More than 100 people gathered Saturday outside the Santee YMCA to protest rules allowing transgender residents access to the locker rooms of their choice, a smaller crowd than had met earlier in the week.
While some yelled profanities at a few counterprotesters, there did not appear to be any violence, and sheriff’s deputies stationed near the back of the building never intervened.
The rallies stemmed from a 17-year-old girl’s public account of briefly seeing a transgender woman by the showers in the Cameron Family YMCA. The teen said she was afraid that a man was nearby while she changed.
The story gained national attention, and many of Saturday’s speakers described their cause as a fight between good and evil.
“When we reject truth, we embrace death,” said Samuel Deuth, a pastor with Awaken Church, which has gained prominence for defying mask mandates and hosting speakers like Eric Trump. Deuth urged the crowd to combat “insanity” by obeying “the laws of nature, the law of how men and women are.”
The event was organized by the San Diego chapter of Lexit, a national organization of conservative Latinos, and comes as LGBT rights have increasingly come under fire around the country.
Attendees prayed and quoted Scripture. One speaker from Freedom Revival, a local group that wants Christian values to play a larger role in government, said YMCA donors should be pressured to hold back funds.
Others said they did not see themselves as opposed to LGBT rights in general but felt the YMCA’s policy went too far.
YMCA officials have said they would review the layouts of their locker rooms, but leaders have largely defended their approach as a legal requirement and a way to create an inclusive space for everyone.
California law says “all business establishments” must offer “full and equal accommodations” to everyone regardless of their sex, including gender identity.
A small group of people showed up Saturday to defend transgender rights.
Cindy Price, from Rancho San Diego, came with her adult daughter, Melissa Andrews, each holding a different type of rainbow flag.
The women were quickly surrounded by some of the main protesters.
Voices were raised. Bodies bumped up against each other.
“I’m amazed at the hate,” Price said later.
Earlier in the week, a transgender woman came forward to say she was likely the person spotted in the YMCA locker room. Christynne Wood said she was “thunderstruck” by the outcry but heartened by those who’ve supported her.
Saturday’s rally had previously been criticized by an organizer of Wednesday’s protest, Tracie Thill, founder of Santee Parents 4 Choice, who wrote on Facebook that “people that don’t even live or work in Santee are going to exploit what is happening here.” The account’s privacy settings have since changed and the post is no longer public.
Alicia, president of Lexit’s local chapter, implicitly addressed those concerns by saying that, while she’s based in San Diego, she does regular outreach in Santee to people struggling with drug addiction. She declined to give her last name, citing safety concerns.
While several elected leaders in East County spoke Wednesday, like El Cajon Councilmember Phil Ortiz and Santee Vice Mayor Laura Koval, Saturday’s event mainly featured activists.
The YMCA parking lot was filled with shirts, signs and comments covering a range of conservative and far-right causes. One rap song played over speakers included the lyric, “liberalism is a mental disorder.” Slogans on some clothes advocated for violence against certain groups. Around a half-dozen men wore hats and shirts representing the Proud Boys, the extremist organization with members on trial for the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The YMCA closed Saturday because of the protest. Several passersby in workout clothes walked through the rally, looking perplexed, before realizing the front door was locked.