Over a dozen protesters gathered outside Kickapoo High School in Springfield, Mo., Monday after the school's principal instructed what he called a "handful" of teachers to remove Pride flags from their classrooms.
In an email obtained by the Springfield News-Leader, Principal Bill Powers informed a small group of teachers to remove Pride flags displayed in their classrooms, saying the flags violated Springfield Public Schools policy. The move drew an angry response from the community, who gathered outside the high school on the first day of classes for the school year.
"Issues in Springfield Public Schools are really close to my heart," local drag artist Brett Baxley, a graduate of the district and organizer of the protest, told the News-Leader. "As an existing queer person in SPS, I know how difficult it can be in this area."
Baxley, who performs under the stage name Jimmy Anti, credited allied teachers with helping him survive his "high school experience."
The News-Leader later reported the Springfield Public Schools sent a follow-up email to district employees last Thursday, outlining the types of speech and activities that are limited or forbidden at school. The email promised to hold accountable those employees who do not follow district policy. The district also issued a public display of support for Powers and his actions.
"In this circumstance, Dr. Powers acted appropriately to clarify the board policy," Stephen Hall, chief communications officer with Springfield Public Schools, said in a statement. "This is essential in order to prevent disruptions to the learning environment and to ensure the focus in the classroom remains on academics."
While Hall and the district sought to portray the policy as necessary to maintain order in the classroom, Baxley instead saw the issue as one of safety.
"In this world, especially in this area, not everybody is going to take you at face value and just treat you like a human being," Baxley said. "When you see that Pride flag, you know that you are safe in the instance of your queerness. You don't have to fear discrimination or poor treatment."