Hundreds of people rallied in Dearborn on Sunday over LGBTQ-related books and educational materials in the public school system that critics say are too explicit, while advocates say they support diversity and tolerance.
Two rallies were held Sunday afternoon outside the Henry Ford Centennial Library. The first began around noon and conveyed messages of support for LGBTQ communities, with speakers criticizing censorship, attendees said. The second began at 2:30 p.m. with protesters speaking out against certain Dearborn Public School library books and educational materials referencing sexual orientation. The leaflets called the rally “a rally to protect our children”.
The Dearborn School District has so far removed seven books, the majority of them featuring LGBTQ people or themes, one of which is titled “This Book is Gay.”
At the second rally, which drew larger crowds, tensions erupted when anti-book protesters mocked Sam Smalley, a transgender person who was a counter-protester and sat on the steps at the exterior of the library with an LGBTQ Pride flag and a trans flag. Dearborn police protected Smalley as some of the protesters yelled at him and told him to leave.
“Even though people make it seem like it’s about protecting children, I think everyone has a right to an education and a right to… see people like them in public school books,” Smalley said before the rally began. “So I’m here because I didn’t understand that when I was a kid.”
Some who attended the protest expressed anti-LGBTQ views. One held up a sign in Arabic and English that read: “Stop grooming students, you are sexually perverted animals.” But speakers at the second rally said they were not religious extremists or homophobes. They said their objection was to sexual themes they felt were inappropriate for children.
Stephanie Butler, who helped organize the protest, told the crowd she was fed up with schools “pushing this porn on our kids”. Butler said schools ask children questions about their sexual orientation.
“We won’t tolerate it in Dearborn anymore,” she said to applause and cheers from the crowd. “These people want to sexualize our children. … We can’t have Bibles. We can’t have Korans, but we can have coal.”
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“Surely not!” and “Enough is enough!” chanted the crowd.
Protester Nagi Almudhegi told the crowd that young students are “exposed to this kind of rubbish in our schools and they put it under the guise of education”.
He praised Butler for his efforts and said others in Dearborn would join his efforts.
“We are not going to be silenced anymore,” he said.
The speakers encouraged attendees to show up at a Dearborn School Board meeting on October 10 and asked them to get others to join them in speaking out against the books they oppose.
After the protest was over, police escorted Smalley as he made his way to his vehicle. A group of young children followed him, trying to get his attention with their signs, one of which read: “My child, my choice”.
“Go cry,” they shouted at Smalley.
Despite the tensions, there do not appear to have been any physical altercations or arrests during Sunday’s protests.