As those below him clapped and cheered, a student at a Utah high school ripped down a pride flag representing the LGBTQ community Tuesday that had been hanging on the second floor above the commons.
The colorful fabric wafted down to the ground as a few attending Ridgeline High School in Millville laughed.
Video of the incident has since circulated widely on social media, identifying the school and including in the background of the footage the school’s iconic green hawk mascot. Several students shared it originally and privately on Snapchat, and screen recordings of those accounts have also been posted on Twitter and Facebook.
The incident came on the second day of the school’s Diversity Week. It occurred shortly before an event where the gay-straight alliance clubs for several neighboring schools were set to meet at Ridgeline High, confirmed Cache County School District spokesperson Tim Smith.
“It was put up specifically for that event,” Smith noted. “And neither the school nor the school district condones the insensitive and disrespectful removal of the flag, which was done without permission.”
The pride flag, he said, was meant to only be there temporarily. It was placed in a line of flags from several countries — also part of Diversity Week — next to the American flag and covering the flag from Cuba.
A video of the incident shows a student standing on a concourse on the school’s second level. He appears to use a knife to cut the pride flag down. One student screams at him, “Hurry the f--- up.” A girl standing near someone filming the action laughs.
After about 10 seconds, there’s loud cheering when the pride flag falls.
One person wrote anonymously in a comment on one of the videos, identifying himself as a student, saying he was “ashamed” of what happened.
“Just because you don’t support them (LGBTQ individuals) and aren’t a part of that community, doesn’t give you the right to disrespect them,” he said. “We need to all accept everyone for who they are, even if we don’t agree.”
Others called on the school and Cache County School District to take action. The principal of Ridgeline High did not return requests for comment Wednesday.
But Smith said the school is reaching out specifically to LGBTQ students who may feel unsafe after the incident.
“We’ve been talking to those students this morning to make sure they feel OK and like it’s a good environment for them to return to,” he noted.
In a statement from the district condemning the action, Smith added: “This type of incident reminds us of the importance of continually educating students, not just during a Diversity Week, on the importance of respecting one another and the right to attend school, participate in events, and learn in a safe and respectful school environment.”
The school, he said, had planned to remove the flag after the gay-straight alliance event was over. Smith said, too, that there was no intention to cover up any other flag, which some have said was disrespectful and say may have prompted the student to remove the LGBTQ flag.
All of the flags representing countries will also be removed at the end of the week. Smith said he does not believe the school has any intentions to permanently hang any of those or the pride flag in the future.
The district did not comment on whether the student who removed the pride flag would face discipline, as several have called for.
A few individuals also flooded the high school’s recent Facebook posts with comments.
“Don’t pat yourselves on the back for simply instituting a ‘Diversity Week’ when the students participating in it have zero understanding of what it means to respect diversity,” one woman wrote. “My heart hurts for the members of the student body and faculty who feel unsafe and ridiculed in your school.”
Another added: “You’ve gravely misunderstood ‘diversity’ if you’re letting kids rip down LGBTQ flags. You guys have made every queer or questioning student in your school feel UNSAFE.”
One parent posted on Facebook that his daughters stayed up late Tuesday night making rainbow bracelets to hand out at school so that LGBTQ students felt welcome. Other parents and community members waved rainbow flags and held signs of support as students walked out of the building in the afternoon.
Susie Augenstein, a former teacher who posted one of the videos on Facebook after receiving it from an LGBTQ student at the school, called the removal of the flag “heartbreaking.” And she’s been helping plan community support in response for students who felt hurt.
“I think it’s just a wonderful opportunity for the school to say, ‘This happened and this is how are we going to fix it,’” Augenstein told The Tribune.
She’s a member of the group Peculiar, an LGBTQ organization based in Salt Lake City. Members encourage schools, in particular, to education students about acceptance and inclusivity.
Augenstein said she’s worried that Ridgeline High hasn’t created a safe environment. An LGBTQ student there, who did not want to be identified, she said, told her: “This felt like a direct message that our student body does not support or respect us.”
Troy Williams, executive director of the LGBTQ civil rights group Equality Utah, said he’s been in contact with Ridgeline High School and the Cache County School District since the video was posted. He also spoke out against the flag’s removal.
“We applaud [the school’s] intention to create a ‘Diversity Week,’” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the event was marred by a rogue act of vandalism. We know that the district is committed to creating a safe and welcoming environment for LGBTQ students, and we expect that they will take this opportunity to work with the offending student so that he might learn the true value of diversity.”
The incident also came just hours before students at nearby Utah State University in Logan held an event to show solidarity with LGBTQ students at Brigham Young University who have been facing discrimination for their identities. The USU queer student alliance lit the Old Main tower on campus in rainbow colors, replicating what BYU students did last month in lighting the “Y” on the mountain above the Provo school.