Utah County LGBTQ+ students protest removal of Pride flags from school
lehi • Students filled the sidewalk across from their school and screamed for more than an hour until their voices broke. And even then, some still shouted, “We belong here.”
A few people driving by in this conservative Utah County town shouted insults from their car windows. But the children only screamed louder to drown out the insults.
More than 100 students at Skyridge High School took part in the strike Monday morning and walked out of class in the middle of the second period. They wore everything rainbow colors – shirts, socks, suspenders and stickers – and waved small rainbow flags. Their message of LGBTQ+ membership was aimed at their school’s principals and Alpine District school board members, who they hoped would listen.
Board members in March ordered Skyridge High staff to remove all Pride flags from inside the school. The issue came to the fore after a photo of a student – with a flag in the background – was posted to the school’s Instagram page. Parents have commented on the flags being used by “pedophile” teachers to “care” children and said they don’t belong in schools – echoing common rhetoric across the country.
Alpine District — the largest school district in Utah — said the flags were banned due to its policy banning any “political, religious or personal” display in schools, and Skyridge removed the colorful symbols from classrooms and hallways.
Now “we’re letting the school board know we’re not going,” said Olivia Brown, a Skyridge High School student who is bisexual.
Brown started an online petition when the flags were removed and helped organize Monday’s rally, which came just over a month after students went to a school board meeting to urge elected officials to get involved with politics deal with what they believe has caused them harm. The Executive Board did not take up the issue at its last meeting. And the students said they were fed up with the silence.
“They preach that they listen to the students. But what do we have to do to warrant a response?” asked Cameron Carnes, a senior and LGBTQ+ ally who also started the strike to draw more attention to the issue. “You just didn’t say anything.”
The Salt Lake Tribune solicited comment Monday from the Alpine School District, as well as School Board President Sara Hacken and Vice President Julie King. The precinct spokesman said: “We are aware that there was an off-campus demonstration today. We know some students participated and returned to school without incident.” He did not comment on the underlying policy being protested.
The children waved the same flags that were banned to show the school they were here, they said, and that the flags made them feel safer, indicating the hatred they felt from passers-by.
They smiled and danced and sang to songs by Taylor Swift and Dolly Parton and Disney on the sunny spring morning. They twirled under rainbow umbrellas. They ran with rainbow flags around their necks as cloaks. One student made handmade rainbow pom-pom earrings and slipped 15 Pride flags — like a headband — into his hat.
One held a sign that read, “Alpine, it’s time to listen to your students.” Another said, “HEAR US.” Some of the children wore T-shirts that read “Skyridge strong.” Some alumni joined them.
Jay Kell, a pansexual senior, wore a knit rainbow stripe scarf that his grandma had made for him. In ninth grade, he said, he began questioning his gender and sexual identity.
Kell said he “just never really fit in,” but when he saw a flag for the Gay-Hetero-Alliance Club, he ran into a group of kids like him.
When the Pride flags were first removed at Skyridge High, LGBTQ+ students there said their classmates felt encouraged to harass them. On Monday, a group of five counter-protesters, also Skyridge High students, stood by the side of the road carrying American flags and flags with former President Donald Trump’s name on them. They shouted into a megaphone and played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Senior Camille Weisenbeck, who is bisexual and marched with the LGBTQ+ students, responded to that resistance by saying, “I’d rather be out here facing violence than be in school and be silenced.”
Police officers patrolled between the two groups.
Overall, there was more love than hate, and other cars honked by in support of the LGBTQ+ kids. And these students also shared their snacks with the classmates who opposed them.
“This kid is in my math class,” said Ira Phillips, a lesbian and gender-nonconforming senior who uses the pronouns “they/them.” “Because of kids like him, I’m afraid to talk about who I am. We all just want to be loved.”
Students at Alpine Westlake High and Lehi High also staged solidarity strikes Monday.
Alpine didn’t respond to The Tribune’s question about whether the policy of not displaying Pride flags would be enforced at its other schools. And Utah law says nothing specifically about flags in the classroom. However, it instructs teachers never to mention their political or religious views.
The interpretation has developed differently in the different districts.
Utah’s second-largest district, Davis School District in northern Utah, has taken a tough approach, banning most flags except the American flag. Schools in the Salt Lake City School District now proudly fly the Pride flag with regulatory approval — despite some complaints from conservative community members.
The LGBTQ+ students demonstrating Monday said they don’t see the Pride flag as political; They see it as a symbol of their identity and a sign that classrooms are safe places for them.
“It’s hard when other people try to hide who we are,” said Max Bingham, a sophomore who is omnisexual.
Some students noted that some students do not have support at home to be who they are and that school is the place for them to embrace their identity. One student offered to take his friends’ Pride gear and store it in his car if they didn’t feel like taking it home.
The students said they would continue to fight for the flags. Even alumni like Carnes and Baxter said they plan to wear rainbow pins or ribbons at their ceremonies next month.
They hugged outside their school before returning to class at 11 a.m. and together passed under the sign above Skyridge High’s front doors that read, “You belong here,” as if it were an echo of their chants.