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New York investigates Connetquot school district over banned progressive pride plag

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Sarah Smith
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Demonstrators gathered October 11, 2022 to protest the Connetquot Central School District's decision to ban the progressive pride flag from classrooms.

The Connetquot Central School District on Long Island is under state investigation for human rights abuse after ordering a teacher to remove LGBTQ pride flags from classrooms.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has directed the state Division of Human Rights to investigate whether the Connetquot school district broke any laws when it ordered a teacher to remove the progressive pride flag — the rainbow flag with a triangle of white, pink, black and brown — to represent the transgender and other marginalized communities.

The school district said the flag is political and violates its policy that prevents employees from engaging in political activity on school grounds. The removal order came after several students complained the progressive pride flag made them feel uncomfortable, according to district officials. As a compromise, officials suggested the flag be displayed only during meetings of the Gay Straight Alliance.

"This suggestion was refused by the teacher, as was the district's offer to install a sign stating, 'This is a safe space to be who you are' in the classroom," said Jaclyn Napolitano-Furno, school board president.

District officials banned all flags from classrooms except for the American flag and the New York state flag.

Hundreds of students and allies protested Tuesday before the Connetquot Board of Education meeting, including Jack Loubier, a high school senior who said he identifies as bisexual.

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Sarah Smith

“I am not political," Loubier told the board. "My friends are not political. I cannot believe that this Board of Education has been able to take such a non-controversial topic and make it controversial just for the sport of it.”

Loubier said he wants the flag to stay up, the school board members to apologize, and the board president to step down.

Students and advocates who spoke at the meeting said the flag creates a welcoming environment and symbolizes an identity, not a political position.

“I'm just an ally," said Charlotte DeSimone, a Connetquot high school senior who represents the student body at Board of Education meetings. "And when I see the flag, I don't feel threatened. I understand that it's not for me. Some things aren't for everyone. But this is a marginalized group within our community and they need to feel accepted.”

DeSimone said it's important for LGBTQ youth to feel accepted because they often face threats and can experience higher rates of suicide.

"They are at risk," DeSimone said, "and this flag is really meant to protect them."

Other critics of the flag ban said the school missed an opportunity to educate the complaining student about the meaning behind the flag, and explore why it made the student uncomfortable.

Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.