Portland Elementary School Cancels Pride Fest Friday After Social Media Agitation

Some commenters urged people to show up and shut the event down.

Portland Pride 2022. (Chris Nesseth)

Atkinson Elementary School in Southeast Portland canceled a Pride festival scheduled for Friday after several conservative social media sites circulated word of the event, sparking administrative concerns about protesters.

“Given the fact that the event’s guiding purpose has been overshadowed by manufactured controversy and anti-Queer bias, the event is canceled,” wrote the school’s interim principal, Beth Essex, in a May 2 email to parents. “Inaccurate rumors about this event have been shared on social media, leading to sensationalized media inquiries and shameful, hate-infused vitriol aimed at some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Parents of Atkinson students sent a letter to Portland Public Schools administration earlier this week asking what the district’s plan was to monitor the possibility that disrupters might still show up on campus despite the event’s cancellation.

Authors of the letter told WW they had not heard back from the district as of Thursday morning.

“The school’s phone line was clogged with hateful calls. On the same day that a local right-wing radio host spread misinformation on his live talk show, a school window was broken,” the open letter reads. “This Friday, we will not be spending the afternoon celebrating with our queer and trans kids, allies, families and community. Instead, we are on edge. We are scared that transphobic and homophobic adult agitators may descend on Atkinson to further intimidate our community.”

On Thursday afternoon, the district’s chief of schools, John Franco, sent a statement to families about the matter.

“I am sincerely sorry that tomorrow’s event had to be canceled, and sincerely dismayed by the circumstances leading to that outcome,” Franco said. “I want to reassure you of the district’s commitment to a safe, typical school day tomorrow.”

The district worked with Portland police to “monitor the situation,” Franco said, and “at this time, they are not concerned about possible disruption or violence.”

The festival was slated to include a drag story hour. Such storybook readings have increasingly become the target of protests and threats across the country.

Conservative figures, such as KXL talk show host Lars Larson, and the social media accounts of Libs of TikTok posted about the Atkinson event earlier this month.

“Elementary school counselor in [PPS] is holding a drag show for students in school,” Libs of TikTok posted May 2 on Twitter. “The counselor advertises that the event will feature BIPOC drag queens and be ‘centered around the exploration of gender.’”

That post drew thousands of comments and retweets by social media accounts that condemned the event and the school counselor who organized it. Some commenters urged people to show up and shut the event down.

Larson tells WW that Atkinson parents contacted him. “The parents didn’t feel it was age-appropriate,” he says. “By canceling the event, the school has admitted as much.”

Kate Rubick is a parent of a trans child in the Riverdale School District and the Portland chapter leader of a group that supports parents of trans kids. Rubick says that given the wave of anti-trans legislation sweeping the nation, the school district didn’t take the issue seriously enough.

“I am very surprised that the school district chose to delay messaging to parents around this issue in a more timely manner, because it involved the safety of kids,” Rubick says. “And if there’s an issue of safety and children at a Portland public school, the district should be communicating about that. I think it can be easy sometimes to think about what’s going on in places like Texas and Florida and think Portland must be a safer place to be a trans person. But, of course, that’s not true. It might be safer, but it’s not safe.”

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.