Bisexual teacher banned from flying the Pride flag in her classroom because it’s ‘political’. She’s not taking it lying down
A bisexual teacher is fighting a state ban on LGBT+ “signage” by filling her classroom with as much rainbow-coloured decor as she can get her hands on.
For the past five years Jennifer Leja has been teaching seventh and eighth grade in the Washoe County School District as the only openly LGBT+ teacher in her school.
She’d always kept a Pride flag in her classroom, until she was told it had to go because it could be seen as “supporting a single political party” — but that didn’t sit right with her.
“The issue that I have with it is, I don’t think my existence and my identity is a political issue,” Leja told Buzzfeed News. “I think that being able to have a rainbow flag is as much a part of my identity as anything else.
“It’s legal in every state to get married; it’s legal for LGBT+ people to exist in this country right now, so I don’t see how it’s a political issue.”
As well as being a big part of who she is as a bisexual person, the Pride flag also signals Leja’s support for students who are out or questioning their identities.
“It’s important for me because I feel like there are students who spend their lives in the closet and especially in middle school. That is when students are starting to figure out where they are,” she said.
“They go through that time period where they don’t know who they are or what they like.”
Fortunately, the clever teacher found a loophole: although the policy doesn’t allow her to display the Pride flag in her classroom or on any visual teaching aids, there’s no rule about the rainbow itself.
Leja has plastered her classroom with rainbow posters, stickers, feathers, duct tape, literally anything rainbow-coloured she could find. And if the school board complains? Miss Leja just really likes rainbows.
“Rainbows aren’t political! Not at all! Rainbows are just colourful and fun,” she said in a TikTok video as she proudly showed off her colourful classroom.
“It’s not a political thing at all… It’s just that I really like rainbows.”
@mslejaMy response to this new requirement ? ##tiktokteacher ##middleschool ##teachersoftiktok ##lgbt ##lgbtqteacher♬ original sound – Jenn Leja
When contacted by Buzzfeed, school trustee Andrew Caudill explained that the policy doesn’t just include LGBT+ issues, but “other kinds of speech such as pro-life, pro-choice, NRA, etc”.
He continued: “It is inappropriate for the district as a government entity to select only speech it agrees with. As a result, it is in the best interests of our learning communities to ask staff to refrain from all single-issue political speech.”
Caudill explained the policy is based on the Supreme Court’s Janus decision which banned teachers from engaging in “political speech”.
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However, he added that Leja isn’t required to hide her sexuality from her students as she suggested in the TikTok video.