An elite private school in Chicago has tightened security and disabled its Twitter and Facebook accounts after a video of its principal secretly recorded by a conservative group went viral Wednesday.
The video captures the principal speaking last week about a visit to Francis W. Parker School by an LGBTQ health organization to discuss queer sexual health with high schoolers. The video of that conversation was edited by the right-wing group before being posted.
Parker’s leaders sent a letter to the school community on Wednesday saying “we are heartbroken that one of our colleague’s words has been grossly misrepresented for a harmful purpose.” The letter offered strong support for their faculty and staff and for the school’s “inclusive, LGBTQ+ affirming and comprehensive approach” to sex education.
The school said the local alderman helped it expand the police presence around the Lincoln Park campus and implemented heightened security measures. At least one person marched in front of the school on Thursday to protest the school’s sex education program.
Project Veritas, the New York-based right-wing organization that made the video, claims on its website that it is “building an army of guerrilla journalists.” Its agents assume false identities and covertly record conversations, often attempting to shame or discredit progressive organizations and media outlets, including NPR.
The footage was captured by an officer disguised as an attendee at the National Association of Independent Schools conference last week.
The agent recorded himself talking to Joseph Bruno, Parker’s student principal. In the video, Bruno described an event during the school’s annual Pride Week last May. During an optional lunchtime session for high schoolers, Howard Brown Health educators presented a lesson on queer sexual health that included showing students sex toys. Bruno also mentioned a romance and photo shoot with a drag queen. The video fails to mention that both events were optional.
The video, which has been viewed more than 4 million times as of Thursday afternoon, made the rounds on right-wing media and news sites. #ExposeGroomers trended on Twitter today, and Fox News picked up the story this morning.
Project Veritas released a second video showing founder James O’Keefe attempting to confront Bruno on the Parker campus Wednesday afternoon. Bruno walks away from O’Keefe and his cameraman. O’Keefe then asks the parents if they are aware that the school is “giving sex toys to kids” in a voice loud enough for nearby elementary school students to hear. He is asked to leave by a parent volunteer.
Targets of previous Project Veritas undercover video projects have included educators and teacher unions. The American Federation of Teachers in 2018 released a “heavily confusing” Project Veritas video that misrepresented the union’s response to an allegation of teacher misconduct.
This latest campaign is part of a trend of online right-wing attacks on LGBTQ+ children’s books and events that have sometimes led to threats and violence. Earlier this month an independent school in suburban Clintonville, Ohio, deleted a history of drag queens event after a post on the right-wing LibsofTikTok Twitter account inspired the Proud Boys, a militia group, to plan an armed demonstration outside the school.
Parker’s leaders said in their letter that they “are disgusted by this group’s deceitful tactics, their invasion during a People of Color conference, and their attack on the LGBTQ+ community” and offered strong support to the principal.
“Parker’s trustees and Parker’s board of directors support Parker’s programming, the strength and inclusiveness of our curriculum, and the dedicated and talented faculty and staff who teach it.”
The school offers mental health check-ins to students and held a meeting on Thursday to discuss the news.