Students and teachers waved rainbow flags and gave speeches outside the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon in support of including LGBTQ-themed curriculum in Utah schools.
“Learning about someone’s identity should never have to come with a parental permission slip or a warning label unless it’s one that says handle with care,” said teacher Cara Cerise in a speech to the crowd.
Cerise, who is queer, said she felt like she had to hide her gay dads from other people as a child. When she was in third grade, her teacher, Mrs. Wheeler, noticed that she looked upset on Father’s Day when her class was making presents to take home. Mrs. Wheeler pulled Cerise aside and told her she could make two gifts to bring home, adding that she also had gay family members. Cerise said that subtle moment changed her life because it was the first time she had heard someone outside her family use the word “gay” in a positive way.
The rally, hosted by Utah Friends, Allies, and Mentors of the LGBTQ+ Community (FAM), was inspired by the controversy that emerged earlier this year when an elementary school teacher in the Murray School District read the book “Call Me Max” to her class, according to organizer Alli Martin. The district suspended its equity reading program because of the backlash.
The book is about a transgender boy who asks to be called Max at school. The author, Kyle Lukoff, traveled from New York to Utah for the rally, where he read the book out loud.
John Arthur, the 2021 Utah teacher of the year, went in front of the crowd to present FAM’s first-ever teacher of the year award to the Horizon Elementary School educator who read the book to her class. Arthur said that the teacher was choosing to remain anonymous out of fear of repercussions.
“The fact that this educator ... has to maintain her anonymity for her safety and sanity is criminal,” he said.
But as Arthur spoke, the teacher in question, Sarah Paul, walked onto the Capitol steps to accept her award in person. The crowd cheered wildly as she wiped tears from her eyes.
The event was attended by a diverse group of queer people and allies.
Ezra Rosenfield, a sophomore at Park City High School, said he attended because he is gay and wants to see more curriculum in schools about pride and queer topics.
Simeon Walther, a Utah teacher from Germany who is gay, said it is important for students to feel safe and be allowed to be themselves at school. He said his students were more comfortable coming out in Germany than they are here.
Sarah Stone, the founder and executive director of Wonderbloom Nature Playschool in Salt Lake City, came as an ally to her LGBTQ family members and friends. She said she also wanted to represent her school as an inclusive space.
High school junior Emily Lowder read aloud a poem about the lack of LGBTQ representation in school.
”I have seen what happens when I am silent. The name-calling, the torn-down posters, the banned extracurricular clubs,” read Lowder.
”I am not going to let my voice sit in a ring box, let it collect dust on the shelf, because 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. I want to see us.”