The city of Temecula, California is situated between Los Angeles and San Diego, right in the heart of the state’s Southern wine country. Known for its hot air balloon festivals and golf courses, Temecula is an idyllic tourist destination for many in the Greater Los Angeles area. The small city which is currently represented by Republicans in federal and state government, has been making headlines for its recent pushback on LGBTQ+ issues.
Back in June, prior to Mayor Zak Schwank’s Pride Month proclamation, City Councilmember Jessica Alexander spoke out and shared a slideshow of supposed LGBTQ+ flags, including ones representing beastiality and furries, claiming that the plus acknowledges “sexual deviant behaviors.” She then walked out of the meeting.
This week on Sept. 26, the Temecula City Council voted 3-2 to remove the plus from the city’s Pride proclamation. Alexander has also proposed the reference to Stonewall be removed from the proclamation and that the proclamation not be shared with high school student clubs. Those proposals did not pass the council.
It’s not only the city council dealing with pushback on LGBTQ+ issues. Temecula’s school board made national news and caught the ire of Gov. Gavin Newsom in June when the board voted 3-2 in opposition to adopting a new elementary social studies textbook over its inclusion of LGBTQ+ activist and politician Harvey Milk in the textbook’s supplemental material. School board President Joseph Komrosky even referred to Milk as a “pedophile.” This caused a firestorm among parents, teachers and officials. Newsom responded to Komrosky’s accusation with a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Newsom then pushed through bill AB-1078, which would require an accurate and inclusive curriculum and requires that the state department of education “no later than July 1, 2025, to develop guidance and public educational materials to ensure that all Californians can access information about educational laws and policies that safeguard the right to an accurate and inclusive curriculum. The bill passed and was signed into law Sept. 25.
Textbooks weren’t the only thing dividing the school board and the community.
Aug. 23, the school board voted 3-2 to enact a policy that requires parental notification for “any request by the student to use a name that differs from their legal name (other than a commonly recognized diminutive of the child’s legal name) or to use pronouns that do not align with the student’s biological sex or gender listed on the student’s birth certificate or other official records.” The policy also addresses bathroom policies and athletic inclusion. This type of policy is considered an outing to many LGBTQ+ advocates, including the ACLU, and could potentially put a child in a difficult position at home or in their community. This policy also comes just weeks after a lawsuit was filed against the school board after its ban on Critical race theory.
At a meeting Sept. 12, the board voted 3-2 to limit the Temecula Valley Unified School District to only displaying the American flag or California state flag. The policy states that “ Any other flag must be approved by the Superintendent or designee prior to displaying if, and only if, it is used for educational purposes and only during the related instructional period.” The removal of Pride flags has also been an issue for school districts around the country including Utah and Missouri.
In response to these policies, students at Great Oak High School in Temecula organized a walkout this week, carrying signs and Pride flags in protest.
Temecula is just one example of a city where conservatives have taken control of city and school boards in a blue state. While they are not the first blue state district to enact anti-LGBTQ+ policies, they are an example of the types of roadblocks LGBTQ+ citizens and students face. Living in a blue state doesn’t always protect LGBTQ+ and marginalized communities on the local level. According to the Trevor Project’s most recent U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, “nearly 2 in 3 LGBTQ young people said that hearing about potential state or local laws banning people from discussing LGBTQ people at school made their mental health a lot worse.”
Local school board elections have been a keystone for conservative political action committees that have reportedly infused millions of dollars into races. Groups like Moms for Liberty have shown up in district meetings around the country, pushing for conservative values and “parental rights” – a strawman argument now being used to pass anti-LGBTQ+ and diversity and inclusion policies from Florida to California.
The situation in Temecula underscores the importance of local elections and the influence of conservative groups with ramifications that ripple beyond city limits.