Day 3 of Moms for Liberty’s National Summit: Attendees share lessons learned, trans rights advocates respond

Some attendees said transgender children should not partake in gender-affirming healthcare. “No child is born in the wrong body,” said Gays against Groomers founder.

People are seated at round tables in a large conference room.

Moms for Liberty held their 2023 national summit in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Fears around gender and sexuality discussions and critical race theory in schools continued to echo through the Marriott Hotel halls — the Moms for Liberty National Summit hub in Philadelphia.

Sunday is the last day of the four-day conference that brought hundreds of attendees from across the country and Pennsylvania — including from Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Erie, Berks, Monroe, and Venango counties.

On Saturday, the group hosted Republican presidential primary candidates Vivek Ramaswamy and Asa Hutchinson, held sessions on topics including Black history and gender ideology, and trained people running for public office and local school boards.

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy smiles as he speaks with people.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy takes photos with Moms For Liberty national summit attendees on July 1, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Jamiee Michell, the founder of the group Gays Against Groomers, opened Saturday’s events. The group describes itself as “a coalition of gay people” against “sexualization, indoctrination and medicalization of children.”

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“No child is born in the wrong body,” Michell said, enveloped by cheers from the crowd.

Jamiee Michell speaks onstage at the Moms for Liberty conference.
Jamiee Michell, founder of Gays against Groomers, spoke at the Moms for Liberty national summit in Philadelphia on July 1, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Michell’s message resonated with summit attendees. Sharelle Mendenhall, a 2020 pageant winner, who lost a Republican U.S. Senate primary bid last year in Nevada, says gender transitioning should be a slow process. She said she has a family member who transitioned at a young age and now has suicidal thoughts.

Mendenhall said children should be reaffirmed about their personal attributes, not when they feel out of place in their bodies. The slower process, she said, is “how we root out and weed out the ones that are just doing it in the moment out of hurt.”

Media was allowed inside for a portion of one of Saturday morning’s three breakout sessions, called “Protecting Children from Gender Ideology.” In that session, speaker Billboard Chris shared a video of a woman who tearfully said she regretted taking puberty blockers when she was younger. Reporters were escorted out of the room before Bucks County activist Megan Brock started her presentation.

Audience members sit in rows of chairs.
Moms for Liberty held their 2023 national summit in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Research from the Trevor Project shows that gender-affirming health care can be life-saving for many trans youth, says Chriss Nelson, founder of Trans Minors Rights, a Pennsylvania-based group that advocates for trans youth’s access to puberty blockers.

“It can help to reduce the risk of suicide. It can help to reduce anxiety and depression and youth who are experiencing gender dysphoria,” Nelson said Saturday in an interview with WHYY News. A 2022 study published in the Lancet found that 98% of trans youth who went on puberty blockers continued with gender-affirming care afterwards.

Nelson said “there’s a very select few people who are de-transitioners who speak out against the trans community, and it’s really not fair for them to use their experience as a way to say that all transgender people shouldn’t be able to transition.”

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The transitioning process is normally slow, Nelson said, and puberty blockers should only be used once puberty hits, after consultation with doctors, otherwise it’s medical malpractice.

Insights from Bucks County attendees

Bucks County residents Monica and Mike Domanico were selling Trump merchandise inside the summit.

They are owners of The Trump Store in Bensalem and shared what they heard from many attendees. The biggest concern they noticed, “that everybody’s talking about … Everything that’s being taught to kids and transgender stuff and just the junk being taught.”

Lisa Von Deylen, a Republican committee person in Bucks County (left) joined friends Michael (center) and Monica Domanico (right), owners of the Trump Store in Bensalem, Pa., as they posed for a photo.
Lisa Von Deelan, a Republican committee person in Bucks County (left) joined friends Michael (center) and Monica Domanico (right), owners of the Trump Store in Bensalem, Pa., as they sold merchandise at the Moms For Liberty national summit in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

They say the summit is energizing them to get behind school board candidates in their district, Central Bucks — even though their kids have already graduated.

“This is really eye opening. Like, it’s pretty amazing. I love it. I can do this,” Monica said.

Lisa Von Deelan from Bristol Township, Bucks County, who attended a session on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), says she learned how to debunk SEL, and has come to the conclusion that it’s meant to turn the country more communist.

“SEL, what I’m learning about it, is another effort to try and work at changing worldviews of our kids, it’s another cog trying to separate kids from their parents,” Von Deelan said.

Von Deelan attended another session called “More than Victims” about changing the way Black history is taught. “It was powerful, it was encouraging,” she said. She learned about African Americans who helped win the Revolutionary War. “The 1619 project … they’re trying to rewrite what our history is,” Von Deelan said, adding that she thinks the message to Black people is that “they were never anything but slaves.”

Moms for Liberty’s training sessions for running political and school board campaigns included tips on fundraising and strategies for the first 100 days after newly flipping a school board red.

Jessica Perkins is the vice chair of her local M4L chapter in Hamilton County, Tennessee. She said they have seven of their 11 board seats up for reelection. Perkins attended the fundraising session and said it was helpful to learn about how to find new donors like “going to the zoo and finding the engraved plaques that are around the zoo.”

Jessica Perkins poses for a photo.
Tennessee mom Jessica Perkins came from Tennessee to attend the Moms For Liberty national summit in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Protests from LGBTQ advocates and anti-censorship groups continued outside the Marriott Hotel on Saturday. Protesters were dancing in the streets and running with Pride flags, while children were drawing rainbows with chalk on the pavement.

Protesters hold banners that are rainbow-colored with the word "Peace" printed on it.
Protests continued in Philadelphia on day three of the Moms For Liberty national summit, July 1, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Jennifer Bradley, an assistant professor of education studies at Swarthmore College who was protesting outside the summit, said affirming children’s identities is paramount in the classroom.

“I’m a parent of four kids, so I understand from the parent’s perspective as well. However, I think in the school context, the primary relationship is between the student and the teacher and the student community and the classroom community,” Bradley said.

Bucks County residents Ellen Lesh (left), Kira Kraiman (center) and Amy Mcgahran (right) hold signs supporting LGBTQ students.
Bucks County residents Ellen Lesh (left), Kira Kraiman (center) and Amy Mcgahran (right) came to Philadelphia to protest the Moms For Liberty national summit on July 1, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Moms for Liberty says Pennsylvania has the second most number of members after Florida.

Its leaders say gender ideology is a “dangerous cult” that’s indoctrinating children, and critical race theory is harmful to students’ intellectual and psychological development. It’s the most widespread group in the country advocating for changing the way history is taught and banning books from school libraries it deems as sexually explicit.

Some opponents say the group manufactures moral panic around LGBTQ and racial issues to galvanize parents.

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