LGBTQ teens at a California high school are speaking out after a Pride flag was torn down from a teacher’s classroom, defecated on, and flushed down a toilet by a student.
The incident occurred in September at Paso Robles High School in Paso Robles, Calif. The San Luis Obispo Tribune reports that the male student walked into a science classroom with a friend, tore down the Pride flag, and fled the room.
A video later appeared on TikTok showing students trying to flush the flag down a school toilet. One of the students then defecated on the flag while it was in the toilet.
Teachers and LGBTQ students were outraged by the incident, but when the school district eventually replied in early October, it opted to effectively ban LGBTQ Pride flags from classrooms.
“The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District (‘District’) has received multiple concerns about certain flag displays in teacher classrooms, including those that are large and distracting and those that alter the American flag,” District Superintendent Curt Dubost wrote to teachers.
While Dubost said that students deserve “protection against bullying and harassment” and that the district has a “duty…to ensure that hate speech and bullying conduct does not create an unsafe campus environment,” he announced a new policy banning flags larger than 2 feet by 2 feet in classrooms, as well as banning any flags that are “alterations of the American flag.”
Speaking to the Tribune, Dubost said he didn’t want flags to become a “politicized issue” in classrooms and called it a “real slippery slope.”
“We continue to believe that this is a very reasonable compromise solution that allows rainbows, but within reason,” he said.
But Paso Robles High School’s Equity Club president, Eve Barajas, said the policy was “obviously just banning the Pride flag altogether unless you want those little mini ones.”
“It’s a way of subtly just getting rid of it,” Barajas continued. “Their defense was that the Pride flag may be a trigger for certain students. But if I had said that the American flag was a trigger to me, I would be treated like a terrorist.”
Danny Perez, a senior, told the Tribune that their identity had been “politicized.”
“Someone defecated on a Pride flag,” Perez said. “So the school takes away the Pride flag, not the homophobia?
What’s more, the district’s efforts seem to have accomplished little in terms of reducing anti-LGBTQ incidents at Paso Robles.
Last week, the day before a planned forum on combating hate at Paso Robles, a student desecrated an LGBTQ Pride face mask. The school didn’t release any additional information, but Paso Robles Principal Anthony Overton called the incident “hateful, intolerant and inexcusable” in a letter to students, parents, and faculty.
“The action of this student or students is unacceptable and intolerable,” Overton wrote. “Individuals participating in acts of hate like this will face the most severe consequences available to us in the education code and will be reported to law enforcement.”
Overton said that the school district had contacted Paso Robles Police Department and that both were investigating the incident.
“We must treat people with understanding and respect even when we disagree,” Overton wrote. “We must report incidents of hate and intolerance immediately, as these incidents must stop. And remember, in a world where you can be anything, always be kind.”
At the “Coming Out Against Hate” forum on Wednesday, Oct. 20, Barajas and other students issued a series of demands to the district, including an apology for Superintendent Dubost’s “timid response to hate.”
Students demanded a zero-tolerance policy regarding hate and hate crimes on campus and urged the district to protect marginalized students, as well as a repeal of the flag policy and a recognition of “the importance of Pride flags in creating safe spaces for LGBTQ youth,” Barajas said.
“A hateful act directed at the LGBTQ community compelled us to act,” Barajas added. “This is not just about a flag or the size of that flag. Throughout our high school’s history, LGBTQ+ students have had to navigate bullying, aggressions, intimidation and outright violence. The emotional and mental health tolls have been staggering.”
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