth, according to data from the LGBTQ+ think tank Movement Advancement Project.
Dozens of protestors held up a variety of signs echoing these ideas and criticizing young people medically transitioning.
Tuesday’s demonstration was among the most visible in a growing number of Moms for Liberty activities in Maryland, often focused on LGBTQ+ media. The group, which the civil rights watchdog group Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed “extremist,” has been expanding across the state and earlier this month got over 50 books temporarily removed from school library shelves in neighboring Carroll County.
Members have appeared recently at demonstrations against MCPS’ LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum, though Muslim protest leaders have since taken pains to distance themselves from Moms for Liberty.
MCPS earlier this year decided not to provide prior notice or allow parents to remove their students from the classroom when an LGBTQ+ inclusive book is used in class.
The policy was discussed publicly in March, and in response, three MCPS families filed a lawsuit against the school board and superintendent in May. A federal judge in August ruled against an injunction that would have allowed parents to opt out of the curriculum.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday that it would expedite an appellate hearing for the lawsuit, Ryan Colby, a spokesperson for the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told MoCo360.
The Moms for Liberty founders are not from the county, but there were some protestors whose children attend MoCo schools and said they were concerned.
“I want to find out how [students] got brainwashed into not knowing the difference between a man and a woman,” said MCPS parent Mark Lovett. “Do you think that’s helping children? Or do you think that’s preying on children?”
Elston, known as “Billboard” Chris, has more than 300,000 followers on X, formerly Twitter, and travels around the country and throughout Europe to “expose gender ideology and why children cannot consent to medical transition,” according to his bio on X. He frequently wears a sandwich board with messages opposing gender-affirming care.
He said he found it important to come to Montgomery County on Tuesday. One reason: Because some of these books in classrooms, which Moms for Liberty is protesting, include transgender characters.
“The body-positive message we should be sending these kids is that they are beautiful just as they are, not that they could have been born wrong,” he said. “It’s a terribly psychologically abusive thing to tell a child that they need to be something that they’re not.”
About two dozen counter-protestors stood on the other street corner.
Amelia Signal, 54, of Bethesda, the media liaison for the group, said that she and many others believe that the protestors are “very toxic, and they say they’re about parents’ rights, but they don’t want us to support our children in having representational literature in classes where they can learn with their peers and have their peers grow into citizens who respect them.”
Many people there said they have children directly impacted by the opt-out policy.
“I have two trans kids myself. They deserve representation and to be treated equally in school,” said Shoshana Kronfeld, 47, of Gaithersburg. “I don’t believe in banning books.”
Kronfeld said she just wants her children to feel safe, and Moms for Liberty is not supporting that goal because they are “homophobic and transphobic.”
Mara Greengrass, 51, of Rockville, whose children attend and have graduated from MCPS schools, said that many people who do not want their children reading books about gay characters are inappropriately and wrongfully sexualizing LGBTQ+ individuals.
“The problem is that they are treating these books as sexual related, and that is because of the idea that the existence of a gay person is inherently sexual,” Greengrass said. “But again, my kids read plenty of books with married men and women just existing in the book. The existence of a gay person is not inherently sexual.”
Additionally, she said, “I want my kids to learn about everybody,” not just people with the exact same religions, identities and cultures as them, even if she as a parent does not agree with certain ideas.
Signal said Moms for Liberty is “escalating in their technique,” and prior to gathering, organizers warned counter-protestors not to approach Billboard Chris because he is a “dangerous bigot and provocateur.”
The protests did not escalate into violence, but Capt. Eric Stancliff, commander of Montgomery County Police’s 6th district, was one of several police officers on hand, standing between the two street corners.
“Everybody’s told me they don’t want a confrontation. Nobody’s here to be violent,” Stancliff said. “No one’s here to directly confront the other side,” Stancliff said.
Stancliff also noted that the protest’s proximity to busy Frederick Avenue and a school made it necessary to have a police presence.
“We want to make sure all the students are safe and that the school is not impacted by the protests,” Stancliff said.
MCPS spokesperson Chris Cram told MoCo360 in an email: “There was a safety plan in place to ensure the event did not impact school operations and that their event was not about Gaithersburg High School. It was very small and uneventful.”
There were many cars on the road Tuesday morning, many of them honking at either of the protests in support.
Moms for Liberty was also hosting a town hall event Tuesday evening in Silver Spring, billed as an “honest conversation on the state of education with MD elected officials.”
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