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A spirit that is not afraid

Counter-petition to keep LGBT flag in Auburn High classroom receives over 3,700 signatures

In a petition passed around Auburn High School Friday, Aug. 18, to be sent to Principal Shannon Pignato, students and parents of students requested that a rainbow LGBTQ pride flag flying in a teacher’s classroom be removed from the school.

The signers of the petition claim the flag “creates a hostile and provocative learning environment for students not comfortable to openly supporting the LGBTQ+ community in a public school where students come from diverse political and social views.”

“[W]e believe it is unprofessional and distracting for a teacher to be so openly displaying their political views in an unbiased and socially neutral public setting,” the petition went on to say.

“While the signers of this petition do not feel it is an issue for [the teacher] to support the LGBTQ+ community, we do feel it creates a less than ideal learning environment when a teacher subjects their students to their personal political views in a public school system.”

The petition also compares the pride flag to a Confederate flag and a “heterosexual” flag, saying if the teacher was flying those, there would likely be protests and threats of lawsuits.

The teacher in question has, for years, been the sponsor of Auburn High’s EDUCATE club, the school’s gay-straight alliance group dedicated to “promoting inclusivity and unity for all,” according to Auburn High student and EDUCATE President Barbara Allen.

Pignato has not yet been presented with the petition, Auburn City Schools Superintendent Karen DeLano said in a prepared statement on Saturday.

“She is aware of the situation and is working with staff and students to address the concerns,” DeLano said.

Friday morning, Auburn High student Brandon Sinniger posted a counter-petition to the website in defense of the teacher. As of publication, the counter-petition has over 3,700 signatures.

“The signers of this petition not only refute the points of the original complaint, but stand by [the teacher’s] decision and right to display the pride flag, especially as the sponsor of the AHS Educate club,” the counter-petition states.

“[T]he pride flag and the AHS Educate club has (sic) served to provide a healthy environment for our LGBT+ peers to feel comfortable being who they truly are.”

In response to the posting of the counter-petition, supporters of the original petition also posted their petition to, where it has 240 signatures as of publication.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 percent of surveyed LGB students had been threatened or injured with a weapon at school and 34 percent had been bullied at school.

“For youth to thrive in schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally and physically safe and supported,” the CDC states on its website. “A positive school climate has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use and unexcused school absences among LGB students.”

Sinniger first saw the original petition Friday morning in a group chat he’s a part of with friends.

“It was really shocking to me to see a group of students put their signatures down approving this and wanting to take the flag down,” he said.

Sinniger said on Friday that the flag is still hanging in the room and that he believes the signers of the original petition to be a small number of students and parents and not representative of the entire student body.

“Of course, we do live in the South and the stigma, unfortunately, is still present,” he said. “I’m sure there is a larger number who stand with [the signers of the original petition], just silently, but it really is true that EDUCATE and the LGBTQ+ community in our school is a really big part and is widely accepted.”

Allen said EDUCATE does not officially support the counter-petition but said she doesn’t think it has caused any harm.

She also said Auburn High’s administration has been generally supportive of the group, both since its inception and throughout this incident.

“I talked to my school principal Friday morning when I saw the petition and she was understanding and willing to work with me, she was willing to contact me again during the school day, she was talking to my sponsors,” Allen said.

“I personally have never had a problem with any of the school administrators saying, ‘Hey, you need to tone this down,'” she said. “I overall had a good experience with [the school administration].”

The superintendent presented the petition and ensuing debate as a chance to work through an issue with civility.

“In our country today people are often seen addressing their objections through violence and hate," DeLano said.

“It is my sincere desire to assist our students in learning to address their opinions and values in a calm and respectful manner," DeLano said. "This differing of opinions related to the EDUCATE club at AHS affords our faculty and students an opportunity to learn and model a civil manner in which to resolve differences.”

The rainbow flag used as a symbol of LGBT pride has a long history. American artist Gilbert Baker debuted the flag in the late 1970s, and it has undergone various changes since, to add and remove colors with different meanings.

After the Supreme Court held in 2015 that the Fourteenth Amendment required states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the White House was illuminated with the flag’s six colors.

The Plainsman has reached out to the teacher several times, but has not received a response. In the interest of their privacy, The Plainsman has withheld the name of the teacher.

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