An act of solidarity has taken a dark turn at a high school in Missouri after a group of friends handed out Pride flags to anyone who wanted them for LGBTQ awareness.
The movement was met with contentious retaliation when another group of male students responded by displaying the Confederate flag.
The incident involving the Confederate flag – which has been a toxic symbol of slavery and later associated with white supremacy in the 20th and 21th centuries – was posted on Snapchat, with the caption:
"If they can fly their queer flags, others can fly their rebel flags. Butt hurt?"
The incident sparked outrage and division among the West Plains community and on online.
Further, school district officials chose not to discipline the students who spread their hateful agenda, following an investigation on December 9.
A group of friends at West Plains HS in Missouri handed out pride flags at their school last week to show #LGBTQ st… https://t.co/AjyvgEZJ2J— Tell It Like It Is! (@Tell It Like It Is!) 1576628146.0
Buzzfeed News shared this statement from the West Plains School District.
"Last week groups of high school students chose to bring banners to school, and while we respect student's first amendment rights, however, we became aware the banners were used by some members of the groups to taunt other students, and that is not acceptable."
"Rather than deal with this a disciplinary matter, we chose to deal with it as a learning experience."
"No disciplinary actions were taken."
Just another day in Trumpville (no land boundaries) Dec. 9th West Plains High School in MO displayed a Confederate… https://t.co/Ne7QrbWYha— WhatWhyWhenHow?? (@WhatWhyWhenHow??) 1576625964.0
"Our hope is to teach our students to respect each other and to respect different viewpoints on a variety of societal issues."
"Since that occurrence, rumors have sprung up from the most part from people who were not affiliated with the school district, but we want our community to know what the true facts are and set aside any rumors that are being heard."
Buzzfeed clarified that a school district spokesperson confirmed that the "banners" being referred to represented both the Pride and Confederate flags.
That a school in Missouri is considering these as comparable is disgusting. https://t.co/8d8a63coUe— Dominick Evans (@Dominick Evans) 1576570474.0
@tnicholsmd @drjessigold @jack_turban The school handled this poorly. The Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moin… https://t.co/nhHk0ylOQw— Marianne (@Marianne) 1576545419.0
So, here is the thing about West Plains.
@tnicholsmd @drjessigold @jack_turban The real irony of flying a confederate flag in West Plains is that the town h… https://t.co/S8EfhGOZq6— Chris Morrison (@Chris Morrison) 1576602175.0
Marianne, 15, was one of the students behind the Pride movement.
The sophomore said that many of the students come from families who don't support them. Her intention was to encourage everyone to embrace who they are by spreading their message of love and acceptance with her friends.
@NBCNews Love vs hate. I know where I stand.— Patrick Bogan (@Patrick Bogan) 1576636279.0
Taylor, another sophomore student, told the news outlet that her friend Rose Schilmoeller ordered 60 Pride flags and passed them around to those who wanted them and did not mean to "make anyone mad."
Marianne and Taylor were sitting in the senior cafeteria when they saw an unidentified group of male students entering and displaying the Confederate flag in an apparent retaliation.
@NBCNews proves that the flag of traitors ( for those who did know, that's the confederate flag) is a symbol of hate and intolerance.— michael charles (@michael charles) 1576633093.0
@lgbtqnation exhausted by the dumb. utterly exhausted by the dumb. beyond understanding at this point. round up all… https://t.co/AQnClVa67R— Briggon Snow (@Briggon Snow) 1576633489.0
One student recalled seeing her classmates leaving the scene and calling their parents and asking to be picked up.
Luke Boyer, the assistant superintendent of the school district, said that the school supports students' First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression.
@NBCNews Thus demonstrating again how the whole Confederate flag thing historically has been nothing but a violent… https://t.co/Sqniqp8a3A— F1agg Σagl3t0n 🇺🇸🦅🍑 (@F1agg Σagl3t0n 🇺🇸🦅🍑) 1576631103.0
Eventually, school administrators had to intervene and confiscate both flags.
Boyer told Buzzfeed:
"But when it became a point of disruption, we had to eliminate the disruption and we simply asked students to put the banners away."
"It doesn't matter what the banner consists of."
Twitter schooled those who remained confused over the controversy.
@NBCNews Excuse ME!! One flag represents a fight for Freedom! The other for Slavery! One belongs in this Century , one does not!— Jean M. O'Brien (@Jean M. O'Brien) 1576631190.0
@NBCNews One excludes and one is inclusive. A dumb argument.— Joeycat16 (@Joeycat16) 1576631586.0
The assistant superintendent did say that the entire event had "been blown way out of proportion" and that some of the comments on social media were "absolutely not true," without specifying which comments were being referred to.
Examples include this spiteful remark taken from the comments in a Facebook post.
@BuzzFeedNews Some of the “greatest hits” of ignorance: https://t.co/JQZOBJ1AaQ— 🌒🌖Kim🌔🌘 (@🌒🌖Kim🌔🌘) 1576609156.0
Taylor added that other students were yelling homophobic slurs and expressed solidarity with the students holding the large Confederate flag.
"To us it was just like retaliation to people who were holding their own [pride] flags."
"The worst part is that others were backing them up."
@BuzzFeedNews Someone should explain to these little patriots that they are flying the flag of traitors.— The Dirty Bird (@The Dirty Bird) 1576596679.0
But she agreed with the school district's decision and said that disciplinary action would be an exercise in futility.
"They did it off of hatred in retaliation, but I don't think you can change their minds by giving them a punishment. … Especially because there are people who agree with them. They're not alone at all."
LGBTQ students at West Plains High School should know they have allies.
@BuzzFeedNews I’m about to be a certified art teacher in Missouri May 2020 and I hope that students can be respectf… https://t.co/vPC0NvCGRD— Skye So Bright (@Skye So Bright) 1576535960.0
The Confederate flag, which is a widely recognized symbol of the American South, made appearances at veterans' events to honor fallen soldiers in the aftermath of the Civil War.
However, by the 1940s, the Confederate flag became a symbol for associations unrelated to the Civil War – such as the University of Mississippi football games and the segregationist Dixiecrat Party.
The modern day use of the Confederate flag was in response to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s and continues to this day.
Although it is not their official flag, the Ku Klux Klan frequently used the Confederate flag.
Mississippi remains the only state to prominently bear the Confederate emblem on the upper left corner.
In 2001, Mississippians voted 2-1 in a statewide referendum in favor of keeping the flag.
Of all places the flag has no place in our desegregated schools. Jim Crow is over and so is the Civil War.
The book The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem is available here.
"This book reveals the flag's origins as one of many banners unfurled on the battlefields of the Civil War and shows how it was transformed, becoming an aggressively racist symbol only after World War II and during the Civil Rights movement."