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Pride flag dispute sparks student activism, backlash at Skyridge High School

By Sarah Hunt - | Mar 31, 2023

Sarah Hunt, Daily Herald

Hundreds of students, alumni, parents, community members and school district employees attend the Alpine School District Board of Education meeting in American Fork on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

On March 28, hundreds of students, staff and parents squeezed into the Alpine School District board meeting to show support for LGBTQ+ rights at Skyridge High School in Lehi.

A post was made on the high school’s Instagram page on March 15 to recognize a student’s achievements, showing a photo of the student next to a teacher in a classroom. In the background of the photo hung a LGBTQ+ pride flag, as well as nine smaller flags representing different sexual orientations pinned above the white board. 

A parent filed a complaint to remove the flags, telling KUTV, “I find it extremely frustrating. It’s a (political) agenda, … (and) a classroom is not the place.” The post and the flags were later removed.

The next day, a student named Olivia Brown started a Change.org petition to get the flags put back up. As of Thursday evening, the petition had 2,448 signatures and comments from students, alumni, parents and other members of the broader community.

Brown is a member of the Gay Straight Alliance club, which meets in the photographed classroom. They and other students stated that the flags — which have been up for several years — always made them feel safe and free to be themselves in at least one part of the school.

Sarah Hunt, Daily Herald

A group of LGBTQ students and supporters pose for a photo at the Alpine School District office in American Fork on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

On March 24, queer students held a Pride Day at the school, encouraging members of their club and allies to wear bright colors and rainbows in support of LGBTQ+ rights to school. Students opposed to the club and Pride Day event started name-calling and bullying those in bright colors, the students alleged. 

Queer students described a mob forming at lunch in the A hall where opposing students were burning stolen pride flags in a bathroom, chanting “USA” while holding a large American flag and threatening queer students with knives. 

“Even though there were a lot of terrible instances, I saw so much unity that you would least expect,” Cameron Carnes, a Skyridge student, said during the meeting. “When we had the mob of American flag kids within our school, a football player was the one that went in the middle of them with a mini pride flag and just waved it around. It just shows that this flag means so much … to students that are straight, students that are queer, to teachers, to staff … I think that’s the most important thing to recognize. That throughout all of this, we have learned that this flag, it’s not a political agenda or anything like that.”

Brown said she went home from school before lunch because of students filming, following and laughing at her as she wore a pride flag shirt and face painting during her first three classes.

“On my way to my third period class, someone screamed, ‘you’re disgusting’ at me,” Brown said. “But besides the amount of things that I heard, and I’ve heard a lot of awful things, the amount of love there outweighed the hate, even if the hate was louder.”

Half an hour was set aside for the public to give comments on the issue. Six students and two adults spoke in favor of LGBTQ+ rights at the board meeting, with one student and one adult opposing pride flags in the classroom. 

Both sides referenced school district policy 6161: Selection & Adoption of Instructional Materials, with some stating that according to the policy, wall hangings such as a painting of George Washington praying, or “Don’t Tread On Me,” “Make America Great Again” and BYU flags should not be allowed on campus either as religious and political statement pieces. 

“Alpine School District’s Policy 6161 is aligned with state statute and is the expectation for employees. A culture of inclusion is encouraged for all of our students. Everyone should be treated with respect and civility,” said David Stephenson, executive director of external relations and communications for the Alpine School District.

In 2021, the Davis School District, the state’s second largest, banned Pride, MAGA and Black Lives Matters flags in classrooms. District spokesperson Chris Williams said the rule was to ensure that classrooms stayed politically neutral.

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can,” Williams said at the time.

The DSD incident came on the heels of Utah State School Board member Natalie Cline, who’s district includes Skyridge High School and Lehi, making repeated comments on social media targeting LGBT+ students and the community as a whole.

At a public rally, Cline called the banning of the flags a “great win” despite being reprimanded by the USBE for her comments on LGBT+ people.


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