Two high school students in the US state of Arizona were given a choice – hold hands in the playground or be suspended.

Images of the two boys from Westwood High holding hands went viral on social media as they were given the option of enduring public humiliation whilst holding hands, or be suspended for fighting.

Many have pointed out, however, that such punishments send a negative message to gay, lesbian and bisexual students that holding hands with someone of the same-sex is something to be embarrassed about.

Others have said the incident encourages bullying, as the two boys were subjected to name calling, including homophobic slurs. Some have even questioned how the school’s principal will tackle bullying given that this punishment appears to condone it.

A Mesa Public School District representative said the board was looking into the incident:  ”Mesa Public Schools is dedicated to maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment. The district has guidelines for appropriate student discipline and our site administrators have the authority to impose consequences within our policies and regulations.

“The district does not condone the choice of in-school discipline given these students, regardless of their acceptance or willingness to participate. District leadership will address this matter with the school principal and review district protocol regarding student discipline with all administrators.”

A petition was started calling for the resignation of principal Tim Richard, but has since been taken down.

NB: This story has been re-shared and was originally published on December 2012.