Two hundred and fifty years after the Boston Tea Party, middle schoolers in a Boston suburb channeled its spirit against a new form of tyrannical oppression, LGBT Pride. Teachers, parents, and even administrators of the far-Left jurisdiction were “shocked,” “horrified,” and “extremely disheartened” by these middle schoolers’ solid grasp of basic biology, and naturally they retreated into platitudes of unity to justify their preferring a divisive principle to a unifying one.
Marshall Simonds Middle School (MSMS) in Burlington, Massachusetts approved a Pride Month Spirit Day on June 2 (their school year ends on June 16), which was requested and sponsored by Spectrum Club, a student organization “for LGBTQ+ students and allies,” as The Boston Globe described. Spectrum Club decked the school out in full-blown carnival regalia — rainbow streamers, Pride flag banners, handmade Pride Month signs, and “educational” — a.k.a. emotionally badgering — posters with messages like, “Why it’s not ok to say ‘That’s so gay’” and a quote by gay playwright Tennessee Williams implying that no human heart is straight. Spectrum Club members handed out rainbow stickers, and school personnel invited all students and faculty to wear rainbow clothing to demonstrate their support.
Some students not only refused to bow to the rainbow idol, but also organized a counterprotest. “This became evident in the lunchroom, where several groups of students wore red, white, blue, or black, including face paint,” wrote school principal Cari Perchase, in a letter to parents. “Groups of students were heard chanting, ‘U.S.A. are my pronouns,’ and students glared intimidatingly at faculty members showing pride.”
Although no hard numbers have been cited, the insubordinate faction seemed to include no insignificant portion of students. “Students were shamed into removing their stickers or covering their clothing with rainbows,” Perchase complained (although the sentence is ambiguous, “with rainbows” must modify “clothing,” not “covering” to make sense). In other words, the middle schoolers responded to peer pressure to celebrate LGBT Pride with peer pressure against celebrating LGBT Pride — and they succeeded. Peer pressure doesn’t work unless nearly “everybody is doing it.”
With costumes, face paint, and the resolve to agitate for liberty, the only element these middle schoolers needed to completely imitate the demonstration’s 1773 precedent was a little tea unboxing. In fact, at least some of the miffed middle schoolers performed an equivalent act by destroying the symbols of an imperious policy foisted upon them without their input — tearing down decorations, ripping them up, and stuffing them in water fountains.
Perchase was “extremely disheartened” by this behavior, she wrote. “I fully respect that our diverse community has diverse opinions and beliefs. I also respect individuals’ right to express their opinions through clothing choices and freedom of speech. When one individual or group of individuals’ beliefs and actions result in the demeaning of another individual or group, it is completely unacceptable.” Thus began the theme of Burlington adults rebuking the rebellious middle schoolers by wrapping affrontive Pride displays in the language of tolerance and inclusivity.
Middle schoolers are not widely known for knowing where to draw the line of acceptable behavior, and destroying the property of others crossed it. But, if that’s what Perchase meant by the three sentences above, that’s not what she said. Instead, Perchase undermined her lip service to free opinion and expression when she said that even beliefs are “completely unacceptable” if they demean others.
The problem is, the boundaries of “demeaning” beliefs have become exceedingly blurred with regard to LGBT+ identities. Earlier this year, another Massachusetts middle schooler was suspended for wearing a shirt that stated a biological fact, “there are only two genders,” because it allegedly made some people at his school feel “unsafe.” If middle schoolers don’t know where to draw the line for acceptable behavior, Massachusetts schools sure aren’t helping to clarify it for them.
Perchase then apologized to Marshall Simonds students who identify as LGBT. “I am truly sorry that a day meant for you to celebrate your identity turned into a day of intolerance,” she said, groveling as if she had torn down the decorations herself. “Schools are supposed to be a safe place for ALL students and faculty. Some community members’ actions created an unsafe environment for many of our students, caregivers, and faculty.”
There’s that word “unsafe” again. But what safety incident provoked its use? Did a student arrive at school with a gun, or at least a knife? Did a counterprotesting student threaten, push, or even slap any LGBT-identifying classmate? If such an incident had occurred, surely that lede would have headlined every news report. Yet, based on available news reports, the school did not even call the police.
Thus, the available facts lead us to conclude that Principal Perchase was implying that language — and even opinions — critical of excessive Pride celebrations amounts to violence against people who identify as LGBT. This untenable philosophical position was echoed in a letter by Burlington Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Eric Conti, who insisted that “The rise in anti LGBTQ+ violence across the country is unacceptable and has no place in our schools.” Burlington Equity Coalition also peddled the “violence” mantra in a statement expressing solidarity with “members of the school community who were harmed by these acts of intolerance.”
