Letters to the Editor
August 17, 2023

Dear Esteemed FUSD Board of Trustees,

I am a proud graduate of Fillmore High School, Class of 2006, and attended FUSD schools from K-12. I also have two nieces and a nephew who attend Fillmore schools. I write to you today after listening to the multitude of public comments at your July 18th school board meeting. Although I am extremely proud of the many people who spoke up in favor of FUSD’s partnership with groups that provide safety and community for Queer youth, I was deeply disturbed by the rhetoric around a Queer cultural performance that occurred at One Step A La Vez’s pride event this past month. Of the most concerning, I heard one community member cite a violent biblical passage discussing ropes around necks and drowning while another seemed to scoff at sexual education’s HIV/AIDS literacy (which is important to EVERYONE’S health). I also heard a variety of harmful stereotypes that have historically been used to rally fear and discontent against the LGBTQ community since the beginning of our fight for civil rights. Phrases like “grooming,” “sin,” “sexual abuse,” and “evil" is rhetoric that has perpetuated hate and violence against our community for decades. I hope that these comments serve to reveal the anti-LGBTQ motives behind the group that has been stoking fear and moral panic in Fillmore.

I hold a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology, and I am a registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist working with a private practice in Los Angeles. I did my pre-degree training at APLA Health which is a leading healthcare provider and researcher for those who are living with HIV/AIDS. My work with people has overwhelmingly catered to a Queer (LGBTQ) cohort, and I have a specialization in LGBTQ Affirmative Therapy. I’d like to add a clinical perspective:

I offer LGBTQ-affirmative therapy because it is needed. And no, LGBT Affirmative Therapy is not “grooming.” At its core, it's about meeting Queer clients with true empathy, understanding, and validation for their right to exist as humans. The reason this therapy is needed is that Queer people have often been deprived of a basic level of empathy and mirroring during their development by their families and communities. This deficit in empathy, and ensuing antipathy, for the Queer part of a person is often at the root of mental health problems that Queer clients present with - anxiety, depression, unhealthy relationships, substance misuse, spiritual cut-off, toxic perfectionism, self-hate, eating disorders, and more. There is an inherent trauma of growing up LGBTQ in a world that believes you are a "sin" and should not exist - this inherent developmental trauma is a shadow that looms large in the background of my sessions with Queer adults. In cases of extreme trauma, clients’ ability to process traumatic events is often complicated by the lack of empathy and sense of safety they received as children due to their queerness.

This is why organizations like One Step A La Vez are so important. This organization’s availability as a resource and its use in community-building is an outstanding early intervention for Queer people who are at high risk for the various mental health issues that were stated above.
Suggesting that our community is a pathway to sexual abuse was one of the more hurtful comments that I heard at your July 18th meeting. The sexual and physical abuse that has presented in Queer clients has often been at the hands of their own family and members of their religious communities - NOT drag queens. In fact, I have heard an overwhelmingly opposite point of view of drag performance from my Queer clients. Seeing a drag show for the first time was once described to me as “Queer Joy” - where a Queer person was able to join in community with other Queer people and enjoy performance art that is intrinsically tied to Queer liberation. Drag is a statement of defiance - couched in comedy, make-up art, and costuming - that empowers the Queer community to embrace their outsiderness and transform it into a source of pride.

I want to also point out: Seeing a person in drag will not make your straight child gay or Queer. If they do end up coming out as Queer, it will be because they were already LGBTQ long before they ever saw a person in drag... And, If the latter is the case, the Queer community WILL "come for your kids" (as one parent feared). We will come to them and offer them acceptance and empathy, we will build them up, and we help them celebrate their existence since so many in society have failed at these tasks for them.

I spoke to this board previously in regard the fearmongering that is happening in the city of Fillmore. When I came to you then, I cited several statistics that can help illuminate the dire need for supportive institutions around Queer children. I will repeat them now:

According to the CDC’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 60 percent of LGBQ youth reported being so sad or hopeless that they stopped doing some of their usual activities. (Kann et al, 2016)
LGB youth contempt suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth... They're also 5x more likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth (The Trevor Project).
LGBTQ+ youth have a 120% higher risk of becoming homeless after coming out to their families. This cohort makes up to 40% of the homeless youth population (McCann & Brown, 2019)
40% of transgender adults have reported having made a suicide attempt and of those, 92% reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. (The Trevor Project)

As a mental health colleague once put it, in a fit of frustration: "Do you want Queer kids, or do you want dead kids?"

The harm in eliminating resources for Queer youth - resources like One Step A La Vez - far outweighs any "harm" of a single drag performance (With the side note that “harm” created by drag has ZERO clinical or empirical backing).

I urge the board to resist the loudness of ignorance and to continue their endorsement of One Step and other similar groups that allow ALL students the right to empathy and community. Thank you for your time and please reach out to me with any questions you might have on queer development and mental health problems that present in queer clients - I am happy to lend articles and other research that could be helpful.

Daniel Gradias, MA, AMFT#138119 (He/Him)
Fillmore, Ca.