San Dieguito social media comments on pronouns spark accusations of transphobia

The San Dieguito board met on Aug. 25.
(Karen Billing)

At the Aug. 25 San Dieguito Union High School District board meeting, a group of students and parents spoke up about a transphobic comment in a discussion about pronouns on the private SDUHSD Families for Students First Facebook page.

In a now-deleted comment, a poster wrote: “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. Personally, there are some groups of people out there that I approve of suicide as their answer. Rapists, murderers, pedophiles and this group. I’m not trying to be funny or unsympathetic but rather humane.”

A large crowd showed up to the meeting to denounce those comments, holding signs and the transgender pride flag. Trustee Katrina Young had taped a piece of paper with her preferred pronouns to her nameplate.

“I invite you to look at me as a transgender individual and tell me that I deserve to kill myself,” said August Ruterbusch, a recent San Dieguito graduate during public comment. “How am I supposed to go to school in this lovely, beautiful school district when there are adults out there who think that I should be dead for who I am?”

Students and parents said they were disturbed by the dialogue happening in the private Facebook group and many questioned “insensitive” responses made in the thread by Trustee Michael Allman, alleging that he encouraged the conversation and laughed, using the laughter emoji.

Some said they were concerned about the safety of the district’s educational environment for their students, calling for trans-awareness training for teachers and parents. Some called for Allman to resign from the board and for the Facebook page to be taken down.

“You made a comment: ‘The sad part is that if a student said their pronouns were I/she/it they’d probably be charged with some hate crime’,” said Mali Woods-Drake, president of Encinitas 4 Equality to Allman. “The sad part, Trustee Allman, is that you lack courage or moral compass, awareness and the integrity needed to stand up for our most vulnerable students.”

In a statement following the board meeting, Allman said he did not write the comment about suicide, did not laugh about suicide and was the one who reported the offensive comment to the moderators for it to be removed.

“Every life is valuable, and every person deserves respect. No one fully knows the pain of others, but we all recognize that life contains pain and uncertainty. Suicide is not funny. It is a tragedy for all concerned and everyone who is touched by it deserves empathy and understanding,” Allman wrote. “Everyone should be called by the pronoun of their choice without question, ridicule, or judgment. This is unequivocally what I believe, and no one should say otherwise.

“Last Thursday night, about 30 people came to the board meeting because they feel I don’t believe these things, but they are wrong. Let me repeat that. They are wrong.”

During public comment at the meeting, Allman attempted to respond to the claims made against him and was shouted down by the audience: “If there was anything that was hateful said on that site, I completely repudiate whoever put that entry on Facebook,” he said. With yelling continuing to interrupt his attempts to speak, Muir said he would be allowed to respond after the public comment period was over.

The private SDUHSD Families for Students First page has 2,200 members. Currently there are three page administrators including Marcel Carlson Chambers, Ginny Merrifield and Allison Stratton. While she was previously an admin, Allman’s wife LeeAnn is no longer involved. They believe that the group provides a platform for district parents to communicate and inform, provide tips and share ideas. Recent topics have included crowding at San Dieguito Academy, how to improve La Costa Canyon and college readiness classes.

Some parents have frequently accused the SDUHSD Families group of being divisive and exclusive—many claimed that they have been kicked out for having dissenting opinions. Stratton said that they don’t mind dissent—they don’t want to be an echo chamber, but people need to be respectful. Parents also complained that the group passed out flyers at San Dieguito Academy’s back-to-school night, suggesting that the page is officially sanctioned or endorsed by the district.

The group’s rules state that screenshots of comments or copying comments that are shared outside the group is a violation and can get a member removed—screenshots of comments often do make it outside the group, including in this case.

Over the Aug. 19 weekend, a parent posted about a Canyon Crest Academy teacher telling her child’s class that they would use the pronoun “they” for everyone and students would “get in trouble if they ask to be called what they are.” The post started a thread of a couple hundred comments expressing a variety of opinions, including Allman asking the parent to keep him posted about the principal’s response to her concern (Allman said it is his understanding that the issue was resolved as a miscommunication).

“I didn’t type that comment (about suicide). Mr. Stewart did and it was completely inappropriate,” Allman said. Allman said when he saw the post on Saturday, Aug. 20, he asked the moderators to take it down and it was removed. Nobody “liked” Stewart’s post about suicide or agreed with his sentiments; some parents challenged him.

Allman’s use of laughing emojis came before the comment about suicide in the thread. Allman said he also went back and removed the laughing emojis on Stewart’s previous comments: “The guy didn’t strike me as funny any more.”

The thread did get Allman thinking about the appropriate way to handle pronouns and given the issues raised at the meeting that night, he shared a document he had created with some suggestions. The audience started shouting and Young interjected multiple times with a Brown Act point of order that the item was not on the agenda for discussion. As the yelling continued, some of it escalating to a perceived threat, Muir could not get control of the room and called for a 10-minute recess. The topic was not picked up again when the board returned.

Following the meeting, Trustee Young issued a statement publicly condemning the posts on the Facebook page, “including those made by Allman.”

“I personally stand in solidarity with the transgender and entire LGBTQIA+ community,” Young wrote. “I value and respect their right to determine the pronouns that they believe best reflects their self-expression. Most of all, I deeply regret the pain they have endured through the ignorance and/or intentional hateful biases of others.”

In November 2021, the board passed a resolution brought forward by Allman, affirming the protection of students against discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying. It denounces discrimination, sexism, racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and ableism that not only generate heated rhetoric, but can also result in vandalism, physical assaults and emotional trauma.

The resolution called for the consideration of a new district-level position, an independent ombudsman, who would be responsible for investigating and addressing allegations of discrimination and harassment.

In August, about 700 certificated and classified staff participated in a workshop put on by the San Diego County Office of Education titled, “LGBTQIA+ 101: The Basics -Terminology, Laws, Best Practices, & Policy Change”. This was the first part of a series of training that the district is providing to support the LGBTQIA+ community. At this initial training staff walked away with a basic understanding of laws and policies to support LGBTQIA+ youth, pronouns and gender-inclusive language, facilities, steps for providing an inclusive environment, as well as community resources available to students, staff and families.

During public comment at the Aug. 25 meeting, Marina Fleming, a parent of a non-binary child, said she is scared and saddened by the increase of transphobic comments in the national discourse.

“It’s horrifying to read such a hate-filled thread by parents in our district,” Fleming said, adding that it was the most concerning to her that Allman participated in the thread. “I certainly don’t feel that he has the best interest of my child at heart. Although I know there are amazing people in this district who work very hard to make their spaces affirming for LGTBTQ+ students, parents should be able to expect our children are safe in all spaces within this district.”


2:49 p.m. Aug. 30, 2022: Allman’s wife LeeAnn is no longer an administrator of the SDUHSD Families for Students First Facebook page.