Back To The Barricades!
Advocacy Required To Fend Off Religious Extremism,
Support Our Public Schools at CVUSD Board,
T.O. City Council Meetings
As summer turns to fall and our local elected bodies return to action, Thousand Oaks once again has been beset by controversies created by two reactionary officials: Pastor (and current T.O. mayor) Rob McCoy and CVUSD trustee Sandee Everett. The latest brouhaha ostensibly concerns California's new sexual-health curriculum guidelines; in the bigger picture, however, our community is becoming the testing ground for right-wing extremists' insistence that "religious freedom" means they can persecute and discriminate against anyone who doesn't look or behave as they do.
As we fight the battle against these reactionaries in the coming weeks -- and over the next year, as Pastor McCoy and Everett launch their re-election bids -- we'll need to operate on two fronts. We'll need to show up at school board and city council meetings, write letters to the editor, and resume all the strategies we've successfully used to beat back those who would curtail our freedoms and harm our children's education. But we'll also need to engage our Conejo Valley neighbors in a kind and empathetic way on issues that are understandably controversial -- winning hearts and minds by telling the truth about a curriculum that is currently the subject of outrageous lies, and unifying our community on behalf of students' health and safety at a moment when some hope to tear it apart over "morals" and religion.
The T.O. far right’s assault on our schools already is being carried out with untruths and misrepresentations designed to scare parents – even to the point of frightening them right out of the district. On Tuesday, these reactionaries will descend upon the first CVUSD board meeting of the new school year, repeating the tactics they used while trying to censor our high schools' literature curriculum as they attack those sex-ed guidelines -- and in particular the new standards for educating students about LGBTQ issues and transgender identity. As was made clear on Saturday, August 10, during a forum on "Christian alternatives to public schools" at Pastor McCoy's church (where Everett played a starring role), they intend to hold the district hostage: unless we give them the censored curriculum they want, they'll pull their kids out of public school and exacerbate the district's issues with declining enrollment.
It's our job to argue for the benefits of sex ed as a means of curbing teen pregnancy and the transmission of HIV and other STDs. More specifically, though, we need to argue on behalf of the anti-bullying benefits of informing students about LGBTQ issues, and transgender identity specifically. Those were the issues on which Everett focused during a bigoted and delusional presentation on 8/10, insisting that helping students better understand trans classmates and adults is inappropriate because trans identity is nothing but a "feeling," not a medical or mental-health reality ... and that it's unnecessary because trans kids aren't bullied around here anyway!
Even discounting the anti-LGBTQ bigotry of her words, the simple fact is that Everett should not have participated in (or even been present for) that forum at all. After all, its stated intent was to encourage Christian-right parents to abandon CVUSD for religious schools or homeschooling -- an agenda anathema to Everett's role as a trustee (as defined by board policy), which is to provide “community leadership and advocacy on behalf of students, the district's educational program, and public education in order to build support within the local community and at the state and national levels.” As a result, on Tuesday evening the school board will discuss a proposal censuring Everett for actions detrimental to the district and its schools.
Unfortunately (but not a bit surprisingly), Everett's supporters have demanded -- and been granted -- an opportunity to deflect from her misdeeds by going after fellow trustee Jenny Fitzgerald, who attended the 8/10 forum and reported its contents on Facebook. A censure resolution has been lobbed at Fitzgerald as well, claiming she misrepresented the forum and Everett's remarks. This bogus second resolution never should have been taken up for discussion at all, and it will not succeed -- but it will allow Everett's supporters to yell at Fitzgerald irrationally during the meeting. This is simply inexcusable behavior, but as painful as it will be to sit through the entire meeting, we must stay to argue in favor of an Everett censure and to ridicule the right wingers' efforts to turn the issue against Fitzgerald.
(One more contentious issue will be discussed as well: the district's implementation of "de-escalation rooms" for students (many with special needs) who need to take time out from the classroom. The rooms, and the policies surrounding them, will be discussed by district officials -- and decried by right-wing parents irrationally trying to turn these rooms into another whipping post. This article in last week's Thousand Oaks Acorn lays out the issues pretty well.)
