Gay pride, Confederate battle flags displayed at Maine high schools

Top photo courtesy of Paul Markosian. Bottom photo by Donna Buttarazzi/Seacoastonline

Flags, designed to serve as easily recognizable symbols of ideas or entities, are meant to be noticed, but two flags generally perceived to be at opposite ends of the political spectrum drew a lot of attention when they were flown outside Maine high schools earlier this month.

The attention the flags received may have exceeded the aspirations of the people who raised them, however. The flags — one symbolizing gay pride and the other representing the battle flag of the Confederacy in its failed revolt against the Union during the Civil War — were removed from outside the schools after being on display for only a few days.

In Kennebunk, a rainbow-colored gay pride flag was flown with official approval at the local high school after the school’s gay-bisexual-trans-alliance group approached school officials about raising the flag on a flagpole outside the building.

The flag was lowered a few days later after a transgender student at the school expressed discomfort with the amount of media attention the flag was getting, according to a report by SeacoastOnline.com. Kennebunk High School reportedly is the first high school in Maine to raise a gay pride flag.

After the flag was taken down, Principal Sue Cressey said the display was meant as a show of unity and support for all students at the school but became “politicized” as a result of the media attention. She said the flag will be displayed inside the school and “we will continue to support all students,” SeaCoastOnline reported.

Within hours of the gay pride flag being lowered in Kennebunk, three Confederate flags appeared on pickups trucks parked outside Ellsworth High School. The flags were displayed from the trucks by EHS students who had driven them to school that morning, according to a report in the Ellsworth American.

The display of the Confederate battles flags, first flown on the battlefields of the Civil War as southern states fought to preserve the practice of enslaving people with African ancestry, upset some people at the school, the American reported. They brought the flags to the attention of local schools Superintendent Dan Higgins and EHS Principal Dan Clifford, and the officials in turn spoke to the students who flew the flags from their trucks.

They did not tell the students they had to remove the flags.

“Our response [was] based upon respecting the rights of students to free expression and balancing that right with the safety and welfare of all our students and staff,” Higgins told the American.

After a day or two, the students reportedly decided on their own to stop flying the Confederate flags. The superintendent, the weekly newspaper wrote, said school officials hope to use the incident as an opportunity “to educate our student body about the issues” of free speech and expression.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for 20 years, Bill Trotter keeps track of how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coast shape the lives, lifestyles and livelihoods of coastal Maine residents and visitors. A resident of Ellsworth, Bill covers Acadia National Park, Hancock County, fisheries, marine-related topics and more for the BDN. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.