When Jennifer Leja, a 7th and 8th grade teacher in Nevada, was informed by her school board that says she couldn't use political speech in her classroom, including the display of a pride flag, she was forced to get creative.
Speaking to to Buzzfeed News, Leja, who is bisexual, said she disagreed with the idea that LGBTIQ+ pride is political.
“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."
So, rather than banish rainbows from her classroom, Leja took to video-sharing app TikTok to show off a slew of rainbow decorations in her classroom, from paper lettering and signs on the walls, to bright rainbow strips of tape used as guides for social distancing.
“If anybody asks, I just really like rainbows,” she said in one TikTok video which soon went viral. “Rainbows aren’t political, not at all. Rainbows are just colorful and fun.”
According to Buzzfeed News, a representative from the Washo County School District explained that the district has employed a new policy this year which bans activities deemed to be politically partisan. 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.”
Leja disagreed with the district’s ideas around what constitutes political speech, reminding them that “it’s legal in every state to get married.”
"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. Leja explained that, rather than signify a political standpoint, 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 emphasised to Buzzfeed News that the district’s policy “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.