This story was supposed to be about a notable California school system near San Francisco that opens students' minds by embracing LGBTQ-related themes district-wide. But in a time when the LGBTQ+ community is often under political attack, before this story was published, it developed an ugly component, and of course, it involved Libs of TikTok.
Castro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi credits the school board for embracing the LGBTQ+ community and explains that the impetus for painting progress Pride flag murals on all 15 schools was a student request.
"Our board has always been very supportive, making sure that our LGBTQ+ students and families are welcomed and valued," Ahmadi says.
Two students working with Castro Valley Pride approached school officials last year to request permission to paint a rainbow pathway from the Center for the Arts to Castro Valley High School, she says.
"There's a lot more than just the flags that are painted. There's a lot of work around that," Ahmadi says.
A group of parents and students work with the a coordinator in the school system to identify areas that educators and community members could uplift.
The group asks, "How do we make this more than just painting a flag and having people appreciate it?" she explains. "How do we do some real good work that is antibias and aligned with our obligation to combat the kind of racism, sexism, and other forms of bias and hate we encounter in our country?"
Castro Valley Pride began raising funds, and the schools were given the choice of where each wanted to paint their flag. Ultimately, most of the district's 15 schools chose to paint murals on the sides of buildings rather than on the ground. The district office will also feature an inclusive mural, Ahmadi says.
The makeup of many families today differs from the image of a traditional family from decades past, and many younger students have expressed gratitude in recognition of their families' representation, she says.
"It's been amazing. What really gives me hope and what's been so gratifying is that even in our elementary schools, kids are going up to principals and saying, 'I just want to thank you,'" she says.
The district announced its progress flag initiative on the group's Facebook page on Saturday.
"Progress Pride Flags are being painted as murals on each school campus," the post read. "Aligned with our commitment to ensure every student feels safe and valued in our schools, on February 9th, 2022, the CVUSD Board approved the project."
Chaya Raichik, who runs the homophobic and transphobic Libs of TikTok Twitter account, didn't hesitate to draw attention to the school district's inclusivity.
She tweeted a screen grab of the Facebook post with the comment "Homeschool your kids."
When The Advocate spoke with representatives from CVUSD last Friday, before news of the murals was widely reported, Ahmadi said that aside from a few detractors, the district had received almost exclusively positive feedback regarding the murals and the message of inclusivity the school system is sending.
However, after the negative attention from Libs of TikTok, right-wing trolls inundated the school system's Facebook page with hateful comments.
Raichik regularly engages in such targeted attacks. These attacks, experts say, are examples of stochastic terrorism. She has a history of knowingly sending rabid mobs of her followers after LGBTQ+ targets. For example, recently Raichik sent her followers after two medical centers that provide gender-affirming care.
Raichik uses disinformation to spin otherwise harmless facts into seemingly controversial details while claiming she's just holding up a mirror to society by illuminating liberals' behavior by reposting their videos.
"When we talk about hate and marginalization, I always find the commonality that the same person who has issues with LGBTQ+ students also has concerns about topics surrounding racism and feminism," Ahmadi says. "So I feel it's our moral imperative to speak up."
She says the reception in the community has been remarkable. "I'm just happy to be in a community where we do have courageous board members and community members who really are supportive of this work."
Ahmadi says that she doesn't want people to romanticize California — radical critics exist everywhere.
"So I think it's really important to recognize that," she says. "I know that even in Castro Valley, there are people who probably disagree with some of the things we are doing to support all students. That's why it's important to openly have those conversations in the community."
Bus, she says, the most crucial constituency is the students.
"Student voice matters. If we listen to our students, it can be very powerful. I am so encouraged when I talk to students and see them work with each other and be so accepting and compassionate in many ways."
Ahmadi says that paramount in all of this discussion is the students who need to be provided with nurturing surroundings.
"That's why it's important to create an environment where kids feel safe coming to us and saying 'This is what's happening," she says.