Protesters speak out against anti-LGBTQ+ group Moms for Liberty

A sign with the words,
(Photo by Jason Villemez)

Protests were out in full force against a far right-wing advocacy group holding their national summit in Philadelphia June 29-July 2.

Self-proclaimed parental-rights group Moms for Liberty (M4L) held their “Joyful Warriors” summit at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown. The extremist group is composed of local chapters of parents from around the U.S., whose mission is to ban books with LGBTQ+ and racial content from school libraries, advocate for anti-LGBTQ+ policies in schools and push for censorship of classroom instruction on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, racism and slavery.  One summit breakout session focused on the idea of “sex education is sex indoctrination.”

“[Moms for Liberty] claims they want to protect children, but whose children?” Philly activist Jazmyn Henderson asked rhetorically at a June 29 press conference hosted by the Philadelphia Coalition to Oppose Hate, which pushes for the rights of children and families in opposition to M4L and similar right-wing extremist groups. 

Henderson organizes with ACT UP, Black and Latinx Community Control and Defense of Democracy, but said she was speaking independently that day. 

“[Moms for Liberty] wants to protect cis white children; they want to protect cis white parents’ rights, and they want to teach cis white history and erase anything else that comes from that.”

Julie Clapp, teacher in the Upper Dublin School District, spoke at the press conference about the need for LGBTQ+ inclusion in classrooms. Clapp told PGN that M4L’s agenda “sends a message of intolerance.” 

“I have to do subtle things like put up a small sign with a rainbow on it that says ‘rainbow equals love’ in my classroom,” Clapp said.

During the press conference, Dom Shannon of the Young Community League said the group’s strategy is to “instill bigoted beliefs about Black and trans people from a very young age.”

“This is why they’re targeting schools and banning books,” Shannon said. “They’ve engaged in queer-phobic behaviors, such as unjustly pushing openly queer teachers — or teachers who choose to use these books in their curriculums — out of their jobs. Their values have nothing to do with protecting children, liberty or freedom.”

(Photo by Michele Zipkin)

Staffers from Campaign for Our Shared Future hosted a “banned book giveaway” outside the Marriott on June 29, another way to push back against M4L’s presence in Philly. Some of the banned and challenged books on their table included “The Hate U Give,” “MAUS” and “New Kid.” 

“When you’re a young person and you walk into a school and you’ve got to do the hard task of learning how to read, it really helps you to have representation,” said Heather Harding, executive director of Campaign for Our Shared Future. “My concern is that the agenda that Moms for Liberty is pushing is not a majority agenda; it’s not representative of the full swath of Americans.”  

National Parents Union held a rally in Love Park on June 29, where Jane Kramer, a parent in Pennridge School District, gave the crowd a step-by-step guide on how Moms for Liberty operates.

“They start with objections to sexualized content and books and objections to [critical race theory.] But when they say CRT, they actually mean basic diversity. What happened in our district is — first any diversity initiatives were stopped within the district. Then policy changed and a sneaky book ban started. Then the Pride flags were removed from classrooms. Then policies were changed to stop getting [student] information from state surveys that help to identify what their needs are in terms of mental health.”

During the ACT UP Dance Protest Party at the Museum of the American Revolution — which hosted Moms for Liberty’s opening-night gala — protesters packed Chestnut Street between 3rd and 4th as dozens of police officers lined up in front of the barricaded museum. Speakers at the protest included Sam Rise and Henderson, who reminded the crowd of Moms for Liberty’s attempts to ban books and history and encouraged people to make their voices heard.

“Let’s make sure that they will not erase us from history,” Henderson said. “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re gonna stay.”

Moms for Liberty protest sign states "LET QUEER YOUTH LIVE"
(Photo by Jason Villemez)

Protests and actions continued on the opening day of the M4L summit on June 30, and by no coincidence, the City put up trans flags on the light poles surrounding the Marriott. M4L hired a private security team from Florida for their summit, and police were out in abundance in the vicinity of the Marriott. The entire entrance to the hotel on 12th and Filbert street was barricaded. 

A large press conference and rally in protest of M4L took place in the morning on June 30, organized by People for the American Way’s Grandparents for Liberty initiative, PA Stop Moms for Liberty, Defense of Democracy, Campaign for Our Shared Future, ACT UP Philly and Red Wine & Blue. 

