School districts across the country have been cracking down on Black Lives Matter and Pride flags in a year that has seen escalating attacks on LGBTQ+ students.
Utah’s Davis School District sent an email to teachers and administrators earlier this month claiming that banners in support of the Black and LGBTQ+ communities are banned under its official policies. A spokesperson for the suburban Salt Lake City district told the Salt Lake Tribune that its board considers the flags to be “politically charged” and said that they wanted schools to remain “neutral” on allegedly controversial issues.
Although the flag ban has been in place for several years, faculty were reminded of the guidelines at recent back-to-school trainings, according to the local CBS news affiliate KUTV. “Make America Great Again” banners are also prohibited under the policy.
The spokesperson claimed that Davis is merely “following state law” by disallowing Pride and BLM flags on its school campuses, but Utah’s rules on the subject are reportedly ambiguous. That uncertainty has led some schools to continue to flying LGBTQ+ banners even as others are cracking down. One school under Davis’ purview even interpreted the district-wide guidelines as applying to stickers and pins displaying Pride flags or pronouns.
Supporters of LGBTQ+ inclusion in schools opposed these measures, claiming that something as small as a rainbow flag on the door of a welcoming teacher can mean a lot to marginalized students. Nicole Palmer, a Salt Lake City principal, said these displays are “intended to be comforting and reassuring and validating.”
“I want students to see that they are wanted here and seen here for who they are — every part of who they are,” she told the Tribune.
The Utah school district is only the most recent to prevent students and faculty from showing support for marginalized communities. Oregon’s Newberg School Board, which is located in suburban Portland, gave initial approval last month to a motion banning teachers and staff members from wearing or displaying BLM or LGBTQ+ Pride flags. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon called the controversial move “unlawful” after it garnered national headlines.
Local leaders and lawmakers have called on the school board to reverse the ban, which has yet to be implemented. Newberg will hold a second hearing later this month to discuss a full vote on the proposed policy.
Advocacy groups said they are concerned about the growing trend of schools limiting the free expression of LGBTQ+ students and affirming faculty on K-12 campuses. They claim these decisions go against research indicating that LGBTQ+ students demonstrate better academic and mental health outcomes in inclusive environments.
“It’s disappointing to see schools stigmatize and exclude LGBTQ+ young people by telling them that taking pride in their identity is not appropriate in the classroom,” Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, Interim Executive Director of GLSEN, told them. in an email. “Banning pride flags sends a message that LGBTQ+ students’ identities are not accepted, and that their school climate is hostile.”
The crackdown comes in the midst of increased conflict over LGBTQ+ inclusion in schools. Tennessee implemented a law this year allowing parents to opt students out of classes that touch on LGBTQ+ subjects, while Arizona Governor Doug Ducey vetoed a similar law pertaining specifically to sexual education.
But while the national spree of bills targeting LGBTQ+ youth has been covered by national media, protests by conservative groups have received less airtime.
One group called “Moms for Liberty” doxxed members of the Independence High School Pride club in Franklin, Tennessee after two students kissed briefly while riding a float at the homecoming parade. An organization in Gillette, Wyoming designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a “hate group” has been organizing protests against LGBTQ+ books in the local library, which they claim indoctrinate children.