Teachers at San Leandro High School, California, have refused to participate in a school district order to display a rainbow-flag poster in their classrooms that reads, “This is a safe place to be who you are.”

The teachers say homosexuality violates their religious beliefs, the school’s principal Amy Furtado said.

The high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance designed the poster, which includes pink triangles and other symbols of gay pride. The school board approved a policy requiring all district teachers to hang the posters in their classrooms last December.

“This is not about religion, sex, or a belief system,” said district Superintendent Christine Lim, who initiated the poster policy. “This is about educators making sure our schools are safe for our children, regardless of their sexual orientation.” District officials said the poster is an effort to comply with state laws requiring schools to ensure students’ safety and curb discrimination and harassment. They say that teachers often overlook and fail to reprimand students who use derogatory slurs or refer to homosexuality in a negative way.

This is not the first time the San Leandro School District has been embroiled in controversy over homosexuality.

In 1997, a parents group at the high school demanded that a gay teacher be fired after she came out to her class. In 2002, high school English teacher Karl Debro settled a lawsuit with the district for $1 million after he was disciplined for giving a lecture on racism and homophobia.

Openly gay Art teacher Tom Laughlin, who oversaw the poster’s design by students in the Gay-Straight Alliance, said the level of intolerance for homosexuality that he perceived when he started teaching at the high school five years ago surprised him. He said he recognised that it was critical problem when a student called him a “fag.”

“There was a real need to do this,” he said. “A lot of students didn’t know about gay people in general.”

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