A sign at Fugett Middle School in the West Chester Area School District inviting students to join a Gender-Sexuality Alliance caught the eye of GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill McSwain, who blasted it as an example of “leftist political indoctrination” in a Facebook post.
McSwain, a former U.S. attorney whose hometown is West Chester, has since deleted the post, which included a photo of the sign and pledged: “This ends when I’m governor.”
But the message — and another social media post from a Republican operative accusing the school of “grooming” students — drew outrage from parents who saw it as targeting children and their district.
“I immediately was like — what is ‘this’? The lives of kids? Places where they can be themselves?” said Steph Anderson, whose daughter is part of the club. “These are grown adults, these are politicians … who are attacking kids.” She said her daughter learned about the posts while at school and came home “really frustrated and concerned.”
Screenshots provided by parents indicate McSwain posted the message on his campaign Facebook page March 4, a day after attending a Chester County GOP event at the school, according to another post. It wasn’t clear when he deleted it; one parent said it was up at least through Monday morning.
Despite the post’s deletion, a campaign spokesperson indicated Wednesday that McSwain stood by the message.
“Whether it is hateful critical race theory, or the ‘deep social change related to racial, gender, and educational justice’ that is the GSA’s purpose, Bill McSwain believes that it is inappropriate for Pennsylvania tax dollars to be spent in public schools to explicitly encourage the progressive social justice agenda,” said the spokesperson, Rachel Tripp. She didn’t answer a question on why McSwain deleted the post.
A spokesperson for the West Chester school district said the GSA was one of “numerous curricular and non-curricular clubs” offered to students.
“Just as any public school that receives federal funding and acts in accordance with the Federal Equal Access Act of 1984, we support and offer fair access for non-curricular clubs that build relationships between students with shared interests,” said the spokesperson, Molly Schwemler.
She said that GSAs were “student-run organizations or clubs that bring together LGBTQ+ and allied youth. At the heart of GSA clubs, and all student clubs, is the opportunity to provide students with a defined space in which to make valuable connections and have constructive discussions with their peers.”
The GSA sign that was photographed by McSwain and Matt Braynard — the executive director of a group called Look Ahead America, and organizer of the September “Justice for J6″ rally supporting people charged in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — described the group this way: “This is a safe space for you to share your feelings, thoughts, and emotions! Everyone is welcome!”
It invited students interested in joining to email staff members. While McSwain hid those addresses from his post, Braynard did not — and referred to the teachers as “the grooming gang.”
Teachers involved with the club did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Meghan Reikob, who has a ninth grader at West Chester East High School involved in a GSA club there, said she was “really disappointed” by McSwain’s post — which, like other parents, she connected to a broader movement on the right targeting how schools address gender and sexuality and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Some of that is happening in statehouses: On Tuesday, the Florida Legislature passed what critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, restricting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity; other legislative efforts seek to limit teaching of “divisive” concepts around race, racism, or gender.
“I don’t think, unfortunately, that this is out of the blue,” Reikob said. She noted McSwain’s call for a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” — a pitch his spokesperson reaffirmed Wednesday, saying that McSwain “will protect parents’ right to have their children educated free from political indoctrination of any sort.”
Children should learn that LGBTQ people exist and deserve respect, Reikob said. Of McSwain’s vision of rights, she said: “Is that only going to be parental rights for those who agree?”