Homophobic student rampage sees school Pride decorations trashed in display of ‘intolerance’

Eighth-grade students in Massachusetts have torn down Pride decorations, prompting parents to urge officials to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the school.

According to US reports, the vandalism occurred during a Pride Spirit Day event at Marshall Simonds Middle School, in Burlington – about 15 miles from Boston.

The students, who destroyed rainbow decorations, also chanted that their pronouns were “USA” and some wore red, white and blue colours to represent the American flag.

A Burlington Select Board meeting on Monday (12 June) saw parents and allies voice their concerns, with calls for a DEI sub-committee of the board – dissolved last year – to be reinstated.

Co-chair of the Burlington Equity Coalition, Nancy Bonassera, was quoted by the Boston Globe as saying: “These displays of intolerance and homophobia are unacceptable and impact the whole community”.

She said the group wanted “Burlington town leadership to take an active stand against hate”, which was hiding under the guise of free expression.

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“We believe that without any direct and concrete action, these incidents will occur again and increase in severity,” Bonassera said, according to CBS News Boston. 

NBC Boston quoted parent and former school committee member Carl Foss as saying both the town and school administrations needed to address “some undercurrents in Burlington … more directly and firmly”.

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He added: “I thought Burlington was a safer place than Texas or Florida. Obviously, I was wrong.”

A Burlington School Committee meeting was held on Tuesday (13 June), where, again according to CBS News Boston, chairwoman Martha Simon condemned the incident but declined to specify any disciplinary actions, highlighting the age of offending students.

Parents and allies again responded that a stronger stand against the homophobic behaviour needed to be taken. One of them, Jessika Dubay-Dang, said it would be naive to think what happened wouldn’t “escalate to something more tragic in the future”.

She added: “It isn’t going to magically go away, it will get worse.”

The meetings followed a letter addressed to the Burlington community from the school’s superintendent, Eric Conti, dated 4 June, a copy of which was republished by NBC Boston.

The rise of anti-LGBTQ+ violence across the US was “unacceptable and has no place in our schools”, he wrote.

“Burlington public schools are obligated to provide a safe environment for all students to feel safe, seen, and respected without retaliation.

“We ask all staff, teachers and members of the Burlington public school community to join us in taking a stand against homophobia and identity hateful action.”

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