Unnamed students at California’s Paso Robles High School tore down the Pride flag hanging in the classroom of science instructor and swim coach Evan Holtz. Afterward, the students posted a TikTok video showing them defecating on the flag and flushing it down a toilet. The students responsible were given “minor discipline”, other students said.
School administrators stayed silent about the vandalism for two weeks, leaving queer students unsure if they noticed or approved of it. The school district’s eventual response merely reminded teachers of the policy banning any classroom flags bigger than 2 feet by 2 feet.
In response, students displayed pro-LGBTQ messages in the school’s hallways. Several are organizing an upcoming anti-hate rally, and others wrote an op-ed in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
“The school’s response is a collective slap in the face of all LBGTQ students at PRHS. From our perspective, the school’s flag ban means they’re more interested in appeasing the bullies than protecting the safety of the victims of hate,” the students wrote.
Holtz said he displayed the flag to make LGBTQ students feel safe and welcome in his classroom. The thieves stole it during a break between classes. Holtz chased the vandals into the hallway, but lost them in the crowd of students. Later, the students posted a TikTok video showing them defecating on and flushing the flag.
“It was definitely an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community,” Paso High School social science teacher Geoffrey Land told the Tribune. “And a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely.”
In response to the attack, District Superintendent Curt Dubost issued an October 1 letter citing “multiple concerns about certain flag displays in teacher classrooms.” Dubost’s letter said that “rainbow flags mean different things to different people but to many are a symbol of safety, inclusion and equity.”
After that, his letter reminded teachers that only small flags may be flown, and none may alter the U.S. flag in any way. Dubost called the policy, “a very reasonable compromise solution that allows rainbows, but within reason.”
However, sophomore Eve Barajas, president of the school’s Equity Club, called the policy a ban on Pride flags, considering that most standard smaller flags are at least three feet by five feet. Holtz said when students brought him replacement flags, they were all too big to be displayed.
Some students have criticized the school for not taking queerphobia seriously and have shared their own experiences facing anti-LGBTQ discrimination on campus. Other students made displays of pro-LGBTQ messages — such as “Love over Hate” and “You’re Valid” — on letter-sized paper and posted them in the school’s hallways.
Students are also organizing a community event entitled “Coming Out Against Hate” to take place On October 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Paso High’s performing arts center. The event will feature storytelling challenging acts of hate and calls for school leaders to do more to fight queerphobia.
Marcy Goodnow, Paso High’s director of theater arts, said the students’ pro-LGBTQ push is “something that is very needed and has been needed for a long time.” Holtz said his flag’s vandalism has compelled quieter students to speak out as well.
Senior Ava Hughes, one of the event’s organizers, said, “I’m really proud of the fact that so many people are brave enough to come up against the adversity that is very obvious here. We might get a ton of hate for this. We might get hate-crimed ourselves.”
“But we can’t let this continue,” she continued. “We have a culture of homophobia here. We literally have no other option than to put ourselves kind of at risk and in danger. Because we can’t let this continue.”