Last Friday marked the 27th annual Day of Silence, an annual, student-led protest event organized by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). In Colorado Springs, youth-focused LGBTQ nonprofit Inside Out held a poetry showcase and rally at City Hall, where youth and staff chalked LGBTQ-affirming messages on the sidewalk and made posters.

That morning, Matt Barber, a former Liberty University professor and noted anti-LGBTQ activist, appeared on Richard Randall’s morning talk radio show to demonize and spread misinformation about LGBTQ people and the Day of Silence event.

This year, from school boards to the gubernatorial race, LGBTQ issues are at the frontline of the culture war. Conservatives are scoring easy electoral points by demonizing transgender people, restricting access to health care for trans people under the age of 19, banning trans athletes from participating in school sports, and increasingly criminalizing and erasing LGBTQ people from public life.

“It is frightening,” said Liss Smith, Inside Out’s communications manager. “We’re seeing a lot of hatred that is backed by a lot of intentional violence, both violence in terms of legislation, violence as policy, but also violence as in actual physical violence. We’re seeing people who are so furious at our mere existence. That hurts us as adults, and even if we’re used to this and we’ve had to deal with this our whole lives it still hurts.”

 Barber spent over an hour on the Richard Randall show accusing LGBTQ people, and GLSEN, of “grooming” children and made hyperbolic claims about the influence of what he called the “gender neutrality, LGBT agenda.”

“People don’t understand,” said Barber. “They need to understand it is all about grooming. Now I don’t necessarily mean ‘grooming’ for adult-child sex, although that is a huge part of it. It’s about grooming the minds of these young children. Dr. Judith Reisman, who worked with me at Liberty [University], we infiltrated, a few years back, a conference in Baltimore, Maryland that was put on by and hosted by Johns Hopkins University.”

Barber, in addition to his accusations of grooming, attempted to conflate GLSEN with the nonprofit B4U-ACT, which works with mental health professionals and pedophiles on effective therapeutic approaches. It has nothing to do with GLSEN or the Day of Silence. “Dr. Reisman has documented, unfortunately she passed away recently, but she documented years of scientific evidence showing they’re trying to get ahold of these kids in schools, as young as kindergarten, because they literally are changing the physiology of their brains,” said Barber. “These kids want to be part of something bigger than themselves, so all of this propaganda and indoctrination — and that’s what it is, it’s brainwashing — that helps a kid to become counterintuitive. They have to say, ‘Wow, I know intuitively that a boy can’t be a girl, but you’re telling me they can,’ so they’re literally changing the physiology. We infiltrated this conference and much of what was said I can’t even repeat over the air. The bottom line was Dr. [Fred] Berlin acknowledged that he supported the mission of this group that he partnered with, it’s called ‘B4U-ACT,’ and they call themselves ‘minor-attracted persons.’ … GLSEN, the group that sponsors the day of silence, it’s all combined.”

 The use of the term “groomer” to harass and slander LGBTQ people is the latest trend among a segment of conservatives. “Extremists are pushing misinformation and dangerous rhetoric about supportive educators in an attempt to advance an anti-LGBTQ+, white supremacist, and anti-democratic political agenda,” said Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, GLSEN Executive Director, in an emailed statement. “The truth is that the presence of LGBTQ+ supportive educators and affirming curriculum is critical to ending the harassment of LGBTQ+ students, who currently experience higher rates of sexual assault and harassment than non-LGBTQ+ peers. Too often, LGBTQ+ students don’t report sexual harassment and assault because they don’t believe that educators will intervene effectively, or that reporting it will actually make the situation worse. Efforts to erase LGBTQ+ students will only discourage students from reporting harassment and put young people further in harm’s way. Instead of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills, we need policies that invest in comprehensive supports for our young people that are inclusive of all aspects of their identity.”

Inside Out Youth Services held their annual Day of Silence poetry event at City Hall in Colorado Springs.

Barber accused GLSEN of conspiring with other radical organizations to indoctrinate children. “They partner with Planned Parenthood and the National Education Association, to come up with what they call ‘values neutral’ curricula,” he said. “It is not value neutral. They’re pushing complete sexual abandon. … It’s all gender fluidity.”

Barber singled out Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs. “An email went from District 20 administration,” he said. “This is why I brought this up. My daughter attends Air Academy High School. I’m going to be meeting later today with the principal. I’m going to be meeting later with the school board. I want District 20 to be on notice that I’m putting together a coalition of legislators, of leaders, of local leaders and politicians and parents and we are going to be demanding and conducting a full audit of the District 20 sex-ed curriculum over the next year and we’re going to see what happens next year on the so-called Day of Silence.”

Barber went on to claim that the purpose of Day of Silence was to bully the real victims: straight Christian students. “Kids who are Christian, for instance, at a school like Air Academy, full of military families, conservative patriots, Christians, teachers who are Christians, get a memo saying, ‘You need to participate in this, if kids want to remain silent and disrupt class that’s fine,’” he said. “Look, I’m all for free speech in the school. There is no constitutional right to not participate in the learning environment, nor to disrupt the learning environment. For instance, kids who go there today and do not participate, and we’ve seen this over the years with the Day of Silence, guess what happens? These kids are actually bullied. They’re homophobes. They’re transphobes. Just because they won’t agree to be used as pawns by GLSEN, adult homosexual activists and, yes, pedophiles. They don’t want to kowtow to their radical agenda.”

