POWHATAN – A display in honor of National Pride Month in June caused some controversy last week at Powhatan Middle School.
A display recognizing National Pride Month was put up in a case in one of the school’s hallways by students in athe Multicultural Student Association and approved by school administration.
The display, which went up on Monday, June 3, received pushback from some students and parents. The display contained several flags – gay pride, bisexual, transgender, and asexual flags – and historical information about how the Pride movement came about.
The display was taken down the next day, although this was part of a plan to dismantle all bulletin board displays at the end of the school year, said Dr. Eric Jones, superintendent.
Jones said the school did receive complaints from about eight parents, who were told by Dr. Samantha Martin, principal, that this was an inclusiveness effort by the students and that there was no educational information disseminated by the school or activities related to the display planned in conjunction with it. The school has a family life curriculum approved by the state and the school board, and that is the only time educators “talk about sensitive issues related to sex,” Jones said.
“Really this was something the students put up to reinforce our core beliefs about inclusiveness and welcoming all students and making them feel safe and secure in our schools,” he said.
Although there wasn’t a display last year, Martin said the school did have morning announcements in relation to Pride Month without incident or complaint.
This school year, the Multicultural Student Association has put up a different display in the same case ever month since school started, she said. Other displays were put up in honor of Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, and more.
“It was by no means a conversation about sex. It was a conversation about being inclusive to all students.,” Martin said. “It was more about facilitating an overall positive school community knowing that we have a diverse student body and supporting diversity through an inclusive school community.”
When a photo of the display was posted on the Facebook page of the Powhatan Community Forum, it drew hundreds of comments, ranging from mild statements of support or disagreement to more heated arguments and name-calling.
Many were in support of the display and called it a step forward in teaching love and tolerance. Some argued the display is about promoting equality, not sexuality.
Some opponents of the display said it did not belong in a school, especially a middle school, as discussions about sex and sexuality should start at home and the school should focus on academics. Some also said it was about pushing a political agenda. Opposition to the display was often met with accusations of homophobia or being close-minded.
One middle schooler who drew attention for supporting the display was Kendall Humphreys, 14. Although she was not involved in putting up the display, she did look at it and read some of the historical information. She said the display was well put together and not intrusive.
Kendall said she normally wouldn’t have commented on a Facebook post like that, but after seeing some of the negative remarks, she felt she had to speak up.
“I’ve definitely seen countless numbers of events where kids a part of the LGBTQ+ community were picked on and made fun of. So, having this wall is something that could help them feel accepted. Students/kids are always told to treat people with respect, so I really don’t understand why when it comes to this topic it’s any different,” Kendall wrote on Facebook.
She added that after the display was put up, some students chanted in the halls “gay is not OK” and she even heard “burn the gays.”
Jones said a small group of students were caught walking down the hallways chanting derogatory remarks. They were not disciplined but were brought in for “a counseling activity about sensitivity and tolerance.”
“I think it is a good teachable moment. Regardless of the subject matter and whether you agree with it or not, words do mater and actions do matter,” Jones said.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.