As a member of this community for over five years, a parent and former teacher, I am appalled and embarrassed at the way our neighbors treated our elected officials at the recent legislative district town hall at Federal Way High School.
Reps. Kristine Reeves and Mike Pellicciotti, along with Sen. Claire Wilson dedicated their Saturday afternoon to update our community about what they have been working on during the current legislative session and to listen to community feedback. The intent was both to inform and to be informed. Becca Martin from the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce moderated the event, with all of the questions asked by the audience.
Unfortunately, they were met with was an ill-advised group of citizens who showed up to attack our electeds about one single issue, SB 5395.
This bill, written on request from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, is a comprehensive sexual health education bill that aims to educate children on what consent means (no means no and it’s OK to say no and mean it, at any point) and what healthy relationships look like (26 percent of women and 15 percent of men have been victims of sexual violence before the age of 18 according to the CDC) among other things. The bill also changes the opt-out power to allow families to choose whether their children are learning this curriculum, rather than allowing entire school districts to opt-out, leaving their young people without this vital knowledge. Additionally, this curriculum will include education around sexuality, including facts about the LGBTQIA+ community and topics around bullying this community.
During the town hall, there were questions about airplane pollution, taxes, Sound Transit and funding for education. Other questions were submitted but never answered because of the large organized group of community members that interrupted the meeting at about the halfway mark.
This attempted take-over was led by a pastor who yelled loudly: “Anybody here to talk about the bill 5395” out of turn. Multiple community members had also approached Pellicciotti while he was in the middle of being asked a question by the moderator, those people presumably demanding that the panel moved on to the only topic so many people seemed to care about. The pastor was premature in his attempt to cause an uproar, however, as the elected officials had already agreed to move on to the SB 5395 discussion. His shouting caused much of the crowd to erupt, in either cheers or yelling out random phrases, such as “Save our Kids,” “Leave it to the parents” and “ Don’t teach our kids about sex.”
The next few minutes were about crowd control, having to calm the crowd multiple times as the verbal attacks continued. Reeves attempted to explain that things were moving along and at one point, she just stood at the front of the room silently, waiting for people to stop screaming at her. “We (the legislators) are not going to respond to bullying” and “I do not want my community modeling bullying to my children,” Reeves stated, after having pointed out that her own 3 and 5-year old children were also in the room.
As the crowd calmed, a long line of speakers formed, most of them to talk about SB 5395. There were some parents who said that they should be able to teach their children about sex education at home, which in fact they can if they choose to opt-out of the in-school curriculum for their kids.
The most hateful comments of all, however, were on the topic of the LGBTQIA+ community. One pastor, bible in hand, said, “We do not have the right to normalize what’s not normal” about this topic.
Another father of multiple children said that when his child was at school, talking about how being gay is not “right” there was a group of children that bullied his child. Witnessing how this community was treating our elected officials made me question their perspective on what bullying looks like. All I could think at that point was that maybe the children he accused of bullying his child were just sticking up for a gay classmate.
This was just one example of the awful things that people said at the mic, in front of a proud lesbian senator and a crowd that included many people from our own LGBTQIA+ community. It should not be left unsaid, as well, that with the amount of children that attended the event, one should realize that some of those protesters very own children are likely to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community themselves.
These parents, angry about a bill that they did not fully comprehend, were spewing hate about a group of people that their own children may find comfort in belonging to one day. The number of young people who experience this lack of acceptance from their families and often turn to self-harm, experience mental health issues, and can lead to suicide is extremely high for children who grow up in homes filled with such behaviors and attitudes. As a social justice advocate who has always worked closely with children in crisis, these are the facts I would love these families to understand.
The shining lights of the event were the multiple parents and local educators who stood up and supported our legislators and this bill. Many of them told personal stories of their own students who could benefit from the lessons that will be taught in the curriculum covered by SB 5395. It was also pointed out by one speaker that while this crowd of people was adamant that they wanted to teach their own children about sexual education, that not every child has a parent or caregiver as willing or wanting to do so.
During public comment, the legislators took notes and did not respond. They promised to reach out to the constituents who wrote questions that went unaddressed. They handled the disrespect with grace and dignity.
Our community does not have to agree on everything. Freedom of speech and thought is one of the greatest rights we have. Attacking public officials because you are angry? Attempting to intimidate lawmakers about a bill you don’t seem to understand? None of that is ok. It was all ugly and not a good representation of how our community should be interacting with one another.
As the event was wrapping up, I overheard many people talking about how they did not even live in the 30th Legislative District. This just emphasized how many people just followed someone else’s lead based on misinformation around a bill they had not even read.
To my community I say, we can and should do better.
I am grateful to Reps. Reeves and Pellicciotti and Sen. Wilson for enduring the attacks that they faced from this mob of uninformed people.
Your leadership was evident on Saturday.
To you three I say, never stop fighting for what is best for the greater good of our community and there will always be people to hold you up and support you through these tough moments.
Allison Fine Taylor