Coalition protests at far-right school board candidate training in Des Plaines

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Equality Illinois Deputy Director Mony Ruiz-Velasco speaking while protesting a far-right school board candidate training on Saturday, Sept. 24. Photo by Tim Furman

A coalition of LGBTQ and allied groups on Saturday protested against a school board training event sponsored by anti-LGBTQ groups Moms for Liberty and Awake Illinois.

Awake Illinois has become notorious in recent months for their efforts to shut down any family-friendly drag events, especially in the suburbs. They recently celebrated the cancellation of a Drag Queen Bingo for teens at the Downers Grove Public Library.

The flyer from Awake Illinois promoting the school board candidate training. From Facebook.

Opposition to LGBTQ events, especially when they include drag artists, has been building in recent months with a lot of the effort in the suburban counties around Chicago. Lake in the Hills, Joliet, Downers Grove, Plainfield and Buffalo Grove have seen active efforts to shut down any family LGBTQ event.

Moms for Liberty and Awake Illinois called the event “School Board Candidate Training” lead by the Leadership Institute. The institute has been training conservative activists since 1979. Past alumni include Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, former Vice-President Mike Pence and conspiracy website Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe.

The training on Saturday, Sept. 24, was held at the Courtyard by Marriot in Des Plaines.

“We are here today in solidarity with parents, with teachers, with youth and our partners to call out the hate and intimidation and to tell LGBTQ+ Illinoisans, and particularly youth, that you belong, that you matter, that you are beautiful, that you are exactly who you are meant to be, and that we are grateful that you are in the world,“ said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, deputy director of Equality Illinois.

“LGBTQ+ people deserve the same rights, same treatment and respect as our straight and cisgender allies. We are here because we will not let these hate groups control our narratives, our families or our ability to see ourselves reflected in our schools and our libraries,” said Ruiz-Velasco.

Members of the coalition spoke at a press conference about their own experiences and encounters fighting extremism.

“It’s not always an easy battle, but it is winnable if you are organized,” said Downers Grove parent Kylie Spahn, who helped in a successful fight against banning the book “Gender Queer” in local schools. “Due to being outspoken, I was attacked verbally at meetings, and my employer was called by someone a number of times who claimed I was a groomer and shouldn’t be around kids.”

“They continually model the worst bullying behavior possible for all of our children,” said Shannon Limjuco of Wheaton. “I’ve seen them target and harass in person and online, school board members, administrators, teachers, and even parents who speak out against them.“

Members of the coalition said that organizing against the extremists has worked. Some of them will be hosting their own school board candidate training for people running for inclusive candidates.

David Goldenberg, Regional Director of the ADL Midwest said in a written statement: “Schools should be a place for students to learn and grow, and public spaces should be where community members gather freely and express their identities without fear. As groups like Awake Illinois and the Proud Boys continue to target the LGBTQ+ community using new and vicious tactics, we are committed to working with our coalition partners to disrupt this cycle of hate and guarantee our communities are more equitable and safer for all.” 

In addition to Equality Illinois, Illinois Families for Public Schools, and ADL Midwest, organizations cosponsoring the event included Illinois NOW, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, National Council of Jewish Women – Chicago North Shore, American Association of University Women – Naperville Area, Buffalo Grove Pride, Indivisible Naperville, Northwest Side Organizing for America (NWSOFA), North/Northwest Suburban Chicago Chapter of NOW, Peoria NOW, DuPage County NOW, Will County NOW, 360 Youth Services.

The Leadership Institute has a youth leadership session at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago on Oct. 6 and an “election integrity workshop” at the Double Tree Suites in Downers Grove on Oct. 8.

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