Rally defends diversity in Oswego SD308: ‘Our community will not be bullied, threatened or bought’

Oswego School District 308 parent Jennifer Stamp leads a rally in support of diversity and LGBTQ+ rights on March 11, 2023 in Oswego.

OSWEGO -- Speakers defended diversity in Oswego SD308 during a rally and charged conservative groups with attempting to interfere in the local school board election.

“I am tired of outside influences coming into our school district and trying to elect extremist school board candidates that promote national political agendas,” declared Jennifer Stamp, a parent in the district and co-founder of Parents For Progress.

About 35 people, many with public school and library advocacy organizations from throughout the Chicago area, gathered the afternoon of March 11 in an industrial park to speak out in favor of LGBTQ+ rights.

It all started when Naperville-based Awake Illinois, which bills itself as a parental rights organization, scheduled an event with the We the People SD308 PAC slate of Oswego School Board candidates, including Kevin Johnson, Heather Gregar, Joanne Johnson and Richard Gilmore.

The forum was to feature former lieutenant governor candidate Stephanie Trussell and Mario Presents of Gays Against Groomers.

Shortly after Stamp announced the protest, Awake Illinois canceled the event, which had been scheduled at the Fox Valley Kickers Club on Harvey Road in Oswego. In a social media post, the group said it would reschedule at a time and location to be announced.

The Awake Illinois office did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

Meanwhile, Stamp and her supporters went ahead with their protest. They assembled at the corner of Harvey Road and Treasure Drive, near the location where the candidate forum had originally been scheduled.

“My message to Awake and national donors cannot be more clear. Get Out!” Stamp shouted to the cheers of the group. “Our community will not be bullied, threatened or bought,” she said.

“I’m proud of the decisions that have been made by my community,” Stamp said.

“And in our community, we value its diversity and we applaud our teachers,” she continued. “They are not groomers or indoctrinating our children. If a candidate has ever used those terms, they don’t deserve to sit on a school board. It’s disrespectful to educators and the LGBTQ community, while undermining public education as a whole.”

Several of the speakers, including Tara Donnelly of the Library Defense Collaborative, said conservative groups want to dismantle the public education system in favor of private schools.

“Awake Illinois and the candidates they support are trying to destroy public schools and libraries by taking over the boards and imposing their far right agenda,” Donnelly said. “These groups traffic in fear and bigotry and seek to gain power by spreading moral panic and lies.”

“Awake Illinois and the candidates they support are trying to destroy public schools and libraries by taking over the boards and imposing their far right agenda.”

—  Tara Donnelly of the Library Defense Collaborative

Illinois Families for Public Schools Director Cassie Creswell said fights over local school boards are serving as “proxy wars for bigger forces” in the national debate over LGBTQ+ rights.

Some of the rally participants had come from as far as Barrington, Wilmette and Chicago, while several were from Naperville and Wheaton.

Naperville Township Trustee Loretta Burke worked in School District 308 as a librarian for 14 years.

“I’m here in support of our schools and libraries,” Burke said.