“What’s really scary is that [Moms for Liberty] are allying themselves with the forces of government, school boards and state legislatures to somehow validate what they’re doing and impose restrictions that are incredibly damaging and hurtful, and fundamentally denying the truth about who we are, who we want to be,” Marge Baker, senior vice president for People for the American Way, told PGN. 

Baker co-founded Grandparents for Truth, which mobilizes grandparents to push back against the banning of books and educational censorship in U.S. schools.  

"Ban bigots not books" Moms for Liberty protest sign
(Photo by Jason Villemez)

A slew of speakers addressed the crowd of people at the June 30 rally, including People for the American Way President Svante Myrick, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, state Sen. Nikil Saval, Aaron Davis, chief of staff for state Rep. Ben Waxman, Bucks County social-studies teacher Keith Willard, Henderson of ACT UP, Mazzoni Center President and Executive Officer Sultan Shakir and Philadelphia City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. Others in attendance included representatives from the co-organizing groups, PFLAG, Indivisible Philadelphia, and concerned parents and grandparents. 

“If your freedom requires my subjugation, you ain’t for freedom,” Kenyatta said at the press conference. “You’re going to have a lot of elected officials marching themselves before the proud moms to tell them how much damage they want to do to our public-school system at a moment when we ought to be investing in our public schools, when we ought to be cleaning toxic buildings, when we ought to be making sure every school is a place where kids are safe, protected, educated and loved.”

Multiple speakers likened the actions of M4L — banning books and censoring educational materials — to what was going on in the leadup to the Holocaust. 

“We have groups right here repeating the steps of 1930s Germany — attacking the most vulnerable amongst us, trying to eradicate our transgender citizens [and] LGBTQIA family,” said Diana Patton, trans veteran and national commander of Veterans Defending Democracy. 

Keith Willard, social-studies teacher in the Bucks County School District, described how M4L members have been attacking teachers, librarians and guidance counselors in schools, including himself.  

“They call out staff by name at school-board meetings and have no regard for how their actions affect school staff,” Willard said to the crowd. “It is irresponsible and dangerous to repeat unfounded stories about pornography in elementary schools, and saying that there are books that tell kids how to have sex.” 

Willard told PGN that the most recent Pennsylvania Youth Survey shows that over the past year, the bullying of trans and LGBTQ+ students has risen dramatically. 

“In our schools, [Moms for Liberty] is trying to make LGBTQ students invisible,” Willard said. “They’re trying to take away Pride flags, any kinds of symbols that they deem are political. More than ever, we need to support some of our most marginalized students.” 

Moms for Liberty protest sign reading, "Let Freedom Read"
(Photo by Jason Villemez)

Kadida Kenner, CEO of the New Pennsylvania Project, called on people to register to vote, including young people. 

“In Philadelphia, only 15 percent of high-school students who are eligible to vote are registered,” Kenner said. “Statewide, that number is one in four. If you have a high-school senior in your life, the odds are they’re not registered to vote. How many of you will commit to getting a young person registered to vote today?”

ACT UP and allied organizers continued to protest outside of the Marriott for the remainder of the weekend. 

“We needed to let Moms for Liberty know that if you come for one of us, you come for all of us,” Sam Rise, who MC’d the protest, told the crowd. “When you make these attacks on our young people, our trans and queer youth, when you attack Black and brown futures by erasing necessary histories and refusing to reckon with your racist legacies — we come for you. When you try to obstruct city services, like fully funded libraries and rec centers, trying to take resources off the shelves and put them back in your own pocket — we come for you. Isn’t that right Philadelphia? More than anything else, we are city workers building a workers’ world, and so when you come for our teachers and our librarians, the ones who are truly on the frontlines for our young people, you harass them, you antagonize them, you threaten them – we come for you.”

Protests continued outside the Marriott throughout the weekend, and included activities for kids, DJs and plenty of creative signs uplifting LGBTQ+ youth and condemning M4L’s agenda. On the final morning of the actions on July 2, six protesters were arrested for failure to disperse, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. 

Five of the people were blocking traffic outside of the Marriott, and the sixth was a trans woman who was waving a trans flag over the barricade outside the hotel. Members of ACT UP said in a statement that the people arrested were “organized by an autonomous group of activists in solidarity,” WHYY reported. Police had threatened to arrest anyone blocking traffic, and one arrest was reported at the June 29 protest at the Museum of the American Revolution.

Jason Villemez contributed to this report.

Moms for Liberty protest sign stating "LGBTQIA+ KIDS: YOU ARE NOT ALONE"
(Photo by Jason Villemez)