School officials and community members in Burlington, Massachusetts have condemned students who destructively protested their school’s optional Pride Month observance.
On Friday, June 2, Marshall Simonds Middle School (MSMS) held an optional “spirit day” celebrating Pride Month. The school’s club for LGBTQ+ students and allies, the Spectrum Club, decorated the school with rainbow streamers, Pride flag banners, handmade “Happy Pride Month” signs, and educational posters (like one explaining “Why it’s not okay to say ‘That’s so gay’”).
After an angry crowd accused the district of “moral depravity” with its “Luciferian” policy, a vote for a school tax levy failed.
Additionally, students were encouraged to wear rainbows and Spectrum Club members handed out rainbow stickers, Boston.com reported.
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However, some students tore down the signs, streamers, banners, and posters. Others glared at faculty and students who wore rainbows, chanted “U.S.A. are my pronouns,” and wore red, white, and blue clothes to protest the event, Principal Cari Perchase said in a letter to parents.
Perchase wrote that she respected the school community’s “diverse opinions and beliefs” and individuals’ right to express themselves but added, “When one individual or group of individuals’ beliefs and actions result in the demeaning of another individual or group, it is completely unacceptable.”
“I am truly sorry that a day meant for you to celebrate your identity turned into a day of intolerance,” the principal continued. “Schools are supposed to be a safe place for ALL students and faculty. Some community members’ actions created an unsafe environment for many of our students, caregivers, and faculty.”
To address what happened, the principal created a meeting time for students to share their views with administrators and an anonymous form for students to report any specific hateful incidents. She also pledged to consider creating a program to teach students tolerance, acceptance, and respect, the aforementioned publication added.
In a letter to parents, Burlington Public Schools Superintendent Eric Conti denounced the students’ actions and said the national increase in anti-LGBTQ+ violence “has no place in our schools.”
“Like any spirit day celebration at MSMS, participation is optional. Respectful behavior across the entire student body, however, is non-negotiable,” Conti wrote.
At a Burlington Select Board meeting on Monday, a librarian and former high school teacher Andrea Bono-Bunker condemned the protest and said it would have long-term negative consequences for queer and queerphobic students alike.
“How many children felt power yesterday by committing an act of intimidation?” Bono-Bunker asked. “How many children had a seed of homophobia planted in them yesterday? How many children now feel worse about themselves because of what they witnessed or experienced yesterday? How many children now think that being part of or supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community is unAmerican?”
The Burlington Equity Coalition, a group of non-profits that promote diversity and inclusion, issued a statement calling on school officials to “provide consequences for the students who participated in the counter protest.”
“Without any direct and concrete action, these incidents will occur again and increase in severity,” the coalition wrote, adding that the school district should fill its position for a Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DEI), which has remained unstaffed for nearly a year.
Burlington School Committee Chair Martha Simon condemned the students but worried about punishing the middle school protesters too harshly.
“Middle school should be a safe place for all students to express themselves, to make mistakes, and to learn from each other,” Simon said, according to CBS News.
However, parent Jessika Dubay-Dang said, “It would be naïve of us to think that what happened at the middle school won’t escalate to something more tragic in the future. It isn’t going to go magically away; it will get worse.”