Conti’s June 4 letter to parents was the second berating the protesting middle schoolers. He made a few good points, such as noting that spirit day “participation is optional,” but “respectful behavior … is non-negotiable.”
But Conti’s letter made clear that the school system insisted upon overtly favoring certain perspectives, while denying that they were showing favoritism. “We embrace everyone for who they are and for what they bring to our schools and larger community,” said Conti, but then he promised to train staff to “identify and respond to identity bigotry and discrimination.” Suddenly, the “embrace everyone” platitude is superseded by an “except bigots” caveat. In case any reader was uninitiated as to which identities and opinions are unquestionable, and which ones make you a bigot, Conti invited all readers to “join us in taking a stand against homophobia.”
Conti expressed no reservations about choosing a side, even as a public employee of a diverse community. “I recognize that discussions and celebrations of individual identity are complex and impacted by individual values, religions, and cultural norms, the result of which may include expressions of racism, anti-religious hate, ableism, and in this case homophobia,” he warned. Instead of respecting those values, religions, and norms, he intolerantly insisted that they stand aside if they opposed his sacred ideal of toleration.
Conti knows who butters his bread, because community members overwhelmingly endorsed his intolerance of any LGBT+ criticism at two snowflake struggle sessions this week — a Burlington Select Board meeting on Monday and a BPS School Committee meeting on Tuesday.
“I thought Burlington was a safer place than Texas or Florida. Obviously I was wrong,” complained parent and former school committee member Cara Foss. She called on local officials to suppress the middle schooler revolt head-on, “there’s some undercurrents in Burlington that town administration and school administration need to address more directly and more firmly.”
“The issue of Pride at schools is very controversial, I understand that,” Foss continued. “I think we need to start at a place of commonality.” But she urged officials to stamp out any LGBT skepticism, no matter how long it took. “I think it will take some time. It takes a lot of hard work and conversation, but I believe in Burlington, I believe we can get there.”
Other public commenters expressed concern over the organization the middle schoolers demonstrated. “It was an unruly disruption that was organized ahead of time,” noted Burlington resident Joanne Frustaci. “I was shocked and horrified,” said parent Nila Almstrom. “They organized themselves; they came to school wearing outfits and face paint. And if they’re big enough to do that, then they’re big enough to have this conversation.” By “big enough to have this conversation,” Almstrom apparently meant that middle schoolers should allow the adults to dictate their opinions for them, and that they should lie down and accept their verbal lashing like good little sheep. Her objective, she said, was that the students could “take responsibility for their actions and still become allies” of the LGBT community.
“How many children felt power yesterday by committing an act of intimidation?” intoned librarian and former high school teacher Andrea Bono-Bunker Monday. “How many children had a seed of homophobia planted in them yesterday? How many children now feel worse about themselves because of what they witnessed or experienced yesterday? How many children now think that being part of or supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community is un-American?”
What psychobabble! She tacitly admits the former powerlessness felt by middle schoolers uncomfortable with in-your-face Pride celebrations, while at the same time wrongly asserting a child’s self-worth should be the most important consideration. She feigns surprise that force-feeding middle schoolers — now beginning to think for themselves — such undigestible fare would cause them to spew forth a putrid yet instinctive response. She seems unable to comprehend the Left’s campaign to turn young people into political activists had already sown every “seed” necessary for the outburst, or that the LGBT ideology’s intolerance of free speech or criticism — not to mention its adherents’ disdain for America itself — had already driven into these middle schoolers’ minds a mental wedge between supporting the “LGBTQIA+” community or supporting America.
“While these students are culpable, the underlying issue is where did they get the idea to do this in the first place?” said Bono-Bunker. Other speakers also held the parents responsible for their children’s rejection of LGBT Pride. “This type of intolerant rhetoric starts in the home,” insisted one father intolerantly.
Others demanded action. “It would be naïve of us to think that what happened at the middle school won’t escalate to something more tragic in the future. It isn’t going to go magically away; it will get worse,” parent Jessika Dubay-Dang forecasted. Apparently, wearing red, white, and blue to school on Pride Day is “tragic” now. If the adults don’t intervene immediately, such malformed children might grow up standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, living productive and happy lives focused on others, and even — perish the thought! — owning a gun.
