In Private Texts, NY Ed Council Reps, Congressional Candidate Demean LGBTQ Kids
Officials call to remove elected parent leaders for remarks like 'there is no such thing as trans kids.' NYC Dept. of Ed calls comments 'despicable.'By Marianna McMurdock | December 14, 2023
Update: At a December 20 Panel for Education Policy meeting, after condemning recent anti-LGBTQ remarks by two District 2 Community Education Council members, Chancellor David Banks criticized panel members Maud Maron and Danyela Egorov for not acting as “adults,” adding he was “prepared … to take action because it is not acceptable to me, for that level of behavior, to continue to play out. Our children deserve better.” He also condemned Islamophobic and antisemitic attacks seen throughout the school system in recent months.
At the concurrent District 2 CEC meeting, teachers, parents and community members called for Maron and Egorov’s removal, citing the Chancellor’s promise, loss of “trust,” and high risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth. Maron was not present.
An elected member of a prominent New York City education council said “there is no such thing as trans kids,” while another claimed the social justice movement is “destroying the country,” in a private parent group chat.
In the same set of exchanges dating back to June 2022, Andrew Gutmann, a former New York City parent and current Florida congressional candidate, accused LGBTQ people and social justice advocates of being “anti-children,” and trans and nonbinary kids as “indoctrinated” in a “really dangerous cult.”
Responding to one Brooklyn parent’s concern about the number of LGBTQ children in her child’s school, Manhattan District 2 Community Education Council member Maud Maron responded “the social contagion is undeniable” and called hormone blocking drugs “an abomination.”
On the same day in another exchange about LGBTQ kids, Maron said, “There is no such thing as trans kids [because] there is no such thing as transition i.e. changing your sex.”
The “social contagion” phrase, equating an aspect of a child’s identity to disease, was used by a northern California school board member earlier this year who now faces a recall.
In a statement, a NYC Department of Education spokesperson called the remarks “despicable and not in line with our values.”
In WhatsApp logs obtained by The 74, an additional parent leader made crude remarks levied at a state senator, while another shared a worksheet that defined hate speech as “usually constitutionally protected” and an “expression of opinion.”
Maron also falsely claimed hormone therapy causes permanent, harmful effects for teens taking the drugs. “Some of these kids never develop adult genitalia and will never have full sexual function. It’s an abomination,” she wrote on November 11, 2022.
When asked for comment on the remarks, Maron asserted her position by stating, “Radical trans ideology as taught in our public schools is regressive, homophobic and often deeply misogynistic.” She added telling gender expansive kids they need to be “fixed” by transitioning “leads to grave, irreversible harm for so many young people.”
The American Medical Association has supported access to hormone therapy, as have all leading medical associations in the country, according to the AMA’s CEO, who also cited research that gender affirming care improves long-term physical and mental health, and reduces suicidal ideation.
Local leaders and advocates have called for Maron and fellow CEC member Danyela Souza Egorov to resign or be removed by NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks. Elected members, serving two-year terms, advise education officials on 32 CECs throughout the city.
“If they’re not going to be removed, they have to engage in training … There has to be a level of accountability when grownups are the ones that are harming children,” said Panel for Education Policy member Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, a CUNY school of medicine neurology professor appointed by Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “My heart breaks.”
In addition to calling the comments “despicable,” a DOE spokesperson said the department “does not condone the opinions expressed” in the log and added “all children deserve protection, including LGBTQ+ children.”
“Our educators work every day to make New York City public schools safe and supportive environments for LGBTQ+ youth,” the DOE spokesperson said.
Chancellor’s regulation D-210 prohibits discrimination or harassment based on gender and other protected classes, stating “the DOE does not tolerate disrespect towards children.” The regulation also states that, after an investigation, the chancellor may remove or suspend members if conduct poses a “danger to the safety or welfare of students” or “is contrary to the best interest” of the district.
The department receives complaints against CEC members who are thought to be in violation of the chancellor’s regulations by email.
Manhattan City Councilmember Erik Bottcher, who represents families and children in School District 2, also denounced the remarks and encouraged disciplinary action.
“It is deeply troubling that CEC members are engaging in demeaning, transphobic smears that are reminiscent of playground bullies rather than responsible adults tasked with advocating for the well-being of our kids,” Bottcher said. “Our students deserve better.”
