Right-wing Kansas politicians face backlash after accusing school of LGBTQ ‘indoctrination’
Pride panic: Republican Kansas State Rep. Pat Proctor and conservative Leavenworth City School Board member Vanessa Reid accused a local elementary school of indoctrinating and sexualizing students after a few children drew a Pride flag for an assignment related to overcoming adversity. This photograph, originally taken by Reid and posted in a newsletter by Proctor. The drawing at center was by local PTO President Courtney Ricard's daughter. It appears here with permission of the Ricard family. | Photo via the Office of State Rep. Pat Proctor

LEAVENWORTH, Kan.—“I want everyone to understand who and what these people are, and to make sure this never happens again!” That’s what parent Courtney Ricard told People’s World about Republican Kansas State Rep. Pat Proctor and conservative Leavenworth City School Board member Vanessa Reid.

On Jan. 27, 2023, Reid and Proctor entered David Brewer Elementary School (where, full disclosure, this author’s daughter attends third grade) on a guided tour following a donation of socks to the school. During their tour of the school library, Reid photographed a fourth-grade student’s drawing, one of many on display as part of a “Character Strong” curriculum emphasizing women, persons of color, and others who excel despite adversity.

The student’s drawing was of an LGBTQ Pride flag in answer to the prompt, “What ‘My Library is For Everyone’ Means to You.” The child’s drawing was one of only six that featured an LGBTQ theme in a display of 150 drawings in total. But Reid, without the permission of the child, or the child’s parent, photographed it. Proctor then shared it as part of his newsletter to accuse David Brewer Elementary of “indoctrinating” and “sexualizing” children.

Republican Kansas State Rep. Pat Proctor and conservative Leavenworth City School Board member Vanessa Reid. | Photo via the Office of State Rep. Pat Proctor

Proctor and Reid’s conspiracy theory joins a wave of similar accusations across the country. Right-wing parents and politicians—from Reid and Proctor in Kansas to Ron DeSantis in Florida—target anything bespeaking “inclusiveness” or “diversity” as indoctrination. Former President Donald Trump even called public schools “indoctrination camps…focused on sexualizing our children.”

Of course, what Reid and Proctor likely didn’t anticipate was the response from Leavenworth’s parents.

The drawing photographed was the work of the daughter of the above-quoted Courtney Ricard, who happens to be the president of the local Parent-Teacher Organization. The use of her daughter’s artwork, without permission, to promote a discriminatory agenda led Ricard to organize a massive response.

She publicly said that her daughter’s drawing was misused by Proctor and Reid, resulting in overwhelming support from several LGBTQ-affirming parents, including both Democrats, Republicans, and those who identify as neither.

Display on Perseverance at David Brewer Elementary. Proctor shared a cropped version of this photograph, showing only books, disapprovingly commenting, ‘Still some work to do at David Brewer, I think.’

It is not merely the fact that her child’s drawing was misused in this way, but also that the agenda that extremist leaders like Proctor and Reid are pushing, far from being anti-indoctrination, is itself a form of indoctrination—indoctrination in heteronormativity. It is this that Ricard and her fellow parents do not want pushed onto their children, as it contradicts values they seek to instill in them: inclusivity, acceptance, and diversity.

At the April 2023 School Board meeting, one of Ricard’s friends, Ashley Johnson, expressed this best by loudly emphasizing “for all” in the meeting’s recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The fallout from the incident continues. There has been an upswell of support for LGBTQ equality in Leavenworth, including from many Republicans. One organization, “Helping Leavenworth LGBTQ+ Teens,” has seen membership soar from 32 to 145. A new progressive local media outlet, The Leavenworth Lowdown, has been founded. And on June 21, the local U.S. military installation, Fort Leavenworth, will host its first annual Pride Month Observance.

Doubtless Reid and Proctor had hoped to “rile up” their own right-wing base but instead have riled up a cadre of LGBTQ allies who are now calling for Reid to resign from the school board. Reid was already being pushed to resign over other incendiary remarks earlier this year when she said that the best quality in a new school superintendent would be “blue eyes.” Many took the comment as racist.

Some Leavenworth LGBTQ allies demonstrate outside the April School Board Meeting in support of Ricard’s daughter. | Andrew Miller / People’s World

At the same April board meeting, during the public comment period, speakers registered their opinions on the controversy, with many from Reid’s church expressing support for her position. One even equated the Pride flag with “pornography,” while another, Karen Overby, a current right-wing candidate for school board, went well over her three-minute time limit to spout slogans about the danger posed by “the radical leftist agenda.”

Speakers also included LGBTQ and pro-equality parents urging Reid’s resignation and asserting the need to protect LGBTQ children and teens, considering high suicide and depression rates among them are linked to attacks such as those launched by Proctor and Reid.

It remains to be seen how this incident will play out electorally. Assuming she does not step down, will Reid be re-elected to the school board? Will Proctor be defeated by a challenger in 2024?  It is worth noting that he was only elected after his predecessor, the popular Democratic State Rep. Jeff Pittman decided to run for State Senate instead—and won. Democratic challenges are not impossible to mount in Leavenworth.

These questions remain unanswered, but what is clear is that there is a new energy among Leavenworth progressive activists, and with each conspiracy-minded speech and accusation lobbed, Reid, Proctor, and their allies further clarify for Leavenworth voters exactly who and what they are: right-wing extremists.

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Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller is an Ordained Priest in the Celtic-Rite Old Catholic Church. He co-hosts the podcasts "A Pastor and a Priest Walk Into a Movie Theater" and "Blessed Lunatics," for the New Faith New Media network. He has written "On the Compatibility of Christianity and Marxism" for Political Affairs and served on the Communist Party USA's Religion Commission.