“For people to come out here and stand against this kind of fascism is absolutely necessary.”
Moms for Liberty, the conservative organization that’s pushed book bans across the country, descended on Philadelphia this week for a conference filled with pro-Trump swag bags and ‘Joe and the Hoe’ t-shirts, and speeches headlined by presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis and the Donald himself.
But Philly apparently wasn’t going to let Moms for Liberty (M4L) and its MAGA line-up spew their talking points without a fight. Even as the conference kicked off its first full day—with breakout sessions on “FAITH OF THE FOUNDERS” and the Federalist Papers—protesters marched outside the summit and decried the group’s opposition to LGBTQ education and civil rights.
Outside the entrance to the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, security guards and cops monitored a fiery crowd of about 100 people of all ages who chanted into megaphones and jeered the visiting Moms for Liberty. “When trans kids are under attack, what do we do…” one organizer chanted, and the protesters answered, “Fight back!”
Two young activists who arrived at the protest on Friday, Portia Maidment and Stella Moore, said they wanted M4L to know that “what school is supposed to do is prepare you for life. And it’s not serving anybody to promote hatred.”
The pair, who said they are queer, have been living together in Philly for a year. Maidment just got accepted to medical school and said they hoped to one day provide trans health care, either in the U.S. or in Canada.
Despite the M4L conference choosing Philly for its summit, Moore praised the city for its accepting attitude. “It really is a trans and queer city, like we saw during Pride—to come here and pretend like we don’t exist is just wrong.”
Moms For Liberty Protest
Moore moved to Philadelphia when they were kicked out of Brigham Young University after a roommate outed them. BYU officials “pulled me into the office, found out I was in a relationship with a woman, and expelled me from school,” said Moore, who grew up Mormon.
“They took away your scholarship and left you $10,000 in debt for being queer. It was awful,” Maidment chimed in.
“It was a blessing in disguise, honestly,” Moore replied. “I’m where I’m supposed to be now.”
Elsewhere at the protest, Travis and Kristina Culver were also determined to spread the message that “we want to make sure schools stay inclusive and safe for all kids.” The Culvers drove two and a half hours to Philly from Berwick, PA, to attend the protests, concerned about the spread of M4L on their local school board. They said they have a non-binary child who just graduated high school and a 10-year-old at home. “Even if our kid wasn’t nonbinary, it scares me, the number of LGBTQ kids trying to hurt themselves,” Travis said, adding that “those kids need to know [M4L’s messaging] is not how people feel. They’re loved for who they are. And God loves them no matter what.”
While many of the protesters were natives of the City of Brotherly Love, others revealed they’d traveled long distances to join the opposition. LaTarndra Strong, Olivia Strong, and Heather Redding drove seven hours from North Carolina—getting up at 3:30 in the morning—and showed up outside the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown with signs that declared, “We Don’t Co-Parent With Fascists,” and “Klanned Karenhood: Coming For a School Near You.”
LaTarndra Strong, who runs a group called the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, said of M4L, “I want to make sure that this organization understands that exclusion is never OK.” She added, “We want to fight against white supremacy… they’re not your average PTA. They’re opening doors to something that’s very dangerous for this country.”
Inside the Moms for Liberty conference, attendees had been parroting the right-wing talking point that protesters like Strong were just paid agitators. But Strong dismissed that notion. “We’re not paid to be here,” she said. “For people to come out here and stand against this kind of fascism is absolutely necessary.”
In fact, far from being paid to attend, some M4L opponents had taken vacation days off from work in order to show up at the protests—like Zeke Tayler, an anesthesiologist and critical care physician who arrived in his doctor’s coat and sported a sign for “White Coats Against White Supremacy.” He said he was motivated by his Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.”
“I’m a doctor and I care about the lives of my patients—people in my community, around the country—and organizations like Moms for Liberty are an affront to the health of my patients. So I need to show them that they are not welcome in my city and that what they are trying to do is going to make the lives of my patients harder. [Patients’] lives are going to be shortened by what they are trying to do,” he said.
The vigorous protests against M4L are perhaps a sign of how influential the organization has become in its few short years of existence. Founder Bridget Ziegler was recently appointed by Florida’s Governor DeSantis to a board overseeing Disney after the Magic Kingdom pushed back at his anti-LGBTQ agenda. (Her husband, Christian, is also now the chairman of the state’s Republican party.) And the group has successfully worked to exclude books and educational materials on race and gay rights from Florida schools—a play that local chapters are trying to institute in other states. On the right, at least, M4L has emerged as a force ahead of the 2024 election: DeSantis, former president Trump, and presidential hopefuls like Vivek Ramaswamy have all treated the conference as an important stop on the campaign trail.
Yet to Tayler, the Philadelphia doctor, the M4L conference is the last gasp of a philosophy in decline. “For me, what Moms for Liberty stands for, is that they’re losing power. And the reason why I think that’s happening is because they are panicking,” he said. “And power doesn’t panic. This summit is a panic. They’re trying to fight back against the social wars that they lost a long time ago.”
“They’re the ones being funded, I’m here for free,” he added, as the crowd of protesters thronged around him. “All these people who are here—we are here out of love.”