Even as we push for Everett to be held accountable for her efforts to undermine the district she represents, we also must not let Pastor McCoy off the hook for hosting that anti-public schools forum at his church. The Thousand Oaks City Council returns to action on Tuesday, August 27, for its first meeting in nearly two months -- and it is essential that we turn out! We have reached a critical point at which McCoy's continual breaches of the wall between church and state have begun to create real, negative impacts on our community. And we must take him to task for this behavior, as the first step of our efforts to defeat him next November and drive him out of local government. We must make the case that if McCoy cannot focus on the interests of his entire community, rather than merely the small part of it that appreciates his hypocritical mix of evangelicalism and Tea Party politics, he should leave public office immediately.
Engaging with Empathy
We strongly encourage you to make the time to join these fights over the next couple weeks. At the same time, though, we must seek opportunities to move beyond this cycle of rhetoric & retribution, and engage our friends and neighbors on the common ground (and facts!) that should bind us together. Beyond countering the lies and misrepresentations about the new sexual-health curriculum -- including the fiction bouncing around town that elementary school children will be taught about specific sex acts(!) -- it will be important to reframe the conversation away from the right wing’s howl that “this curriculum doesn’t reflect our values,” and toward the reasons the Healthy Youth Act and this curriculum were implemented: to keep our students safe.
For most (straight/cisgender) students, the curriculum is geared toward helping them avoid sexually transmitted diseases and learn about consent, abuse, and other issues related to teen and adult sexuality. But it’s also aimed at helping ensure the safety, and the physical and mental health, of LGBTQ+ students – in part by encouraging all students to gain understanding and acceptance of their LGBTQ+ peers. A particular goal is to educate our students about transgender youths and adults, whose lives (both as a matter of science and as a matter of identity) remain a mystery to many.
Hyper-conservative Christians like McCoy and Everett are determined to weaponize that mystery, rather than solve it. They’re preying on parents who don’t closely follow school policies, or local politics, or advances in the science and psychology of gender identity. That’s the most important reason we need to engage personally with these same parents – who are also our friends and neighbors, and who likely are not as connected to these issues (or to the players in our local dramas) as we are. We must lead with empathy in these private conversations, not with defensiveness or anger, if we are to ease fears and promote a community that embraces individual differences.
The forces of reason and diversity will easily “win” this local debate, as a matter of policy, over the coming weeks and months. We have a strong 4-1 majority on the school board, and district administrators (for the most part) are eminently levelheaded. But we won’t truly win the argument, as a matter of achieving positive and lasting social change, unless we convince our friends and neighbors that the public values of safety, tolerance and celebrating diversity are equally important as, and compatible with, any parent’s private religious values. (And if the parent doesn’t agree, and insists on sheltering a child from this sort of learning, there’s still a state-recognized right to opt out of much of the curriculum.)
CVUSD administrators have provided a wonderful resource to help us separate fact from fiction: a web page detailing the sexual health curriculum and recent changes to it. You might want to bookmark it on your devices and keep it handy, to show parents that relatively little is changing at the district level, and that the new elements are not actually “pornographic” but are rather tame and unobjectionable. You may even start a broader discussion about LGBTQ rights and the mental, emotional and physical challenges related to transgender identity. It should be our goal to help others recognize that refusing to offer acceptance to a trans student (and grownup), whether for imagined “moral” or “logical” reasons, won’t change that person’s mind -- but it may profoundly endanger his/her/their health and safety.
Even as we prepare to engage in forceful advocacy on these issues over the coming weeks, let’s also undertake the careful, quiet work of helping our neighbors gain a greater understanding of the context in which this is taking place. Many of us will need to stretch our powers of persuasion, and restrain our passions. But this is crucial work for the future of our children and our community. So let’s not shrink from it … let’s embrace it! This fall is going to be busy, and maddening, but we simply cannot leave this battlefield now!
MARK YOUR CALENDAR!
SEX-ED & CENSURE
AT CVUSD BOARD MEETING
Tuesday, August 20, 6 p.m.-?
