In September 2021, the Newberg School Board voted to remove all rainbow and Black Lives Matter banners under the guise that these symbols were “divisive.” An uproar ensued, and the board then amended the language to all “political” symbols, with tongue-in-cheek exceptions for the flags of the United States and Oregon (the US flag is inherently a political symbol). This became national news, but has since dropped off the radar.
It shouldn’t. The consequences of that horrible decision are still settling in.
Since that September, three board members who support marginalized children have resigned, citing harassment and a toxic environment. The most recent occurred a couple of weeks ago, on June 27.
Honestly, I don’t blame them. When people yell “hairdresser” at you enough and send you threatening messages, it gets old quickly. I know. But I hope you will continue to advocate for marginalized communities because we need you. The children need them.
As I have written numerous times in this space, there are over 300 anti-LGBTQIA measures in legislatures across the country. Some have passed, more are on the way. Rainbow flags banned, books featuring diversity banned, queer educators told not to mention their spouses, trans kids denied health care, parents and educators threatened with criminal charges for supporting LGBTQIA children. The attacks on marginalized communities across the country, particularly children, are exhausting and exhausting.
In some ways, though, Newberg’s politics worries me more because we tend to be a bit complacent in Oregon. Progressive neighbors see what is happening in Florida and Texas and think that it cannot happen here.
When authorities decide that supporting children of color and LGBTQIA is “political” and “divisive,” they are sending a clear message that the existence of those children is a problem. Symbols that support marginalized groups are only “divisive” to those who are prejudiced against those communities. For children in those communities, the symbols signify safety and welcome.
Growing up in a culture that persistently attacks your very existence has devastating effects. Rates of depression, bullying, substance abuse, and suicide skyrocket. Newberg’s removal of the rainbow and BLM symbols does not protect children. It puts the most marginalized at much greater risk of harm.
I sometimes wonder what life might have been like if I had seen a trans or rainbow flag at school, to be welcomed by my community instead of being shunned and forced into hiding for decades.
So I try to imagine to have that supportive environment only to be suddenly and publicly uprooted with rancor and animosity. It is not a hypothetical exercise. There are kids of color and queer kids in Newberg who feel betrayed and rejected by adults who can’t manage their own biases and behavior, let alone manage the best interests of marginalized students. When the Proud Boys show up to support your actions, maybe it’s time to do some self-reflection.
To the former Newberg School District board members who have resigned, I thank you for fighting on behalf of our children. I hope that you can continue to advocate for children in underserved communities. For the rest of us in Oregon, let Newberg be a warning. It can happen here.
It’s it is happening here
Ty Warren is a senior instructor at the University of Oregon and an active advocate for trans rights and a regular contributor to The Register-Guard. He lives in Eugenio.
Submit a guest view by emailing [email protected] with your 525-word or 725-word draft, not in between. Include any relevant links to resources and research. Also, be sure to include a short bio that explains who you are, what you do, and where you live. Writers can post a guest view every 90 days.
Letters must be 200 words or less and should be submitted with the author’s name, address, and daytime phone number via email to [email protected] Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium. We regret that, due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to all letters.