Tianna McCormick, a parent of an LGBTQ student in a D20 middle school, has no idea what Barber is talking about.

She provided the Colorado Times Recorder with copies of the last two D20 newsletters, from April 15 and April 22. Neither mentioned Day of Silence.

“I don’t think they did anything,” said McCormick. “[My son is] very vocal about, ‘Mommy, this city is more accepting,’ or ‘This state is more accepting,’ so he would have told me if something had gone on.”

McCormick did mention that her son regularly deals with bullying. “My son is in middle school,” she said. “He found a group of friends, and there is a program at school for students who identify as LGBTQ, and there are a couple of teachers who are known to be safe teachers in my son’s middle school, so I know he does have safe places he can go. However, people constantly make comments. They’ll say gay slurs as he walks past them, and really nothing is done. He says it happens directly in front of teachers and teachers really don’t do much about it. I asked my son if he wanted me to make a thing about it, and he said no. He certainly feels the brunt of some stuff.”

After ranting about LGBTQ people for nearly an hour, Barber admitted that he hadn’t actually seen the alleged D20 email that got him so upset. “I didn’t get the email,” he said. “I was told, from people on the inside, the email was distributed.”

Air Academy High School did make a Facebook and Instagram post about Day of Silence, but the post was suggested by students. “There was no email, it was just a Facebook post,” said Allison Cortez, a D20 spokesperson. “The GSA kids followed the proper channels to have the post made on the official AAHS account.”

Cortez also noted that participation in Day of Silence was not required.

“An event like this is completely optional,” she said. “In this case, the idea was to wear a red shirt and/or be silent to bring awareness to the issue of transgender harassment. These types of ‘wear’ or ‘do’ days are very common in schools. For instance, just a few weeks (maybe days) before, many of our schools asked students and staff to wear purple to support military families. As with anything, some people participate and some do not. They are not mandatory.”

Matt Barber turned a single social media post into an hour-long rant on Richard Randall’s radio show.

In addition to smearing LGBTQ people as groomers, Barber repeated the same false claims that Charlie Kirk told an audience at the University of Colorado Boulder earlier this month. “Kids need to understand, if you are gender confused, over 90% of adolescents come out of that and are aligned with their God-given gender,” he said. “Now we’re talking about pumping hormones into kids as children as seven, eight, nine, ten to stop puberty. Literally mutilating children to perform cosmetic surgery, sterilizing them. It is chemical castration and literal castration. Sterilizing them for life and pigeon-holing them into a life where, Johns Hopkins released this study, over 40% of people, post-transition, who identify as transgender, attempt suicide. You wouldn’t tell an anorexic person, ‘Go get liposuction.’ This is exactly the same, because they have a skewed image of their body and who they are.”

The idea that transgender children will just stop being transgender, also called “desistance,” is based on the work of Canadian psychologist Kenneth Zucker. Zucker was fired from Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in 2015 for treatment that critics compared to conversion therapy. Zucker later received an apology and a settlement from the CAMH for his firing, but the figures for desistance in trans youth have been consistently questioned.

While hormone blockers are often prescribed for trans youth, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), has detailed Standards of Care that describe when and how they should be used. Barber’s claims that children are undergoing “literal castration” is a common lie repeated by ardent transphobes. The WPATH Standards of Care clearly state, “Genital surgery should not be carried out until (i) patients reach the legal age of majority to give consent for medical procedures in a given country, and (ii) patients have lived continuously for at least 12 months in the gender role that is congruent with their gender identity.”

Barber’s claims about suicide stem from a 2011 Swedish study — not Johns Hopkins — that found overall mortality for sex-reassigned persons, especially from suicide, was higher than the control group. That study is often misrepresented and used by anti-transgender activists. One of the study’s authors, Cecilia Dhejne, was asked about the misuse of her research in Martin J. Smith’s 2021 book about the history of gender confirmation surgery in Colorado, Going to Trinidad.

“People who misuse the study always omit the fact that the study clearly states that it is not an evaluation of gender dysphoria treatment,” said Dhejne. “If we look at the literature, we find that several recent studies conclude that [World Professional Association for Transgender Health] Standards of Care-compliant treatment decreases gender dysphoria and improves mental health.”

Smith says the ongoing attacks on LGBTQ people have a negative impact on the youth served by Inside Out. “They are still learning who they are,” said Smith. “Outside opinions form those perceptions and they’re hearing these outside opinions saying they are not valid, they are not loved, they don’t exist. It’s really harming their self esteem. There is a Trevor Project survey that shows that 94% of surveyed [LGBTQ] young people said their sense of self was negatively impacted by the current political climate.” 

Barber said there are plans in the works for a Christian Day of Silence at D20. “Next year we’re going to be suggesting you either pull your child out, or we’re going to organizing what’s called the ‘National Day of Truth,’” he said. “On the Day of Silence we’ll have Christian kids and other kids lovingly share the truth of the Gospel of Jesus, the truth of his design for human sexuality, and share that there is freedom from any kind of temptation and people need to stop identifying and defining themselves based on what they do rather than who they are.”

D20 is one of three districts, along with Colorado Springs School District 11 and District 49, that have received letters from the Freedom From Religion Foundation over issues relating to the separation of church and state. Aaron Salt, a D20 Board of Education member, is one of the featured speakers for a May 20 “Hold the Line” event in Colorado Springs, headlined by far-right Christian worship leader Sean Feucht and featuring Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), among others.