Amid escalating attacks on LGBTQ2S+ rights, the mere visible support of them has become a target for right-wing lawmakers.
With state and federal legislatures beginning their new sessions this month, January has seen at least two separate attacks on LGBTQ2S+ signage and Pride flags. The first came with a New Jersey school board meeting that happened Jan. 3, when the superintendent announced that a middle school would remove rainbow “safe zone” signs, LGBTQNation reported.
Meant to welcome the school’s LGBTQ2S+ students, the signs were first put up in 2019 as a result of student-led efforts to be more inclusive. The signs’ removal came after months of lobbying from parents concerned about “favouritism,” with some school board members asking whether the rainbow flag served to “push ideology on kids.” They will be replaced with an initiative to “encourage kindness” more generally.
Not everyone, however, were on board with the middle school removing the rainbow signs. One genderqueer student recalled the discrimination they faced at Long Valley Middle School, at a December school board meeting.
“I can say the LGBTQ2S+ community is constantly bullied and belittled in our school system,” they said. “The safe zone rainbow stickers let kids like me know that they are not alone despite their differences. The signs are not hurting anybody, and they are not imprinting on your children. They only promote love and accepting yourself for the way you are.”
GLSEN executive director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers decried the decision, saying to LGBTQNation that the signs were critical to making queer students feel safe.
“The removal of LGBTQ2S+-affirming materials from schools is downright shameful. LGBTQ2S+ students across the country are already facing relentless attacks from legislators, and they deserve—at minimum—to feel safe in the classroom,” said Willingham-Jaggers. “There is no place for discrimination in the classroom, and we will continue to fight for representation and visibility of LGBTQ+ communities in all schools across the country.”
Republicans have proposed a similar ban, introducing the Old Glory Only Act in the House of Representatives on Jan. 10, LGBTQNation reported. First proposed in 2018 in direct response to a rainbow flag being flown over a South American embassy, the bill, if instated, would prevent any flag other than the American flag from being flown over American embassies or consulates. The bill is supported by a suite of anti-LGBTQ2S+ Republican representatives, including Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louie Gohmert and others.
“The federal government should only be flying the flag that represents ALL people, the American flag,” Greene said in a statement. “President Biden’s State Department has already raised a flag over our embassies that doesn’t represent the vast majority of Americans.”
The bill is just one in a flurry of attacks Republicans have been making against Pride flags since the Trump presidency. Lawmakers had first introduced the bill—which also targets Black Lives Matter flags—in 2018, before introducing it again in 2019 and 2021. The two most recent attempts at instituting the act come after Biden reversed Trump’s ban on Pride flags at U.S. embassies in 2021. Secretary of State Antony Blinken then informed embassies that they could fly the Pride flag if “appropriate in light of local conditions.”
Both the actions of the New Jersey school board and House bill represent just a few of many recent attempts to eliminate visible support for LGBTQ2S+ rights. Just before last year’s midterm elections, House Republicans introduced a sweeping federal “Don’t Say Gay Bill” that extends far beyond its Florida predecessor, which itself has deterred teachers and administrators from posting signage that supports LGBTQ2S+ students.
If enacted, the federal “Don’t Say Gay” bill would cut federal funding to libraries, school districts and other government entities that discuss “any topic involving gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexual orientation or related topics” with children under ten. Similar to many recent state-level bills, the bill also targets drag events, with Rep. Mike Johnson, who introduced the bill, calling them “events where adults dance salaciously or strip for children”—despite the fact that these events don’t receive federal funding.
“Last year, nearly half of LGBTQ2S+ youth contemplated suicide, but that didn’t stop 33 of my GOP colleagues from introducing a federal ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill today,” New York Rep. Mondaire Jones tweeted. “I’m confident the people introducing this bill are more likely to go to Hell than the kids they’re causing harm.”