NewsLocal News


Educators, activists rally for more LGBTQ+ inclusion in Utah schools

Posted at 10:02 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-19 04:06:14-04

SALT LAKE CITY — More than 200 people gathered on the steps of the Utah State Capitol Tuesday night to celebrate LGBTQ+ students and rally for more inclusion in Utah classrooms.

The educator-founded organization called FAM put together the rally, after a book about a transgender boy was read in a Murray elementary school earlier this year, leading to an outcry from some parents. A student brought the book to school, and asked the teacher to read to the class.

Kyle Lukoff (he/him/his), who wrote the book "Call Me Max," flew out from New York City to read the book aloud on the Utah State Capitol Steps.

While he recited the words he wrote to the large group of parents, teachers and students, people in the crowd held up copies of the picture book so everyone could see the pages.

"Being a boy isn't better than being a girl," Lukoff read, holding the book so it faced the audience. "But being myself is the best."

He then went on to give a speech about what it felt like to see his book end up at the center of a controversy.

In an interview with Fox 13, Lukoff said his first thought was always focused on the kid who brought the book the school, the kid's family and the teacher who read the book to the class.

"I can’t imagine what it must be like to be eight or nine years old, and to know that you just bringing in a book about a kid like yourself has caused such a big problem in your community," Lukoff said. "And my heart just broke for that kid. And I also felt really inspired and amazed at the teacher for taking this risk and reading this book."

Lukoff, who has written several books, said he was invited to the rally. He wanted to help support educators, teachers and families who are doing this work.

"We need and deserve recognition, and support, and care," he said. Lukoff said he was a school librarian who worked at an elementary school for eight years.

He said most of his students knew he was trans, and none of them seemed to care.

"The idea that this topic is so taboo and so controversial that it cannot even be addressed in a school, is such a foreign concept to me," Lukoff said.

He later went on to say that trans people are not a controversy, or a collection of talking points, or an argument to be had.

"I would like those people to read books by me and other trans authors," he said. "And recognize that trans people are part of communities and cultures, and families and friendships."

After Lukoff read "Call Me Max" at the rally, FAM presented an "Educator of the Year" award to the Murray teacher who read the book in class.

FAM intended to gift the award while keeping the teacher anonymous, but someone shouted, "She's here!" from the crowd.

Everyone began to cheer, as that teacher emerged and walked onto the steps. She raised her arm in the air, and the crowd erupted into more claps and cheers.

"I just want to say thank you to my vice principal. And I wouldn't be here without my student," the teacher said, in an impromptu speech. "She is amazing, I love her. She's changed my life forever, and she's here. And I'm so excited."

Dr. Alli Martin (she/her), Horizonte Instruction and Training Center Assistant Principal in Salt Lake City, co-founded FAM.

FAM is made up of Utah educators who support LGBTQ youth, she explained, and want to find ways to affect policy and what happens in classrooms, to ensure students feel supported and included in classrooms.

After the situation in the Murray School District gained negative attention, Dr. Martin said they wanted to hold a rally.

"We exist, our students exist, that we’re not controversial, we are just people," she said. "And our kids are people who deserve to be safe in their classrooms, deserve to be included."

She explained that they aren't advocating for any specific curriculum, or wanting to change how to run schools-- except for inclusion. And they are asking to be able to have that inclusion without harassment from Utah State Board of Education members or state legislators, Dr. Martin said.

"We need to be able to do the work that we are hired to do, which is teach children, without fear of being harassed by people who have been elected into positions of power," she said.

For students like 17-year old Emily (she/her/hers), the rally was a chance to be seen. Emily, a junior at West Jordan High School, said she experiences bullying at school because of who she is.

"Name calling, harassment I faced... I put up [Gay Straight Alliance] posters, and they'd been torn down by a student last week," she said.

Emily described how it would have helped to have more inclusion in her classrooms.

"I know that if when I was younger I would have had accurate and proper representation, then I would be in a much better place," she said.

She talked about how she feels students don't have proper access to health education that is well-rounded. She said queer history is not taught in schools. Emily said she wants to be able to go to her school library, and find LGBTQ books.

Like Lukoff, Emily stood in front of the entire group during the rally, to read her own words. Emily wrote a poem about what she's faced.

The poem is called "Unspoken."

"I want to see myself in the curriculum. I want to see her and him and them, and I want to see love and joy and wonder and peace," Emily said, reciting her poem. "I want to see us. I want to see our history and our health and our art and our books, so I’m not going to stop until I see us, outspoken."

Tuesday's rally, Emily indicated, means the world to kids like her. And she hopes kids like her felt the rally's message.

"Queer kids deserve to be seen," Emily said. "Kids like me deserve to be loved, deserve to see themselves in the classroom. They deserve to be represented."