CVUSD HQ, 1402 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks
Our advocacy is desperately needed on issues including the new sexual health curriculum and trustee Sandee Everett's dereliction of her elected duty earlier this month. Please see the article in this newsletter for details, and make your voice heard on behalf of sanity and our students!
GREEN NEW DEAL RALLIES AT REP. BROWNLEY'S OFFICE
Thursdays, Aug. 22 & 29, 11:30 a.m.
223 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Our colleagues with Climate 350 continue their weekly August-recess protests at Rep. Julia Brownley's T.O. office, pressing her to use her platform as a member of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to back the Green New Deal.
SUPPORT RUTH LUEVANOS AT SIMI VALLEY CITY COUNCIL MEETING
Mon., Aug. 26, 6:30 p.m.
Simi Valley City Hall
2929 Tapo Canyon Road
Simi Valley City Councilwoman Ruth Luevanos faces a censure proposal over her July video informing immigrants of their rights during an ICE raid, and a later controversy over her repetition of hearsay about an alleged ICE arrest outside Simi's popular Vallarta Market. None of her supposed misdeeds comes close to meriting the vicious and downright racist attacks she has received over the last month. (A #RacistRecall effort also is underway, similar to those undertaken by Republicans statewide who are hellbent on overturning the results of recent elections.) Ruth's supporters need to make a huge showing at this meeting, to show the community rejects the racism of a small minority in town.
ADVOCATE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
(AND AGAINST PASTOR ROB McCOY)
AT T.O. CITY COUNCIL MEETING
Tuesday, Aug. 27, 6 p.m.
Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
Pastor-Mayor McCoy had no business allowing his Christian-right church to be used for last week's anti-public schools forum. Our advocacy is needed to hold him accountable for his actions detrimental to his elected office! Please see the article in this newsletter for details, and plan to make your voice heard during this City Council meeting.
INDIVISIBLE: CONEJO NIGHT AT OAK & IRON
Thurs., Aug. 29, 8-10 p.m.
Oak & Iron
2967 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Join your friends and fellow IndivConejo activists as we launch this new, occasional activity: a social night at one of the Conejo's swankiest bars! We'll take over the Reserve Room at Oak & Iron for an evening of informal conversation -- and our special guest will be Westlake High graduate, New Hampshire state legislator, and barely-old-enough imbiber Garrett Muscatel! Reservations are limited, so be sure and let us know you're coming ASAP!
KENNEDY LEGACY AWARDS DINNER
RECOGNIZES INDIVISIBLE: CONEJO
Sun., Sept. 8, 6-9 p.m.
Crown Plaza Ventura
450 E. Harbor Blvd.,
Indivisible: Conejo has been chosen to receive the Organization of the Year award from the Ventura County Democratic Party! We strongly believe that every one of you is essential to our group's success -- so we'd be thrilled for you to join us as we celebrate this recognition!
INDIVISIBLE: CONEJO DEBATE WATCH PARTIES
Thurs. & Fri., Sept. 12-13
in Westlake Village
Round three of the Democratic presidential debates are currently scheduled over two nights in mid-September -- though as of this writing only nine candidates have qualified to participate. We're planning a pair of watch parties, just as we did in June and July -- and space is limited, so please be sure to RSVP to reserve your seat! (You'll receive the addresses in the days before the debates.) Once again we'll ask for a $10 contribution for food & beverages, in lieu of potluck items. Of course, you'll also be able to participate in our Pasta Poll & support your favorite candidate(s), before and after each debate! These parties have been a great time, so don't miss out!
CONEJO VALLEY PRIDE
Saturday, September 28,
11 a.m.-5 p.m.
T.O. Civic Arts Plaza
Indivisible: Conejo and our LGBTQ+ action team once again will have a prominent presence at the second annual Conejo Valley Pride festival. Thanks to all the activists who have contributed to our sponsorship of the event! Please stay tuned for opportunities to volunteer, both at IndivConejo's booth and throughout the event, as we celebrate our local LGBTQ+ community.