This past week the superintendent of schools in Stonington caused an uproar by ordering Pride flags removed from classrooms in her district. The reason? Pride flags, which celebrate the existence and purposeful inclusion of a group that has historically been demonized, mocked, and beaten down, are “political” statements.
And though the superintendent quickly reversed course after horrified parents, students, and residents raised their voices in protest, the foul taste left in their mouths remains as the kids learn what the parents already know: LGBTQ acceptance is always going to be a fight.
This kind of drama is nothing new; it’s been playing out all over the country with increasing frequency over the past few years.
The sad, predictable chain of events tends to go a little something like this: a conservative parent finds out their kid’s school has a couple of Pride flags up, freaks out, and calls up the superintendent or the school board. Maybe there’s a threat of a lawsuit, because the district forbids the distribution of partisan political materials inside the schools. Maybe they get some group of “concerned parents” with national connections involved to spread dangerous lies about how LGBTQ people being out and proud is somehow sexualizing our children.
The threat of expensive legal action plus the potential of some godawful right-wing radio or TV host doing a hit piece on them leads the school district to crack down, and the flags go.
It’s easier that way, after all. Just make a blanket ban on any symbols that can remotely be interpreted as political, cast the whole thing as being about “fairness,” wait until the furor from students, teachers, parents, and residents dies down, and you’re good to go. School districts hate controversy, and will naturally jump in the direction of anything that gets them out of it with a minimum of fuss.
Except what they’ve done is tell all of the queer kids and teachers in that school that this very fundamental, foundational piece of who they are is just partisan politics, and should be kept outside of the place where they spend eight hours a day.
Let’s be clear: Pride flags are not political. They are an expression of acceptance, love, and above all else, safety. They are a symbol that tells queer kids and adults that they don’t have to hide.
This matters, because when LGBTQ people are out in the straight world we have to make a hundred little decisions per day about what we say and how we express ourselves. If I mention my wife, will I get shocked looks? If I stand out as visibly queer in some way, will people give me grief over it? How much of myself do I risk letting show through at any given time to keep from getting jumped later?
When I see a Pride flag, I relax a little. I feel less alone. I remember that queer people are everywhere, and that we have friends who love and accept us. This is not partisan politics.
Let me be crystal clear: the existence of LGBTQ people in schools is only “political” because right-wing extremists have made it so. Lately, it’s been getting harder to whip up bigotry against “those queers,” because there’s been a broad and growing acceptance of LGBTQ people all across American life. So they have to pull out the big guns and target parents’ reflexive worries about their kids.
Suddenly, talking about having a same-gender spouse or expressing a gender identity different from the norm is “sexualizing” children. They spread filthy, dangerous lies about queer people being “groomers,” or pedophiles lying in wait to trap innocent kids in the schools. Bizarre scenarios are cooked up to mock and dehumanize transgender people, such as the one going around recently about some schools installing litter boxes for kids who identify as cats.
That’s obviously garbage, but Rep. Greg Howard, a Republican who represents Stonington, repeated the lie on a radio show not long ago. Was it true? Who cares! “If it’s real or not,” he said, “it is believable.” And that’s all that matters.
The message: our schools are too liberal, our kids are in danger of being sexualized or tricked into some strange new gender nonsense, this has to stop. Enough is enough!
Meanwhile, gay and trans kids in Stonington and all across America are faced with an awful choice they shouldn’t ever have to make: do I dare to be myself, or do I stay safe?
Connecticut is supposed to be a safe place. But in times when incidents of bigotry – such as what was expressed by Rep. Howard on the radio – are on the rise, nowhere is really safe. LGBTQ rights are on the ballot in November, and it’s time to send a message to people who want queer folks to just disappear:
We are still here. We are still fighting. And we are not going away, ever.