Protest outside Kickapoo High scheduled for Monday after Pride flag removed

PFLAG Springfield volunteers lined a sidewalk outside Kickapoo High School early Monday — the first day of class — to hand out Safe Space Pride flags, buttons and stickers.

Aaron Schekorra, chairman of the PFLAG Springfield board, said the group received an “overwhelmingly positive response from parents” and handed out nearly 100 Pride flags and buttons.

“Our main goal is to get these supplies into the hands of students so they can take them to schools, he said.

A week ago, the principal of Kickapoo told ‘a handful’ of teachers to remove pride flags of their classrooms, citing a board policy regarding employee conduct and speech that was first adopted in 2014. All teachers have complied, the district confirmed.

The neighborhood emailed all employees a few days later with reminders on how to comply with the policy.

A separate protest, not organized by PFLAG Springfield, was planned for Monday outside Kickapoo.

Schekorra said her Monday action was to support LGBTQ students and school employees who are trusted adults and positive, assertive role models.

PFLAG is a national organization bringing together parents, families and allies with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

Aaron Schekorra

He said the issue is broader than board policy or flag removal at a high school.

“As an organization, we’re not interested in talking about one administrator, one teacher, or a handful of individuals,” he said. “This is about our school district and what it means for our community. And we want to look at the big picture, how our district as a whole, top to bottom, can be a better place for all students. .”

At a meeting on Sunday, PFLAG members talked about ways to support students during the school year.

“We wanted to hear the concerns not only about this policy, as it relates to Kickapoo, but also about the district as a whole,” he said.

The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey of LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 45% of LGBTQ youth had seriously considered suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

Schekorra, an adoptive parent, said it’s critical for students’ mental health that they can find and access supportive and affirming adults in the school setting.

“If a student is experiencing anxiety, stress, discrimination, or is being bullied by students or if they feel they are not being treated fairly because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, knowing for sure that a teacher has shown that they’re a safe space, that they understand or at least can understand…is important,” he said. “It reassures them that their needs are going to be met or taken seriously.”

At the meeting, Schekorra said current and former Springfield students shared details of their experiences at multiple schools. He said one of them talked about approaching a teacher to get help for a gay student who was being bullied.

“That teacher waved it off because it was ‘something that student was going to have to get used to’,” he recalled. “This concern was later dropped because this individual did not feel they could raise their concerns with anyone at school as they felt this response was indicative of the entire campus.”

Schekorra said PFLAG chose to distribute flags, buttons and stickers because the board policy that prompted the flag removal request does not limit what students can display as part of their protected self-expression – as long as the elements do not disrupt the learning environment.

“We want students to pick them up and give them to their friends who are allies or part of the community or who just want to express their support for LGBTQ+ students and teachers who are on campus,” he said.

Demonstration in Kickapoo scheduled for Monday

Jimmy Anti, a drag performer from Springfield, hosted the protest Monday on Instagram. Over 1,300 people have liked the post.

Springfield drag artist Jimmy Anti, at an event in January 2022, helped organize a protest Monday outside Kickapoo High School.

The 22-year-old, who graduated from Glendale High School in 2018, saw the public display as a way to support LGBTQ students and staff in the district.

“The issues in Springfield Public Schools are very close to my heart. As an existing queer person at SPS, I know how difficult it can be in this area,” Jimmy Anti said. “I know teachers who were allies were one of the only reasons I was able to survive my high school experience.”

Following the request to remove the flag, Jimmy Anti wanted to take action. “It was really disheartening to hear that the administration was fighting against the few teachers who were trying to make gay people feel more accepted in the classroom.”

In an interview, Jimmy Anti said the protest was not intended to “make a political statement about our existence”, but simply to affirm that LGBTQ people belong and have the right to be seen in public spaces.

“We refuse to allow anyone to treat us as something inappropriate when it is just one aspect of our identity that straight and cisgender people are allowed to express, in all sorts of ways, that they are part of the dominant identity.”

The rainbow or pride flag has been a symbol of the LGBTQ rights movement since at least the 1970s.

“Seeing a Pride flag signals safety to me. In this world, especially in this field, not everyone is going to take you at face value and treat you like a human being,” Jimmy Anti said. “When you see this Pride flag, you know you are safe in the case of your homosexuality. You don’t have to fear discrimination or abuse.”

Jimmy Anti said removing pride flags from the classroom could embolden those who are hateful and could seek to marginalize LGBTQ students.

“We are really concerned about the message this sends to remove pride flags from the classroom under the guise of depoliticizing things,” Jimmy Anti said. “It sort of blames gay people for the politics of our existence whereas gay students and teachers just go to work and school. Our existence is not political to us.”

By organizing the protest, Jimmy Anti wanted to challenge broader anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that took place in public schools across the United States.

“We’re seeing this kind of thing happening across the country right now with right-wing people being elected to school boards. It’s a national problem. It’s a district-wide problem and seeing it rearing its head here locally is really shocking,” Jimmy Anti said.

“We definitely have our eyes on the district and how they treat their various employees as well as their students as a whole.”

Advocacy: Challenge the school board to support LGBTQ students

For over a year, Kyler Sherman-Wilkins has spoken to the school board to advocate for diversity training, an inclusive curriculum, and support for children and staff from underrepresented backgrounds. .

Kyler Sherman Wilkins

“When I first started coming to board meetings, it was actually before the critical race theory moral panic and it was really centered around the pushback the board was getting regarding the LGBTQ inclusive agenda. “, did he declare.

Sherman-Wilkins, an assistant professor of sociology at Missouri State University, planned to be part of Monday’s protest at Kickapoo.

“I’ve always been committed to making minorities feel supported, especially in a Bible-belt community,” he said.

He said protests are a way “to draw attention to a particular issue and to highlight that people are energized and mobilized”.

“I just hope this achieves the goal of letting the administration know that people are crazy, they’re worried, and they’re here to fight,” he said. “I see (protesting) as part of a larger strategy including public comment and, of course, voting.”

Sherman-Wilkins has repeatedly called on the board to issue a statement of support for transgender students in the district, in light of legislative proposals in Missouri and beyond that target this population and their participation in athletics.

“I hear all the time about the marginalization of trans youth, in particular; even within the gay and lesbian community, trans youth are often marginalized,” he said. “I am confident that those on the margins are also supported.”

He urged the council to discuss the statement of support openly so that the position of each of the council members could be recorded.

“The fact that there are explicit appeals and they are not heeded shows that there is no appetite to issue a statement of support,” he said.

Sherman-Wilkins said he supports challenging the board’s policy that promoted the flag-removal demands last week.

He said he understands the need for institutions, such as the district, to have policies in place and for employees to follow them.

“There are policies that need to be followed, but we also need to ask the question, ‘Who do these policies serve? and if the policies are not serving the most vulnerable of our students, we need to have a conversation about whether those policies can change,” he said.

“I really find it hard to think about presenting a Pride flag, which is a symbol of inclusion specifically for a community that has been ostracized and demonized for decades and continues to be … as his personal opinion. .”

Sherman-Wilkins said he fears the removal of the pride flags is just the start. “It’s a pride flag today, but will it be the safe zone signage tomorrow?”

Claudette Riley is the News-Leader’s educational reporter. Email news tips to [email protected]

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