Transphobic comments leaked from Facebook group

september cover story

SDUHSD Board Vice President Michael Allman faced backlash from community members at board meetings on Aug. 25 and Sept. 14 after screenshots of a private Facebook discussion, in which Allman participated in, were leaked that some deemed “transphobic.”

The discussion, which appeared in the private Facebook group “SDUHSD Families for Students First,” created by Allman during his 2020 school board campaign, addressed pronoun usage in schools. Some of the comments mocked the preferred pronouns of nonbinary and transgender students.

The Facebook group is advertised as a forum for district families. After joining the board, Allman left his role as the group’s administrator but remained a member.

The discussion was sparked by a parent who claimed inaccurately, according to Canyon Crest Academy Principal Brett Killeen, that a CCA teacher had implemented a new policy of using only they/them pronouns for all students. Many of the responding commenters criticized the teacher and renounced the practice of asking for preferred pronouns.

“Let others take a guess [at a person’s pronouns],” Allman commented. “If they guess wrong, the student can correct them if they want to, or just let it go if they want to.”

In the thread, Allman responded to six comments, writing for one, “When I need a good laugh to ease the tension of my day, I know I can always count [on] you” in response to a comment that said using they/them pronouns in a singular context was as grammatically correct as “Fo shizzle.”

Of the comments revealed in the leaked discussion, most concerning to LGBTQ individuals and allies was one that discussed suicides in the transgender community.

“People who are not male or female have gotten a raw deal and will never be able to live their best life. If they choose suicide as an answer then it is on them,” one commenter wrote. “Personally, there are some groups of people out there that I approve of suicide as their answer. Rapists, murderers, pedophiles and this group.”

This individual commented multiple times in the discussion, saying that gender-neutral pronouns are “annoying,” “confusing” and “comical.” In response to one of the individual’s comments that discussed a person identifying as a cat, Allman commented ten laughing emojis. After seeing the comment that mentioned suicide, Allman said he contacted the group’s administrators, prompting the discussion to be taken down and the individual to be removed from the group.

Though Allman reported the comment, some community members still criticized his earlier participation. Approximately a dozen public commenters condemned the discussion at an Aug. 25 board meeting, and others joined them in the audience, holding print-outs of the comments and waving pride flags. At the meeting, Allman denied that his comments were “transphobic” and later referred to the public comments as an “orchestrated attack.”

“[Suicide] is a tragedy for all concerned and everyone who is touched by it deserves empathy and understanding,” Allman said in an Aug. 28 statement. “Everyone should be called by the pronoun of their choice without question, ridicule or judgment.”

Following that meeting, interim Superintendent Tina Douglas sent an email to district families acknowledging the need for LGBTQ student resources. Criticism of Allman’s comments was again voiced three weeks later at a board meeting on Sept. 14.

“Officials need to be held responsible for what they say,” Mace Viemeister, the president of the San Dieguito Academy GSA, said. “[They] pledge to serve the health and safety of [their] student body, and [Allman] is clearly not capable of doing that.”

Collaborating with the La Costa Canyon Gender Sexuality Alliance, Viemeister wrote a resolution for the Sept. 14 meeting that called for “restorative action,” such as the creation of a LGBTQ student liaison and the addition of an anti-slurs guideline to student handbooks. While the resolution was not added to the agenda due to its late submission, according to Board President Maureen Muir, it was read to a large audience during a two-hour public comment session. The authors said they plan to present the resolution at the next board meeting on Oct. 13. During the meeting, Allman called the comment mentioning suicide “inappropriate” and “offensive,” but also criticized that it had been made public, saying its amplification was “incredibly hurtful to our LGBTQIA+ community.” 

Some public commenters supported Allman.

“He’s being attacked unreasonably,” one commenter said. “[Allman] didn’t handle the social media event very well and I think he should apologize, but … he is an understanding, strong man with integrity.”

However, one public commenter read an email that Allman allegedly sent to community members prior to the meeting asking them to make public comments in his favor so “we don’t hear only from the same group of haters.” He allegedly provided the recipients with comment topics, including that the “SDUHSD Families for Students First” Facebook group is a “great resource.” Allman did not respond to requests for comment on the alleged email. Trustee Katrina Young said that Allman “agreeing with, laughing at and commenting on [the] post” was “transphobic.”

“He may have asked for one [comment] to be taken down … [but] he didn’t try to defend the children who were being mocked.” she said. “I would say that he did the opposite.”

Trustee Julie Bronstein also condemned the comments. Muir did not address the comments at the meetings and did not respond to requests to comment from the Falconer, except to say that Allman’s participation in the Facebook group did not violate board policy. But according to Young, Allman’s activity on the Facebook group is “problematic.”

“The [group] has First Amendment rights to talk about whatever they want, but when they use the district’s name, it’s a slippery slope because people might assume that it’s district- sponsored or affiliated,” she said.

Allman defended the Facebook page.

“The members of the group are politically diverse, but the page is not tied in any way to any political organization or party. It’s not run by me or my family,” he said. “The group serves an important purpose; otherwise it would have died out.”

In the wake of those comments, TPHS GSA Co-President Brock Brown (12) wants district campuses to organize assemblies to learn about proper pronoun use.

“[If teachers ask for preferred pronouns,] they would feel more at ease and students would feel more respected,” TPHS GSA Co-President Antonia Hastings (12) said.

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