A bisexual teacher in Nevada has been told she can’t fly a rainbow flag in her classroom because it is a form of political speech. Jennifer Leja revealed to Buzzfeed News the Washo County School District decided the rainbow flag espouses a political viewpoint and is not appropriate to display in her classroom.
“I don’t think my existence and my identity is a political issue," she said. "I think that being able to have a rainbow flag is as much a part of my identity as anything else."
Rather than accept the decision without a fight, Leja took to TikTok where she proudly displayed all the rainbow colors in her middle school classroom where she teaches 7th and 8th grade, from lettering and signs on the walls to colorful strips of tape on the floor to ensure seated students proper observe social distancing guidelines.
“If anybody asks, I just really like rainbows,” she said in the TikTok post which has since gone viral. “Rainbows aren’t political, not at all. Rainbows are just colorful and fun.”
A representative from the Washo County School District explained the district’s new policy this year that bans activities deemed to be politically partisan during school hours. Trustee Andrew Caudill wrote that LGBTQ+ issues are “political speech” and as a result “cannot be expressed through clothing and other means, such as displaying a flag in your class.” The rule does not apply to students. Caudill claims the new policy is the result of what is known as the Janus decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 that limited the powers of teachers and unions.
Leja disagreed with the district’s new determination, saying she couldn’t see how displaying a Pride flag is political since “it’s legal in every state to get married.” She also sees serious consequences for questioning students in need of affirmation.
"I usually have a flock of 7th and 8th graders who are trying to learn who they are and how they identify, and they come towards me," she said. According to Leja, the rainbow flag lets students know that her classroom is a safe space. “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.
Caudill wanted “to be abundantly clear” with Buzzfeed News that the district’s policies “does not require staff to hide their own sexuality” with their students in the classroom.
“The policy does not impact who a teacher is, it only impacts the advocacy for a specific political position,” he explained.
Regardless of the policy, Leja intends to keep fighting with pride.
“I don’t see how it's a political issue.”