A mural painted by the Gay-Straight Alliance club at Bonita High School was vandalized last week with discriminatory tagging.
The mural, painted on a rock on school grounds, included symbols of non-binary genders and the message: “Love Is Love.”
On the morning of Oct. 25, students arrived on campus to find someone had spray painted over the mural with the message, “only 2 genders.”
“As a gay person myself, I felt attacked,” said Jacob Aguirre, a 16-year-old Bonita High School junior and co-president of GSA. “It was a hate crime for me. I didn’t think people felt that much hate towards the community.”
Aguirre said he has dealt with slurs and threats of violence at Bonita High from peers who do not approve of his sexuality.
“I didn’t feel safe on campus,” Aguirre said. “I still don’t.”
This has led Aguirre to feeling like he has to constantly be on guard at his school.
“We wanted to make the LGBTQ community comfortable because we knew that they weren’t,” said Emily Plascencia, also a 16-year-old junior and co-president of GSA.
Bonita High School Principal Kenny Ritchie declined the Campus Times’ interview request, but sent the following statement by email Thursday:
“Bonita High School’s goal is to provide an environment where all students feel safe and supported. Bonita has a diverse student population and we will continue to provide our students and staff with opportunities to celebrate our diversity in a thoughtful and respectful manner. We will use this incident as a reminder and opportunity to work with students and staff as we provide professional development on diversity.”
Aguirre and Plascencia said they were told by the perpetrator of the vandalism that he was given a two-day suspension.
They felt that punishment was not sufficient.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around it until hours later,” Plascencia said. “I started crying immediately. I felt rejected and ignored by my school.”
Plascencia said the school made an announcement over the intercom system reminding students to be respectful of each other after the club asked them to address the vandalism.
After the announcement an Instagram account named “anti_gsa” was created with the bio:
“My goal is to ensure the liberal LGBT agenda is not spread and that our First Amendment rights are not oppressed.”
The account posted a photo of the vandalism, claiming that the perpetrator was a hero.
Another post said that transgenderism is a mental disorder.
The posts have since been deleted, although the account is still active.
Plascencia said LGBT students at Bonita High continue to face harassment, including anti-gay slurs and the theft of rainbow flags, from students who feel emboldened by the minor punishment given to the perpetrator of the vandalism. The punishment was in line with current Bonita Unified School District policy.
Bullying in verbal and written communication can be punished with suspension or expulsion when the behavior is severe or pervasive, according to school district policy. The district lists harassment, intimidation or bullying based on sexual orientation, gender or gender identity as a prohibited action.
The California Education Code defines bullying in written communication as an action that has a detrimental effect on a pupil.
“The school district has a real, fundamental belief in allowing students to express themselves in a safe and respectful manner,” Bonita Unified Superintendent Carl Coles said. “If this is not happening, we will continue to work on it.”
When asked if that belief in allowing students to express themselves included hate speech, Coles said it applies to all students.
Other students on campus have rallied behind GSA. The club started with around eight members this year, but in the meeting following the vandalism, Aguirre and Plascencia said they had enough students at the meeting to fill up three classrooms.
“You’re either going to get harassed, or you’re going to get love and support,” Aguirre said.
Christian Shepherd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.