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Lehi students renew protest over Skyridge HS’s removal of pride flags

Skyridge High School students cheer and wave their rainbow flags as cars drive by on the street in front of the school in Lehi, Utah, May 15, 2023.
Martha Harris
/
KUER
Skyridge High School students cheer and wave their rainbow flags as cars drive by on the street in front of the school in Lehi, Utah, May 15, 2023.

More than 100 Skyridge High School students in Lehi walked out of class on May 15 to protest the removal of LGBTQ+ pride flags from their classrooms and hallways.

When the flags were taken down in March, students initially responded with an online petition. Some spoke at the Alpine School District’s school board meeting and they held silent protests by dressing in rainbow attire at school. But after more than a month without a response from the board, students said they wanted to do something a little more disruptive to show they’ll keep fighting.

The controversy started after the school’s Instagram posted a picture of a teacher and student inside a classroom. The teacher had a rainbow pride flag on their wall and several smaller pride flags representing identities within the LGBTQ+ community. After parents complained, all of the pride flags in the school were quickly removed.

“We tried to wait as long as we could for a response because we didn’t want to do something that was disrespectful when they [the district school board] were working on it,” said Skyridge senior Carmen Carnes, an LGBTQ+ ally who helped organize the protest. “I don't know if it's because they think that we're going to simmer down or what, but people are still impacted by it. I still have people asking me every day what the updates are, so that's why we decided to do a walkout.”

Students walked out around 9:30 a.m. and gathered on the sidewalk across the street from the school. They waved rainbow flags and wore rainbow pins and clothes. Students cheered, sang, laughed and waved at cars driving by. Several cars honked in support of the students, though a couple of drivers also yelled homophobic slurs.

Three students counter-protested, one wore a Trump flag like a cape, another held an American flag and a third had a megaphone. Students chanted “You are loved” at the counter-protesters. Some of the walk-out participants even went over to talk with them.

The three students counter-protesting the main group that walked out of class stand across the street from them in front of Skyridge High School, May 15, 2023.
Martha Harris
/
KUER
The three students counter-protesting the main group that walked out of class stand across the street from them in front of Skyridge High School, May 15, 2023.

Skyridge junior Olivia Brown started the online petition asking for the pride flags to be put back up, which has so far received over 3,000 signatures. As a queer person, Brown said they’ve “definitely struggled with suicidal thoughts” and have felt first-hand the positive impact of walking into a classroom and seeing a pride flag on the wall.

“I think that the school board doesn’t understand how much a pride flag can mean to someone. Like, seeing a pride flag in a classroom makes me automatically feel loved and safe and welcome. And I think that they need to understand it’s not about politics.”

Sophomore Erin Holmstead said after pride flags were removed, one of her teachers replaced the ones in her classroom with posters that said “Everyone is welcome here.”

“That’s what the flag meant to her, like everyone is welcome in her classroom. Everyone can be who they want to be because this is a place of growth and learning,” Holmstead said.

Brown ideally wants the school board to revise the policy that prohibits pride flags or simply take down all flags in the school. The policy in question prohibits any “political, religious or personal” displays in the classroom.

That doesn’t sit well with Brown, since she said flags representing Brigham Young University, a private religious school, and the Gadsden flag, which says “Don’t tread on me,” were left up. Brown said they don’t feel the policy is being uniformly applied and instead is being used to target the LGBTQ+ community.

While the protest was aimed at the school district, Brown said part of the reason they wanted to hold this protest now was to boost morale.

“I think people have been feeling really disappointed and feeling alone and feeling hopeless,” Brown said.

Skyridge High School senior Cameron Carnes, junior Olivia Brown and sophomore Erin Holmstead stand on the sidewalk across the street from their school after walking out of class in protest on May 15, 2023. All three students worked to protest the removal of pride flags from their school. They hold a sign that reads “You are loved.”
Martha Harris
/
KUER
Skyridge High School senior Cameron Carnes, junior Olivia Brown and sophomore Erin Holmstead stand on the sidewalk across the street from their school after walking out of class in protest on May 15, 2023. All three students worked to protest the removal of pride flags from their school. They hold a sign that reads “You are loved.”

The general mood was positive, celebrating queerness and the school’s queer community. Several students said they made new friends at the walkout. One trans student excitedly decided to cut their shoulder-length hair while out on the sidewalk so that it was up above their ears.

The Skyridge students were joined by alumni, teens from other schools in the district, as well as some parents, including Shannon Smith

“My child is participating in the protest, and I want to help ensure their safety and be there with them in pivotal moments of their life,” said Smith.

While Holmstead said the fight for pride flags at Skyridge has strengthened the school’s LGBTQ+ community, she said it’s also caused more division. Holmstead said she’s been called slurs in the hallways and sometimes feels scared. Other students shared similar experiences and showed videos of pride flags being destroyed at school during the silent protest in March.

Summer may be right around the corner, but students said they won’t stop fighting. For Carnes, a senior, this fight over the pride flags has changed the way she’s thinking about graduation.

“I used to think of graduation as, like, moving on to the next chapter of my life. But now graduation feels more like an opportunity to call out to be heard again,” Carnes said. “I feel like I'm not even going to be completely moving on to the next chapter in my life because I'll still be thinking about this.”

Carnes said she’s heard some students say they’re planning on wearing pride flags to graduation. For her, the removal of the pride flags hasn’t changed how she feels about the school or its administration, but it has changed how she views the school board.

In a short written statement provided to KUER, the Alpine School District said, “We are aware of an off-campus demonstration that happened today. We understand that some students participated and returned to school without incident. We are grateful for our partnership with the Lehi Police Department as we ensure the safety of all students in Alpine School District.”

The district did not comment on its policies surrounding flags in the classroom and whether or not that policy will be reviewed in the future.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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