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GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — A local LGBTQ center aims to ensure students and faculty in Guilford County feel supported amid what it described as nationwide efforts to put LGBTQ+ people “back in the closet.”

Guilford Green Foundation and LGBTQ Center, based out of Greensboro, included a missive in their weekly email urging people to speak up at Guilford County School’s next meeting, which will happen on Oct. 11. 

The graphic distributed by GGF in emails and on their Facebook page declares, “We will not go back in the closet!” referencing National Coming Out Day, which falls on Oct. 11. The aligning of the date is what Executive Director Jennifer Ruppe says prompted the decision to attend the school board meeting.

“With [Tuesday] being National Coming Out Day we wanted to show support for our LGBTQ+ students at the school board level,” Ruppe said. “We are parents, we are teachers, we community members.” 

National Coming Out Day was started in the 1980s as a way to show people that LGBTQ+ people exist in everyone’s communities everywhere and affirm their place in society.

Ruppe also said that the messaging pushed by certain groups is harmful, naming specifically Take Back Our Schools – GCS, and says that these groups are attempting to pressure or scare LGBTQ+ students and school staff “back into the closet.”

Take Back Our Schools – GCS declined to comment on their position on LGBTQ+ issues or specific actions that the group says it has taken on their public Facebook page.

“A national trend, led by groups like Take Back Our Schools, is attempting to silence and erase LGBTQ students, teachers and families right here in Guilford County. False narratives and fearmongering are being used in an attempt to remove LGBTQ-themed books and resources from schools and penalize teachers and administrators for providing resources to students,” GGF wrote in their Facebook post, urging people to participate in the school board meeting. “We must ensure LGBTQ kids are safe in our schools!”

Speaking with Ruppe, she elaborated on the nationwide effort of conservative politicians to push what she called “anti-diversity” policies in school curriculums. This is an agenda against diversity and equity, Ruppe says, and is not based in the reality of what’s being taught in schools.

Many of these organizations speak out against “indoctrinating” kids, and Ruppe believes this rhetoric is being used to create fear that will push LGBTQ+ students and teachers “back in the closet” and is promoting the idea that LGBTQ+ people are predators.

She also stated that many of the concerns about what is taught in schools “doesn’t come from a factual place.” She emphasized that gender and sexuality are not taught in schools, particularly not in elementary school. These are not on school curriculums. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s guidelines do not address gender or sexuality in their standards, beyond an overview of puberty for health curriculums and an overview of LGBTQ+ rights movements in high school social studies classes.

A similar group to Take Back Our Schools that started in Alamance County, FACTS Task Force 2.0, references schools “teaching ‘gender’ stuff” in a Sept. 30 Facebook post. Per the North Carolina guidelines, gender is not a significant topic in the curriculum at any grade level. The group states on their Facebook that they are “not anti-LGBTQ.”

Guilford Green Foundation clarified that it is not advocating for LGBTQ+ issues to be added to the curriculum at any grade-level, Ruppe says. What they believe is that students should have access to resources in school that are grade-specific and represent diverse identities, including LGBTQ+ identities.

She also expressed concern that the climate around LGBTQ+ issues in schools could make LGBTQ+ students or teachers feel like they can’t safely discuss their identities in a school setting, and that being unable to discuss their identities can be harmful.

“Kids know a lot more about who they are at an earlier age than what we give them credit for. When you take those things away, what you’re saying is ‘you don’t exist,'” Ruppe said.

The consequences of removing diverse material from schools could have serious consequences for students who might be experiencing hardship, she says.

“Kids will die,” Ruppe said. “They’ll die because they might not have anyone supportive, a teacher or a social worker, to turn to if they don’t have a supportive home.”

Take Back Our Schools – GCS 

The group that is referenced the Guilford Green Foundation’s post, Take Back Our Schools – GCS, describes itself on Facebook as a group of “parents of students made up of various ethnic groups and backgrounds.” 

When asked if Take Back Our Schools – GCS has filed complaints with the school system, a representative with GCS was unable to say if any complaints about books or course material had specific ties to any particular group, however, there were two complaints filed about books in Guilford County Schools during the 2021-2022 school year. 

Northern Guilford High School received complaints about two books: “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward and “Life is Funny” by E.R. Frank. 

“In June, the Media Technology Advisory Council Committee at Northern Guilford voted to keep both books available for school use. Students reading the books for a class assignment have the option to choose an alternative book,” GCS wrote to FOX8 in August. 

The complainants filed an appeal of that decision.

The group’s Facebook page has recently shared videos of fights from Guilford County Schools and other local news stories about the school districts.

On Sept. 19, they posted on Facebook an image of a door with a sign that read “Queer All Year.” The group said this photo was taken at a school in Guilford County. The post also included an edited image that makes the sign read “Heterosexual All Year” and asked, “Can you guess which one has an actual classroom behind it right here in GCS?”

The Facebook post doesn’t specify which school this was in, just that it was a chorus classroom. The post reads, “We are so happy to report that the sign has been removed from the chorus door. We so appreciate all those that reached out to TakeBack and trusted us.”

