From the Desk of GLSEN Arizona's Policy Fellow
With as much positive transformation as we’ve seen in K-12 schools in recent years – more visible support for LGBTQ+ students, the existence of Gender-Sexuality Alliances (GSAs), comprehensive and enumerated policies, and more diverse curricula – I’m still surprised at how often Arizona students and educators continue to report negative experiences in 2023.
Last month, I was contacted by a guidance counselor from a rural school district in Arizona who had been told by their administration that they needed to remove rainbow flags and safe space posters from their office – because these signs of support for LGBTQ+ students were no longer allowed to be displayed.
We met with the guidance counselor and shared that banning pride flags in Arizona may violate the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, which protects the creation of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students. We also checked in with the counselor about how they were feeling, what the climate is like at their school, and how they would like to proceed.
After this initial meeting, we sent them follow-up information about their rights and possible next steps and connected with our partners at ACLU of Arizona, who confirmed that these are legally protected forms of expression for public school educators and students under the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment.
Our work with the guidance counselor, with the support of the ACLU of Arizona, is still ongoing. But this is just one of the ways our chapter Rises Up in support of LGBTQ+ students in Arizona. Pride flags signify that a learning environment is safe and affirming for LGBTQ+ students. In most cases, flags are being removed because a vocal minority of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-public education individuals weaponize the language of inclusion to claim that signs of support discriminate against them. School principals and district superintendents respond to such complaints out of an overabundance of fear, forcing teachers and staff to remove rainbow flags. Educators who try to resist, often by citing their own or their students’ rights, face an uphill battle: going toe-to-toe with more powerful school leaders who already have their minds made up, all while encountering hostility from anti-LGBTQ+ parents and colleagues. Fear is everywhere, from the fear of losing one’s job as an educator to the fear of being complicit in creating a more hostile school environment for marginalized students.
Rainbow flags and safe space stickers and posters are allowed in Arizona’s public schools. Having them up isn’t a form of discrimination – it’s a sign of inclusion. These symbols let students know that a teacher or staff member is supportive of all their students, including their LGBTQ+ students. GLSEN Arizona is proud to work with more and more educators, policy makers, and other courageous adults in positions of power to rise up in support of LGBTQ+ students.
By Sean Nonnenmacher, GLSEN Arizona Policy Fellow