Home Youth activism Pride flags are too important an idea for schools to ban | Opinion

Pride flags are too important an idea for schools to ban | Opinion

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By Diana Tiburcio

It is essential to speak out against injustice when we see it. As a resident of Passaic City and an alumnus of the Passaic Public School System, I am discouraged by the Passaic City School Board policy that denies LGBTQIA+ youth the right to raise the Pride Flag outside of their schools.

Revised in November 2021, the school board’s flag policy only allows schools to fly the American, New Jersey, or Passaic School flag. The rationale for the decision is that these flags represent the institutional values ​​that the school should embody – which I believe directly excludes the range of ethnic cultures, intersectional identities and values ​​equally important to students and members of the community. And yes I am talking about the LGBTQIA+ flag. With Pride Month upon us and students protesting their RIGHT to be represented, what will it take for the school board to put student concerns first?

Let me start by saying that I am a proud non-binary lesbian. Anyone who knows me follows me on Instagram, or even sees me walking down the street can tell I’m queer. Sadly, I wasn’t expressing that side of myself as a student at Passaic High School just a few years ago. I hid in the closet for fear of being bullied, bullied, harassed or worse –– being the subject of heteronormative gossip. I attribute much of this pain to the lack of representation and appreciation of the district’s intersectional identities, which has left students like me feeling stigmatized.

LGBTQIA+ students in the district still feel this and it has been reinforced by the school board’s flag policy. However, they did not remain silent. Since February 2022, the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) of the Passaic Preparatory Academy has organized six demonstrations against the flag policy. The biggest protests took place in March when 75 students from Passaic’s three high schools came out to show their support.

Two student protests took place at school board meetings where students discussed how the discriminatory ban was impacting their school life and limiting LGBTQIA+ student representation in the district, state, country and society in general. Despite the bravery of the students, they were not respected for their activism. Although the school board has listened to their concerns, no plan has been developed to address them.

Passaic students demonstrated in March against the Board of Education’s new “American flags only” policy that allows only the American flag and school flags, and thus prohibits the flying of the PRIDE flag. – _ Michel Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comMichael Mancuso | NJ Advance Med

Some might say why is it so important that an LGBTQIA+ flag can be flown at school during Pride month? Consider this: 45% of LGBTQIA+ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to a Trevor Project survey. The survey interviewed 34,000 LGBTQ people aged 13 to 24, finding that younger respondents, aged 13 to 17, were more likely to consider suicide than older respondents.

This number has been increasing in recent years. Why? Young LGBTQIA+ people face incredible stress and pressure to just be themselves. In addition to harassment and intimidation, heteronormativity normalizes their mistreatment and the negative stigma surrounding their identity. As a result, they generally receive far less emotional support and development than their peers. With this information, it should be the job of school communities to make their schools safe spaces.

What message is the school board sending by not flying pride flags in our schools? Although different parts of our country have been advancing LGBTQIA+ rights and protections, there are still teenagers in places like Passaic who don’t feel welcome to be authentic themselves in their schools. The Passaic City School Board must do more to celebrate and recognize LGBTQIA+ life, love, and expression.

During Pride Month, it should be our school board’s duty to communicate that Passaic Public Schools are a safe space for all students. Not only that, it could demonstrate that Passaic City is moving towards inclusivity and support for its LGBTQIA+ population. Raising the pride flag outside of school is one step in making that difference in our community. The first step is to listen to GSA students from the Passaic Preparatory Academy. Raise the pride flag and show students that they deserve to feel seen, valued and protected when they walk into their school buildings every day. I call on the Passaic school board to immediately lift this ban.

As part of the school board’s flag policy, LOGRO, the budding nonprofit I co-founded, has partnered with the Latino Action in Network Foundation and Passaic City’s Boys and Girls Club to organize Passaic’s first Pride celebration. The celebration took place on June 11 and was open to all community members, students and alumni of Passaic City. Our goal was to highlight the power of being and embracing without fear of heteronormative or discriminatory attitudes.

Diana Tiburcio is from Passaic and graduated from its public school system.

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