Guilford County Schools would not comment on the image.

Take Back Our Schools – GCS is a registered non-profit. IRS records show that it was registered in 2020 though the TBOS-GCS website says they’ve been operating for 10 years.

“Take Back Our Schools-GCS which is a 501(c)4, has started fundraising for Guilford County School families that believe they need legal counsel to fight for the rights of their children. Taking a stand with these families we hope will help prevent additional children from being hurt in the future. We at TakeBack believe in paying it forward and standing together as one. In cases where the family’s legal action is successful, they will pay it forward to help future families who will need legal counsel,” the website reads, with a link to ‘GiveSendPray.’ The GiveSendPray site claims they’ve raised more than $1,500.

TakeBackOurSchools – GCS has endorsed four candidates for Guilford County School Board: Crissy Pratt, Linda Welborn, Tim Andrew and Demetria Carter. 

Profiles of school board candidates are here. Linda Welborn also wrote a Letter to the Editor published in The Rhino Times in May describing a situation where a second grader was “told at school she could be a boy but not to tell her parents,” going on to decry teaching “genderism” to kids.

These candidates are running under the banner of “New Vision New Direction,” according to Lynn Andrew, who is identified as their campaign coordinator in an email sent to FOX8 in May.

“Each of the candidates is an independent candidate who is running their own campaign. They formed a team after a search and vetting process was performed by Take Back Our Schools GCS. They have been endorsed by Take Back Our Schools GCS.”

She went on the state that they are not “Take Back Our Schools candidates,” simply endorsed by them.

On the page of their website in which they shared their endorsement, a graphic featuring the four candidates and Lt. Governor Mark Robinson is posted prominently above a letter penned by Stephanie Mitchell. 

“I can tell you with 100% certainty that the only answer is to flip our school board, elect a Strong Sheriff, Mayor, County Commissioners, City Leaders and our next GOVERNOR, Mark Keith Robinson,” she wrote.

Their website also features a graphic thanking various donors, including the Guilford County Republican Party, Greater Greensboro Republican Women’s Club and the “Branson 4 Guilford County Commissioner” campaign. 

Take Back Our Schools – GCS has a link on their website to Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson’s FACTS Task Force, which launched in 2021 and serves as a reporting system for grievances about educational material in North Carolina.

This group in Guilford County is not the only one working in the Triad area with a vested interest in school board candidates and modeling itself after the lieutenant governor’s task force.

In Alamance County

The F.A.C.T.S. Task Force 2.0 started in Alamance County and they have campaigned to have books removed from Alamance-Burlington school libraries.

While Gender Queer was removed earlier this year, the school district says that it was a decision made independent of any groups requesting its removal, at the behest of the superintendent, Dain Bulter. 

When asked if the FACTS Task Force 2.0 had any contact with Butler, the group responded “No comment.” 

The Alamance-Burlington School System spent time at a school board meeting in August discussing their process for disputing library books and educational materials. The form says that a “citizen” can dispute books and material, while the policy said only “parent” can do so, which is what officials say is the correct interpretation. This means that challenges to library books or course material must come from parents/guardians, not unrelated community members.

Anthony Brooks responded to questions about that policy clarification last month with the following statement:

“ABSS’s decision to silence concerned parents/citizens was a political move. A Lot of parents in ABSS have removed their children from public schools to homeschooling options, and ABSS chose to not hear from them- this is Blasphemy! I’m shocked that they elected to go this route because we all assumed that the School Board members would be curious to know why more parents are opting for homeschool. It’s obvious that they have no interest in hearing from the citizens who fund public education when it comes to challenging materials.”

Anthony Brooks, formerly of FACTS Task Force 2.0

In September, on their Facebook page, they announced that they were “ceasing operations” in Alamance County. This comes just after they launched a “chapter” in New Hanover County. Mamie Brooks, formerly identified as the director of the organization, said that FTF2.0 will shift to a non-profit with her acting as CEO. As of October 2022, the IRS has not reported any nonprofits under the name of FACTS Task Force 2.0 or a variation of it. Brooks did not specify a timeline for when the group may become a nonprofit.

Anthony Brooks declined to comment on their involvement or endorsements in local school board elections, despite numerous references being made to it on the FTF2.0 Facebook page.

Two types of candidates on the Ballot. You have the ones that have been outspoken against this nonsense in our educational system from day 1, then you have the Candidates that waited until 3 months before elections to start caring about education………”

“Organize..Train….and Deploy..#StrengthInUnity #educationoverindoctrination,” they write.

According to Mamie Brooks, FACTS Task Force 2.0’s “goals are multiple- to create legislation for fingerprinting and deeper background checks for everyone within our schools to weed out pedophiles; to take the obscene books issue to state court; to stop the National Sex Ed agenda of teaching pre-k-5th; to have the curriculum transparent, to rid it of Marxist ideology, and stop the indoctrination and sexualization of our children. We want reading, writing, and arithmetic to be the main focus,” according to Brooks.

These two groups reflect the national trend that LGBTQ+ community members and advocacy groups like Guilford Green Foundation worry may negatively impact students, teachers and the community at large.