Elk Grove parents voice support for LGBTQ student club and the teacher who helped start it

Parents in the Elk Grove Unified School District are speaking out in support of the teacher who oversaw a campus Rainbow Club at Pleasant Grove Elementary School.

They spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting in response to controversy mustered by conservative parents and organizations who thought the student lunchtime group — called a UBU (short for You Be You) Club at Pleasant Grove — was inappropriate for elementary-aged students.

The conservative parents also felt that the school district failed to inform parents that the groups existed. Rainbow Clubs are elementary school equivalents of Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs, where students who may identify with “being different” or with the LGBTQ community have a place to go.

Pleasant Grove is not the only school in the district with a Rainbow Club, but it was the one that triggered protest, and the parental outcry resulted in the club no longer meeting.

Parents who had children join the UBU Club, however, said during public comment Tuesday that their students benefited from it greatly, and urged the district to allow the club to continue meeting.

“Pleasant Grove started the UBU Club and things dramatically changed” for one parent, Erin Phelps, whose neurodivergent daughter had a hard time making friends.

“She went to the UBU Club and came home talking about how much fun she had with this new friend, playing that new game, or with this new friend making art,” Phelps, whose two daughters attend Pleasant Grove and both joined the UBU Club, said.

“When the club took a pause, they were both upset,” she said.

Phelps said that the uproar over the UBU Club teacher supervisor, Daniel Bishop, and the protests and walkouts that have taken place at the small K-6 school, have done more damage to her daughters than a lunchtime club ever would.

Board members cannot respond during public comment, but they have said in past meetings that they are committed to both supporting LGBTQ students and reviewing district policies to make sure parents feel involved and informed.

The UBU Club was featured on Libs of TikTok, a conservative social media account with 3 million followers on X, formerly Twitter, and nearly half a million on Instagram, as well as conservative commentator Jesse Watters’ primetime Fox News show.

Bishop, who said the club was a safe space for “boys who crush on boys and girls who crush on girls,” and the school’s principal, Deidra Woods, received threats.

Protesters flocked to the small campus last month with signs that read, “Stop Grooming Our Children.” An anonymous Instagram account called Informed Parents EGUSD, led by parents’ rights activists, organized a walk out last Friday, and claimed that around 150 kids were kept home from school. (The school district did not respond to a request for the number of students who did not attend last Friday.)

“Both of my kids’ anxiety and fear about the safety of the school increased,” Phelps said. “Now there are police officers on campus and kids talking about death threats to our teachers. The fear and stress this is causing our children is horrific, and I can only imagine the damage it is doing to our LGBTQ community.”

Sam, an Elk Grove father with neurodivergent kids at Pleasant Grove who didn’t want to share his last name, said during public comment that the UBU Club “is not just a gay club.”

“It is for anybody who feels marginalized, that they’re not accepted, that they have no friends, or that they’re hated,” he said. “This gives them a spot to be away from that, to be able to play, talk, be at peace, feel safe at school.”

Sam said that the conservative pushback against such a club is thinly veiled discrimination against LGBTQ people.

“If this club were called ‘Come Play Board Games,’ nobody would have a problem. But because it explicitly states that it welcomes the LGBTQ community, it’s being vilified, and the entire school is being attacked now.”

Sam said he supports parents rights’ — “I’m a parent, I get it.” — but that those who oppose the UBU Club are “hiding behind all these pseudo-causes, and using that as an excuse to squash the UBU Club.”

The board did not take any action about the clubs on Tuesday, but parents and activists on both sides still spoke out during public comment.

Another Elk Grove mom, named Andi, who also did not want to use her last name, said her kids came home “very excited to tell me about” the creation of the UBU Club, which started earlier this year.

“The club (met) during recess, and it was going to be a fun space to do art, play games, or just have a quiet space to read,” she said. “No curriculum, no age-inappropriate discussions.”

The protests in response to the club have made school feel less safe, she said.

“Last week’s religious protesters in front of our school holding disgusting signs not only distracted our children from their education, but it was also terrifying for them.”

Just two people spoke to the board about the “secretive” clubs, and were upset that the lunchtime club did not require permission slips from parents. But at a board meeting last month, nearly 50 parents lined up to speak out against the UBU Club and what they perceived to be a lack of transparency at the district level.

Last week, EGUSD Board Trustee Michael Vargas told The Sacramento Bee that “it wouldn’t make a lot of sense administratively to send an email to parents every time a new club popped up” because students start them so frequently. The UBU Club is also age appropriate for elementary school students who want a welcoming place to play and hang out during lunch, he said.

Still, conservative groups are seeking to have the clubs banned altogether. The religious advocacy group California Family Council has worked with the Christian conservative legal nonprofit, the National Center for Law & Policy, to send a cease and desist letter to the district demanding the cancellation of the clubs.

At the Tuesday meeting, an EGUSD high school student asked the board, and the parents in the room, what concerned parents are so afraid of.

“If a teacher started a chess club, would parents be up in arms?” Cosumnes Oaks High School senior Laura Richey, who started her campus GSA club, said.

“Do you think people would be staging walk outs and petitioning the school board? I don’t think so.”