ROSEVILLE, Calif. — Students at two Placer County schools walked out of class Friday afternoon, sending a message of support for an LGBTQIA+ youth group which has been the source of controversy lately.
It’s called the Landing Spot and last month the Roseville Joint Union High School District (RJUHSD) told the group they could no longer operate on school campuses.
Students participating in Friday’s walk-out said they want the Landing Spot back. They also showed general support for the district’s LGBTQIA+ students, especially since Friday marked Transgender Day of Visibility.
About 100 people showed up outside the RJUHSD offices Friday afternoon, a mix of community members and students who walked out of Oakmont High School next door.
About 20 minutes away, students were doing the same thing at West Park High School.
“It really just feels amazing hearing all the support from everyone here,” said Oakmont senior Matty Hauth, amid the supportive honking of passing cars.
They said having resources for LGBTQIA+ students is important.
“Our wellness centers are incredible. A lot of our staff is incredible and supportive and does help us out if we need to talk with them or tell them our issues," said Hauth. "Having that external resource — especially for students whose parents aren't accepting — it's really just something I feel is necessary for our students, for our youth."
The external resource Hauth is talking about is the Landing Spot, which calls itself “a non-religious support group for LGBTQIA+ youth and their parents in Placer County,” through Loomis Basin Congregational United Church of Christ, lead by Pastor Casey Tinnin.
The Landing Spot had been operating on six RJUHSD school campuses. In February, district leaders said it came to their attention there was no formal agreement between the district and the Landing Spot, which is something the district requires of such outside groups. As a result, the district no longer allowed the Landing Spot to operate on district property.
“The fact that the school now has one less resource for their LGBTQIA students, it feels like we're getting stabbed in the back,” said Hauth.
The Landing Spot has been the source of controversy these past two months.
The Landing Spot was planning on renting Roseville High School’s auditorium to host a youth drag show to raise funds for its summer camp for LGBTQIA+ youth. When some community members learned of these plans, they pushed back - and the district ultimately rescinded the Landing Spot’s permit.
In late February, citing safety concerns, the Landing Spot students and leaders decided to cancel the drag show altogether, instead of finding a new location.
Then, March 19, an organization called Project Veritas released an undercover video of Pastor Tinnin, with an article titled “California Reverend Says it is ‘Critical’ to Discuss Sexual Identity and Gender with Children at a Young Age; Admits Parents Would ‘Be Upset’ if They Knew ‘Their Queer Kid was Coming to Me’ ... ‘I and the Older Queer Folks are Mentoring These Young Adults.’”
“When [parents] know that their Queer kid is coming to me for support, they’re going to be upset,” Tinnin is seen saying in the video.
Tinnin said the video was recorded without his knowledge or permission — and he was lead to believe he was speaking with parents of transgender kids seeking his advice.
Project Veritas says it stands by its reporting.
The piece resulted in threats to Tinnin and his church.
RJUHSD and some other districts released statements acknowledging the Project Veritas video, distancing themselves from the Landing Spot and mentioning parent concerns, as RJUHSD Board President Pete Constant explained to ABC10 in a phone interview Friday.
“Once the video came out, the district was contacted by a number of parents with very specific concerns — safety-related concerns, from their perspective, from what they observed in the video,” he said.
Days later at a school board meeting, supporters and critics of the Landing Spot shared their thoughts.
"The solution is not putting a wedge between parents and children. Having children lie and attend secret meetings is not the answer,” one parent said.
"Have the proper steps been taken to fully vet these other organizations?" another asked.
In support of the Landing Spot, an Antelope High School student told board members, “I'm here to ask you to practice what you preach about protecting children, who already feel outcasted and rejected by all of you. It is also extremely disappointing that this district is giving voice to a group that uses deceit and defamation to push their homophobic narrative."
In a video released this week, Pastor Tinnin responded to all of the controversy.
“More than five years ago, the Landing Spot was invited by a local high school health counselor to be a resource for Queer students in schools because there were no such resources available in Placer County. The Landing Spot has grown year after year and is clearly needed,” he said.
This all lead up to Friday’s student walk-out in support of the Landing Spot.
“I'm not religious and I fully support everything that is being done by the Landing Spot, by their actions in helping LGBTQIA youth,” said Hauth.
Constant said the Landing Spot’s operation as a ministry of Loomis Basin Congregational United Church of Christ is a concern for district leaders.
“The Landing Spot has been offered up as a non-religious nonprofit organization, and what came to light is — while they may work in that non-religious manner, from their perspective, they are not a separate nonprofit. Their work is done under the nonprofit status of the church,” said Constant. “If you refer to the church's website and the statements of the church, they discuss their work through the Landing Spot as one of the ministries of their church. So that is an issue that we felt, as a district, needed to have more vetting. Because generally, as you know, governments don't engage directly with churches because of the separation of church and state issues that arise.”
ABC10 asked Constant, the school board president, to respond to student concerns that the district isn’t doing enough to support its LGBTQIA+ students.
He said each school has a wellness center with licensed and trained therapists on staff, who work with students and can refer them to internal or external resources.
“We do have other resources; it's not as if the Landing Spot was our only resource. Of course, that being said, we need to make sure we have adequate resources that fit the needs of all of our students,” said Constant. “We may find that we need additional support, so if we do, we'll seek those out because we know that we have an obligation to support all of our students, regardless of what their needs are.”
ABC10 asked district spokesperson Rob Hasty for an interview with Superintendent John Becker, to address students’ concerns that the district isn’t doing enough to support LGBTQIA+ students.
Hasty said Becker was unavailable and responded with this statement, not specifically addressing students’ concerns.
“The safety and well-being of all of our students is our first and foremost priority,” the statement says. “The District has not approved or sanctioned in any way today's activities, which are just outside the District’s property, nor does it condone hate speech or any reference to violence.”
Part of that is in reference to some counter protesters. The walk-out organizer told ABC10 a counter-protester started getting violent and shut down the demonstration at the West Park High School location about two hours in. And over at the district offices, a handful of counter-protesters showed up about halfway through and there were some arguments between the two sides.
Counter-protesters were scarce compared to those protesting in support of the Landing Spot.
The district says students will not get in trouble for walking out today because they "have a right to peacefully protest,” said Hasty.