An Oregon couple built a large Pride flag out of plywood to show support for LGBTQ students after their local school board voted earlier this month to ban “divisive” symbols like Pride and Black Lives Matter displays in schools.
Erin and Jaybill McCarthy, of Newberg, Oregon, say they were upset by the Newberg School Board’s ban on those types of displays and decided to do something about it.
Supporters of the ban, particularly social conservatives, claimed that symbols of LGBTQ Pride or Black Lives Matter banners are “political” and make white, heterosexual, and cisgender students feel excluded. Some even called the Pride flag a symbol for “deviants.”
“I heard about the school board’s decision and I watched the whole four-hour meeting on YouTube afterward,” Erin McCarthy told the Portland Tribune. “I wish I could get those four hours of my life back. It was absolutely disgusting and I was heartbroken. I grew up in Sandy, which is a very similar town in terms of demographics and skewing conservative, and that was a time where a lot of hateful, bigoted, anti-gay movements were happening in Oregon.
“I have gay family members and I myself identify as bisexual, so I was hurt by that back then and this moment brought back all of those feelings,” she added. “I just feel terrible for the kids in all those schools who are hearing this totally wrong messaging that who they are is not OK, or the imagery that represents solidarity with who they are is not OK.”
We’re going to erase a bunch of people,’ is what it felt like to me,” Jaybill McCarthy told NBC affiliate KGW8.
The McCarthys also disagreed with the board’s assertion that a Pride flag is somehow “political.”
“It’s not expressing a Democratic idea or Republican idea or conservative or liberal,” Erin said. “It’s human beings.”
“It’s recognition that people exist,” added Jaybill.
The McCarthys wanted to make a big gesture to send a message of solidarity to people affected by the ban, particularly LGBTQ youth. Initially, they had planned to paint the top of their barn, located on their farm on the side of Parrett Mountain. But logistics and potential lack of visibility to those not in planes, hot air balloons, or paragliders led the McCarthys to nix those plans.
Instead, they chose to build an 8-foot-by-16-foot plywood structure, bearing the design of the Daniel Quasar Progress Pride flag, and place it in the middle of their pasture, overlooking the town of Newberg — and plainly visible from the grounds of Newberg High School.
The McCarthys posted their plans on a Reddit thread and soon were deluged with offers of help from other Reddit users outraged by the school board’s decision. Soon, some users were donating money to help pay for materials, and more than a half-dozen others were traveling to their farm to help construct the display.
“I made that post on Reddit and initially I didn’t really want a bunch of strangers at my house,” Erin McCarthy said. “But I was really moved by the overwhelming desire to help us do this. Seven beautiful people came out from Portland, Dundee and Forest Grove. There were two transgender ladies who were just amazing, and there were cisgender heteronormative people who are allies, and it was totally a mixing pot of people who thought this was important. We did some crazy, sweaty work, and it was a great time with snacks, music and six hours of working in the heat. But it was so worth it.”
McCarthy said she hopes the display will send a message of love and acceptance to LGBTQ youth who may feel attacked by the school board’s decision to ban any symbols acknowledging their identities. But she’s not expecting to change the hearts and minds of school board members or anyone else in the community.
“It’s clear the people who did this are not interested in intelligent discussion and their minds are not open to be changed,” she told the Tribune. “I didn’t put it there to change any minds. I put it there for the kids who feel like this is not a safe community for them. There are people in this community who feel like they’re less than or not normal because of who they are. And I want them to know that there are people in the community who love them and there are safe spaces if you know where to look.”
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