A student-organized pride day at Burlington’s Marshall Simonds Middle School faced opposition from fellow middle schoolers, causing some distress for some students.
The spirit day, organized by the school Spectrum club for LGBTQ+ students and allies, with the support of the school administration, was meant to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month. Students were asked to come to school in rainbow or brightly colored clothes, and were offered rainbow flag stickers to wear if they wanted to. According to multiple teachers and community members, some students came wearing patriotic red, white and blue clothes instead, chanted “My pronouns are U/S/A,” and ripped up some stickers and other rainbow decorations around the school.
“The idea was to have a day of support and celebration of our diverse community, including those students and staff who are LGBTQ+,” said middle school computer science teacher Diana Marcus.
Marcus said when students entered the school, they were offered rainbow flag stickers to wear, and were told that wearing one didn’t necessarily mean they were gay.
“Most students took a sticker,” Marcus said. “Some declined very respectfully, and some not so respectfully.” Marcus said she began to notice students ripping up the stickers and throwing them on the floor.
“Other students are seeing this happen, they’re noticing it,” Marcus said. She said students asked to go to the bathroom so they could change out of their rainbow or brightly colored clothes.
“Over the course of the day you could actually see a reduction in the number of students walking around in rainbow-colored clothing. It was really tough.” Marcus continued, “Middle school students pick up on all this stuff. They may seem socially unaware, but our most vulnerable students are very aware of the situation around them. It was very clear that those students were not feeling supported.”
“My first feeling is sadness, but I also feel disappointment, because we let them down,” said a teacher who asked to remain anonymous out of fears of retaliation from the community. “I’m sure the students who are outspoken and advocate for themselves are extremely disappointed, but also I feel really disappointed for the students that aren’t able to speak out, that aren’t out of the closet or don’t have the space to do so.”
Marcus said this instance felt different from others in her memory because the anti-rainbow felt planned and organized by the students.
In an email sent to the Marshall Simonds community Sunday, Principal Cari Perchase said she stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ community and regretted that a day of celebration turned into a day of intolerance.
“Please know that I take my responsibility to create a safe learning environment seriously and will work hard to re-establish a safe environment where every student is seen, heard, and experiences a sense of belonging,” she said. “I fully respect that our diverse community has diverse opinions and beliefs. I also respect individuals’ right to express their opinions through clothing choices and freedom of speech. When one individual or group of individuals’ beliefs and actions result in the demeaning of another individual or group, it is completely unacceptable.”
Perchase said a counselor will be available to support students looking to discuss the events, with group meetings later in the week.
In a statement, the Burlington Educators Association, the union representing local teachers, said, “The BEA stands in solidarity with the students of MSMS’ Spectrum Club, and our PreK-12 students, educators, and community members harmed by Friday’s actions and inactions of bystanders that allow such behaviors to persist and grow in our community, country, and world.” The statement added the BEA will continue to work with the school administration to make Burlington schools a welcoming place for all.
The teacher who asked to remain anonymous appreciated the administration’s support in response to the incident. “You have to balance First Amendment rights with protecting and keeping a safe learning environment that’s rooted in diversity and equity,” the teacher said. “The administration has a really tough job because they have to keep things in equilibrium.”