In Southern California’s inland empire, far-right activists associated with The Proud Boys have spent the past year hanging banners from overpasses to broadcast queerphobic messages across the region. “Parents of Trans Kids Promote Mental Illness,” they read. Or: “The Rainbow Belongs to God, Not to LGBTQ.”
The banner battle is just one front in an ongoing conflict surrounding the region’s Redlands schools. A network of LGBTQ parents and allies, including several from the group Safe Redlands Schools (SRS), have a text line to receive alerts from community members warning when a new banner drops — to make sure it’s taken down.
Shortly after forming, SRS opposed the school board campaign of Erin Stepien, whose platform opposed critical race theory, “gender ideology curriculum” and vaccine mandates. SRS continues to advocate against book bans and to support LGBTQ students at contentious school board meetings, drawing the ire of far-right groups. Several Proud Boys’ banners call out SRS directly: “Protect Your Kids From SRS and Leftist Extremism.” “SRS Promotes Grooming.”
A particular target for the Right is the SRS cofounder and artist known as @eyerollsandbloodlust, a local MFA student in graphic design who runs social media accounts promoting anti-capitalist, anti-fascist politics. She prefers not to use her real name — which is sometimes plastered across the banners — here to prevent harassment. She once found a flyer glued to her front door with her name and photo adorned with swastikas, labeling her a “Marxist cunt” (a label she embraced).
“They were very easily able to paint me as … ‘scary antifa girl,’” she says, because of the radical politics in her social media posts. “Which is very funny because I’m 5’2” and a single mom.”
For her MFA thesis, rather than a gallery show (“so boring,” she says), she decided to host a community event to subvert the far-right attacks. She hung up confiscated banners, bought a “fuckton of spray paint,” and let people go to town.
“It was incredible,” she says, estimating attendance at the September 30 event at more than 200 people. Community members covered the Proud Boys’ signs in hearts, peace signs and messages such as “keep trans kids safe” and “we protect us.”
One of the ways “we protect us” in Redlands involves volunteers, many dads dressed in bright vests offering to walk people to and from the parking lot at school board meetings, to limit harassment. Fearing that the Proud Boys might crash her art event, @eyerollsandbloodlust asked a larger-than-normal security crew for help. While the show was open to the community, she provided the team with zines that included the names and faces of some commonly known provocateurs who were not invited: “Know your local fascists,” read the cover.
A short video of the zine, to her surprise, went viral on social media, collecting more than 10,000 likes and 2 million views on X (formerly Twitter) as of November 2. The zine draws on the research and work of other moms in the area, she says, and that work is ongoing. They’re currently preparing for next year’s school board elections and planning an event to provide free school supplies to local students.
“My 16-year-old is trans,” she says. “It’s really important that my kid’s safe in school and that my kid can also safely express himself.”
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