In all seriousness, Dubay-Dang likely meant that these middle schoolers would move from lesser violence to greater violence. Again, this presumes the middle schoolers committed violence, which, apart from trashing decorations, they didn’t. But to take her argument on its own terms for a moment, Dubay-Dang argues that their violent thoughts and words show that these young students have been radicalized, and that they will progress to further violence as their radicalism develops. If that’s true, the proper cure would be identifying the source of the radicalization and removing it. To the extent that these youngsters were radicalized — again, only in the terms of her argument — they are reacting to the oppressive, suffocating celebration of LGBT ideology, with no dissent tolerated. What do Dubay-Dang and other parents propose? More of the same!
Dubay-Dang wasn’t alone in calling for action. Burlington Equality Coalition also called on school administrators to “provide consequences” for counter-protestors and “take an active stand against hate under the guise of ‘free expression.’” (Where did those students get the notion that supporting the LGBT agenda is un-American?) “Without any direct and concrete action, these incidents will occur again and increase in severity,” they warned. Shutting down the free expression of students was “a chance to remind residents that every person is important and welcome in our town,” said the LGBT advocacy organization.
In addition to punishing demonstrators, Burlington Equality also demanded school administrators fill a DEI director position that has been “unfilled for almost a year” and that the town board “reinstate the recently disbanded Diversity, Equity and Inclusion subcommittee” (its funding was redirected to other DEI training initiatives). Additionally, Perchase said they would hold listening sessions to hear students’ concerns, create a form whereby students could anonymously report each other for hateful conduct (does anyone else see a problem with this?), and prepare additional curriculum to teach students tolerance, acceptance, and respect (which rings of the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance curriculum).
Town officials responded to community gripes by affirming them. “A bad light has been cast over our town,” agreed Select Board member Mike Espejo. “I was very upset. I’ve lost sleep over it. It kind of shocked me to my core. I didn’t think something like that could happen in Burlington.” At least two other board members agreed with the sentiment, and the board promised to consider how to address the issue over the summer.
For their part, school officials seem reluctant to discipline students for the disruption. At the Tuesday meeting, Burlington School Committee Chair Martha Simon stressed that the offenders were only middle schoolers. “Middle school should be a safe place for all students to express themselves, to make mistakes, and to learn from each other,” she said.
School officials may also not relish the responsibility of sniffing out which protesting students had actually destroyed property. “Some of the kids threw the stickers on the ground,” said Christine Steiner, mother of one girl who protested. “But I can only speak for my daughter, she just didn’t want to wear that to school. It’s not that she wanted to hurt anybody’s feelings.” Such a remark suggests the students may have felt more pressure to wear rainbow attire beforehand than school officials have admitted to after the fact. Steiner added that her daughter felt coerced to join the celebration of Pride and was offended by some of the messages, such as the Tennessee Williams poster implying no one is straight.
Conti had taken a position similar to Simon in his earlier letter, “The Burlington Public Schools are obligated to provide a safe environment for all students to feel safe, seen, and respected without retaliation.” But school officials making not-so-subtle digs as politically incorrect ideas is totally cool.
The more thoughtful responses preferred discussion to punishment. “It is not enough to publicly denounce these incidents,” said Conti. “As a school system we have a unique opportunity to educate our community on the nature of these events.” He probably means indoctrination, but at least he isn’t punishing students as the local LGBT coalition demanded.
“I think what we need to do is turn down the temperature,” said Espejo, “and instead of talking at each other, look each other in the face and talk to each other, hear each other’s concerns, complaints and try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and I think that would go a long way.” As Conti put it, “Let us all work on being kinder to each other.”
It didn’t take much listening to locate the source of student anger. “Perchase said she received some feedback that the counter message was in response to the school not recognizing the observance of Memorial Day,” reported local news station WHDH. Perchase said the lack of recognition was an “oversight” and reiterated, “respect for the observance of Memorial Day and respect for the LGBTQ community are not mutually exclusive.”
Kind of a big oversight, no? The school ignored a federal holiday, for which classes were cancelled, but foamed at the mouth to convert their building into a temple to LGBT Pride. So, in theory, Perchase is correct that respect for the official holiday and the unofficial debauchery month are “not mutually exclusive.” But in actual practice, the school got so excited about celebrating a divisive niche that they completely overlooked a generic and unifying American institution in the very same week. No wonder the students wore red, white, and blue. Instead of correcting this grave error, the school district responded to the incident with more DEI programs, not more American unity.
The incident reached such a pitch that it attracted the attention of Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey (D), who identifies as a lesbian. “I hope it becomes a teaching moment for the young people who were involved in that,” said Healey. “It doesn’t represent who we are as a state.” That may be true for today’s voting populace, but these middle schoolers — the next generation — are recalling an earlier Massachusetts tradition that responded to oppression and tyranny by dumping tea in Boston harbor.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.
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