Controversy has erupted in Burlington, Massachusetts after some middle schoolers were accused of “intolerance and homophobia” after revolting against a Pride celebration at their school.
On June 2, some students at Marshall Simonds Middle School reportedly wore only red, white, and blue colored clothing and chanted, “U.S.A. are my pronouns,” and took down LGBT-themed banners and stickers. The event was led by the Spectrum Club, an LGBT club for students and “allies,” in celebration of Pride Month.
Outrage has ensued as some parents and LGBT activists have accused the students of bigotry and intolerance. Nancy Bonassera, co-chair of the Burlington Equity Coalition, said during a community meeting: “These displays of intolerance and homophobia are unacceptable and impact the whole community. We challenge Burlington town leadership to take an active stand against hate under the guise of ‘free expression.’”
However, others have claimed that the celebration was too aggressive and voyeuristic and argued that it forced students to choose a side. One parent, Christine Steiner, said: “Some of the kids threw the stickers on the ground. But I can only speak for my daughter, she just didn’t want to wear that to school. It’s not that she wanted to hurt anybody’s feelings.”
In response to the incident, Burlington Public Schools Superintendent Eric Conti sent a letter to parents condemning the students who protested and noting that event participation was optional. He said, “We recognize that intolerance can manifest in many different ways, and unfortunately our school community experienced intolerance during the school day on Friday.”
Conti also encouraged the community to take “a stand against homophobia” and said he would continue to make the school system a “place where anyone can feel safe and welcome.” Principal Cari Perchase also apologized to the parents and students, saying the Pride event had turned into a “day of intolerance.” She added that the school would likely implement a program to teach students about tolerance and acceptance.
The incident has sparked a debate about the role of Pride Month in schools, as well as the role that parents and administrators should take in promoting acceptance and understanding. It remains to be seen what steps the school and the community will take to ensure that all students have a safe and inclusive environment.