In Fall of 2021, in the midst of a contentious reelection campaign for the North Penn School Board, a member of the community and co-chair of the Montgomery County chapter of Moms for Liberty read an excerpt from George Johnson’s memoir, “All Boys Aren’t Blue”. The chapter she read described the author’s experience being raped by a family member. The book is a memoir that explores the intersection of Blackness and queerness through the author’s lived experience. Its relevance stems from the connection it makes to students looking for representation in the literature they find in their school library.
The video went viral with calls from certain members of the community, and beyond, to remove the book, and others with LGBTQIA+ themes, from North Penn’s shelves as its detractors erroneously labeled it “pornographic.” Book banners across the country and at North Penn had a common cause. Soon, a misinformation video was launched to attack us as school board directors. The video enjoyed tens of thousands of views, and comments that asserted: “Dads should be breaking heads for this,” “they need to arrest these teachers for their own safety,” “God help us from these depraved, disgusting assassins of innocence and virtue,” and “glad to see parents exposing these perverts.”
School board directors in Pennsylvania are volunteers, receiving no compensation for their service. Threats of violence, character defamation and legal action make capitulating to book banning demands the path of least resistance. So, it is not hard to understand why so many school boards cave-in to the pressure of groups like Moms for Liberty and implement policies designed that disenfranchise students, particularly those that identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Despite the death threats, threats of violence against us, and thousands of outside dollars injected into the school board race in 2021, all four North Penn School Board directors up for reelection, including yours truly, were returned to their positions in a landslide election. After months of incivility, lack of decorum and attacks to marginalize LGBTQIA+ students, staff and community members in public comments, the North Penn community sent a loud and clear message at the ballot box that hate has no home here.
Today, you will find the titles on M4L’s book banning list still on the shelves of the North Penn High School library.
No Place for Hate signs can be found in the hallways of all our schools along with Safe Space stickers on classroom doors.
Since May 2021, North Penn’s school board has raised the pride flag annually during Pride month alongside hundreds from the community.
North Penn has hosted the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus with school board directors in attendance, demonstrating a commitment to support the NPHS’s Rainbow Alliance and its 20 years of service to our LGBTQIA+ students.
The leadership, from board and administration, has created an environment that paved the way for the crowning of the first gay Homecoming King in the district’s history just this past fall.
Pennsylvania currently ranks third among states banning books in schools. While school districts around us make headlines for taking a lead in the book banning hysteria, North Penn stands out for its commitment to support all our students, and we will continue to do so for as long as this board is elected to represent the core values of our diverse community.
So, how did four underfunded school board candidates win reelection when faced with billionaires funding opponents embracing culture wars and disinformation that other great candidates, just a few miles up the road, could not withstand? People organized and voted. Turnout in the 2021 election cycle was significant for an off-year election. Concerned community members recognized the threat to our schools and students. Voters from across the political spectrum came out in force to vote for a slate of candidates proud to stand up and speak up for equity, inclusivity, diversity, and kindness.
Our allies didn’t just come to the polls, but they came to our meetings and made their voices heard when the incivility became toxic to local democracy. Reasonable people did not cede the podium to those seeking to ban books and vilify teachers. Community buy-in allowed us to continue to demonstrate our support for all North Penn students, including those who identify as LGBTQIA+. We can withstand the hate, insults and lies directed at us because we are confident that we represent a community that overwhelmingly elected us to serve for good reason.
If there is a lesson to be taken from this, it is a simple one: support local candidates and get involved NOW. Support them with more than just a vote. Volunteer, make a campaign donation, and find a board that needs to be flipped or defended. The vast majority of donations to political candidates go to those at the top of the ticket, yet our everyday lives are directly impacted by those at the bottom of the ticket like school board directors. Finally, support directors with your presence at meetings; this also demonstrates concern for students who, above all else, need you in this fight for their civil rights.
Christian Fusco is Vice President of the North Penn School Board of Directors.