Score one for LGBTQ+ rights and, more importantly, score one for LGBTQ+ youth in the small Southwestern Michigan town of Three Rivers.
Just weeks ago, school district administrators ordered all LGBTQ+ Pride Flags in the district’s schools be taken down, allegedly at the advice of the district’s attorneys. This left LGBTQ+ students and their allies feeling they did not belong, were not supported and that the school was no longer a safe space. And it prompted one Three Rivers Middle School teacher, Russell Ball, who identifies as bisexual, to resign. But at a meeting Monday evening, the school board voted to allow the flags to return.
Attendance was so large for the meeting that it had to be moved from the administration building to the high school’s performing arts center. Public comment leaned heavily to allow the flags to fly once again.
“This is not a question of a flag or a political statement,” said one woman who identified herself as a registered nurse. “Every medical organization, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends putting up symbols, like a Pride Flag, in medical offices and waiting rooms so that the students, and youth, and young adults that come in know that they have a safe place to be.”
Not all comments, of course, were supportive.
“What if anyone wants to come in and fly any flag?” one man hypothesized. “[A] satanistic [sic] flag? Are you going to yes to that?”
In the end, the board spent two hours in closed chambers before voting unanimously to rescind the ban on the Pride Flags.
Ball, who was reached at home after the meeting, had this to say to Pride Source about the decision:
“I think it’s fantastic and am extremely happy that the board stepped up and did the right thing,” he said. “The support from the students and community was amazing and hopefully Three Rivers sets the example for schools all over the state that are struggling with similar issues regarding acceptance and inclusivity.”
Amy Hunter, executive director of Outfront Kalamazoo, agreed. “I think it was the right decision,” she said. “LGBTQ+ students need an affirming school environment in order to succeed. And I think they made a wise choice.”