“Supporting our LGBTQ students and staff does not ‘infringe’ on the rights on anyone else … it just assures that all rights are being supported … not just those of a vocal group.” – Carrie Kummrow, President of the Education Association of Waukesha

Recently, special education kindergarten teacher Sarah Whaley, a teacher in Waukesha, was suspending for a day without pay because she refused to take down a pride flag she had in her classroom. The School District of Waukesha sent out an email to all staff on August 20 saying:

Our classroom environments need to be engaging, reflect the curricular area being delivered, and must be welcoming to students. We need to ensure that what is posted in our rooms does not act as a barrier to any student, nor to serve as a divisive symbol among staff. Therefore, going forward, we are asking that all Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Thin Blue Line, Anti-racist classroom, and any other posters or materials to the such, are removed from the learning environments.

I am upset that the teacher was disciplined for trying to clearly show support for students and staff of color as well as LGBTQIA+ students and staff. She told the Journal Sentinel “I believe that school should be a safe place for our beautiful youth. I believe that children should be able to express their full selves and as teachers we should be fostering the welcoming environment that allows for that.” I applaud her and the union and colleagues who stood up for her by wearing rainbows and rainbow pins.

What bothers me most, is the equating of support for symbols like the pride flag with symbols that represent racist and homophobic symbols. When people say ridiculous things like “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” it infuriates me. It is no different than people who responded to Black Lives Matter signs with ridiculous things like Blue Lives Matter and Thin Blue Line and We Back the Badge signs.

I know we supposedly have freedom of speech, but that does not mean we need to be ignorant enough to not see the difference between social justice activism and its symbols and the symbols used by those opposed to these more inclusive ways of seeing the diverse world we live in.

Conflating social justice slogans and signs with those who do not appreciate social justice stances reminds me of how petty people are when they are very young children. You would think people would find a place to acknowledge the views of those they do not share who simply want to promote justice and fairness for groups that have been marginalized for so long.

We as a nation have not learned anything from the ugly signs White people held up as counterprotestors during the Civil Rights Movement. For those who do not remember or have not seen them, these examples should be sufficient; “We won’t go to school with negroes,” “strike against integration,” “Go back to Africa negroes,” “Keep Alabama White,” “Race Mixing is Communism,” “Stop the race mixing, March with Christ,” “Southern whites are negroes best friends, but NO INTEGRATION,” “Communists infiltrated our Churches, Now It integrates our schools,” “Support White Police” (with a swastika above), “Go Home Negro,” “Save segregation, vote states rights,” “All I want for Christmas is a clean white school.” This is just a short list of the messaging that came from anti-civil rights protestors.

When I drive in the suburbs and see Blue Lives Matter, Thin Blue Line and We Back the Badge signs I feel like I am stuck in the 1950s and 1960s. The times have changed but the minds have not changed. Police brutality was protected in the past by Whites who saw the police as an extension of themselves. They stood by and watched police brutalizing Blacks, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Chinese and Japanese with big smiles on their faces. Thousands of Whites attended spectacle lynchings, watching Black men, women and children being, tortured, roasted alive and violently murdered. All the while they saw nothing wrong with their actions.

They wanted to maintain the status quo. That mindset is alive and well today. When people disrespect social justice movements with the types of symbols and signs that represent their twisted logic, we should not react by banning the use of the symbols and signs of those who are fighting to right a wrong. Do not claim a false sense of equivalency between signs which say Black Lives Matter with one that says Blue Lives Matter. Those who place Blue Lives Matter signs in their windows and on their lawns never did so before Black Lives Matter signs came into existence. Their signs were a reaction, a backlash if you will, to the advocacy of the Black community.

When a teacher has her sign removed from her classroom, what message does it send to the community she is honoring and showing support to? How are they supposed to react? What does it say about the cowardice of those who equate the pride flag with Blue Lives Matter, and Thin Blue Line signage?

Blue Lives Matter and Thin Blue Line signage are not created to fight against discrimination over generations against police officers. Pride flags and Black Lives Matter flags do represent a push to end generations of discrimination endured by the LGBTQIA+ and Black communities.

Policy makers who fall prey to those who are anti-everything nowadays, do a disservice by not acknowledging the difference. Respecting the voices which have been silenced is not the same as listening to the voices of the communities which want to maintain the racist, homophobic status quo.

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