The chat also revealed some members believe hate speech, racism, white supremacy and other “social justice” jargon are fraught terms used to “discriminate against” white and Asian people. “The anti-racists are so racist,” said Maron.
That parents with these views have gained power locally is unsurprising to scholars who study conservative parent rights movements like Moms for Liberty. The groups and rhetoric are most frequently found in politically purple or liberal areas where parents feel their voices are sidelined for more liberal agendas.
Pushing back on diversity trainings they find divisive, for example, one parent asked: “So you can pay to become a racist?” in reference to a canceled, voluntary workshop hosted by the teacher’s union entitled, “Holding the Weight of Whiteness.”
Maron replied: “For the bargain price of $25.”
In an exchange critiquing the United Federation of Teachers training on power dynamics in the classroom, Egorov said “this is poisonous and it is destroying the country.” She did not respond to requests for comment.
Experts who study civil rights and freedom of speech in the U.S. have witnessed rhetoric throughout the country, but say there’s a key distinction at play here.
“I think the most dangerous thing about these messages is who they’re coming from,” said Maya Henson Carey, a researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center, “because these people have power to make change.”
On November 20, 2022, Egorov sent the WhatsApp group an explainer to help push back on social justice terms. The one pager defined diversity as “an attack on merit and a form of soft bigotry,” adding that accountability is “bullying” and “mob rule.” A parent immediately responded, “this is good.”
The Responding to Social Justice Rhetoric sheet was created in 2021 by a group of academics with the Oregon Association of Scholars, a chapter of the National Association of Scholars, known as a conservative group that has lobbied against diversity policies.
The worksheet serves as a “translation guide,” for anyone “hoodwinked by language” said Peter Boghossian, one of its authors.
The guide also defined inclusion as “restricted speech and justification for purges,” and a way to make “people feel welcomed by banning anything they find offensive.”
But inclusion for LGBTQ students is top of mind for many educators and families nationwide as the youth mental health crisis worsens. Queer kids, often ostracized from their homes or communities, are overrepresented in New York’s homeless population and foster care. They are also four times as likely than their peers to contemplate suicide, according to The Trevor Project.
New York recently passed a safe haven law legally protecting trans students and their doctors introduced by state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal.
In the WhatsApp chat, both the law and Hoylman-Sigal were subject to explicit vitriol by prominent parent leaders.
Chien Kwok, former District 2 CEC member and president of local nonprofit Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education, wrote, “I would imagine Hoylman would have cut off his penis to transition if he was allowed to run away from his home state of West Virginia to NY. Do you think Hoylman or his husband would have regretted Hoylman being a eunuch?”
Kwok responded to requests for comment by reiterating his question for the state senator and adding “the radical transgender ideologies that [Hoylman-Sigal] supports and turned into law have harmed countless children and teens in the US and around the world.”
A few hours after Kwok’s original comment, Gutmann, a former NYC private school parent who denounced his child’s school’s focus on racism, chimed in: what LGBTQ people and social justice “ideologues” have in common is “not wanting children, which has made them anti-children (hence anti-family).”
Gutmann later told The 74 that while the private messages were written “quickly” and “in a casual tone,” he stands by “everything I have written in this and any other private chat group in which I have participated.”
Hoylman-Sigal said the “cruel and frankly outrageous” chat history makes clear that, locally, the CEC members are not able “to safeguard learning for students. The disrespect and intolerance that is evident in these chats shows just the opposite. To them, LGBTQ kids, specifically transgender children, are second class.”
The logs are a “call to action,” he added, for CEC leaders, Banks, and parents to vote them out of office.
Though the outcomes of recent school board elections nationwide show many parents disagree with conservative parent leaders’ emphasis on limiting classroom discussion of sex and gender, parent leaders like Gutmann, Kwok, Maron and Egorov have been hoping to expand their reach.
“We need to organize ourselves to recruit CEC candidates so we can expand our influence and keep it where we have [a] majority,” Egorov wrote to the group on January 1, 2022.
They came close.
Forty percent of Community Education Council members endorsed by PLACE, the conservative parent advocacy group co-founded by Maron and Kwok, won in June’s elections.
Lawmakers and experts at local LGBTQ nonprofit The Center are advocating for a new bill, sponsored by Hoylman-Sigal, requiring that all New York school districts establish policies to protect nonbinary and transgender students.
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