Megan Perry spent a month planning a rainbow-themed message to mark National Coming Out Day at Kennewick’s Southridge High School.
It took less than a day for it to be obliterated.
Monday night, Perry, a junior, and a friend painted a rainbow flag across the giant spirit rock that flanks the entrance to Southridge. They added the message, “Pride Rocks, National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11, 2016.”
National Coming Out Day is an annual event organized by the Human Rights Commission to celebrate self-identification as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT).
Southridge, like its sister high schools Kamiakin and Kennewick, has a large rock near its entrance serving as an informal community bulletin board. Students frequently paint birthday greetings, invitations to dances and other messages across its rough surface.
Perry planned for her message to greet her classmates on the day itself. But 12 hours after she finished it, another group of students responded by painting over it with a red, white and black American flag and the message, “Straight pride every day.”
Perry was disappointed.
“I planned it for a month. They just took it down,” she said.
Perry’s mother, Tammy, wasn’t surprised to hear her daughter played such a central role in the dustup.
“That’s my daughter,” she said.
I planned it for a month. They just took it down.
Megan Perry, Southridge High School
Perry’s cause was quickly embraced by Southridge’s Equity Club, a student group dedicated to providing LGBT students with a supportive environment. It also serves as an educational resource on LGBT issues to the student body.
The Equity Club saw an opportunity in this week’s incident to educate Southridge students about their community.
The club’s leader, who asked not to be identified because she has not disclosed her sexual orientation to her parents, said the dueling messages on spirit rock were widely discussed in classrooms all week.
“This conversation will help us be a safer place,” she said, adding that the school is a comfortable place for LGBT students but slurs are common in online forums.
“The fact that the administration is onboard is very validating,” she said.
The fact that the administration is onboard is very validating.
Equity Club leader
The Equity Club covered the “Straight Pride” message with a second rainbow flag and a “Love is greater than hate” message. The paint and re-paint battle went several more rounds before Southridge administrators stepped in and ordered a cease-fire.
Wednesday morning, student leaders painted the rock in school colors with a message, “We are SHS” and the school’s sun logo.
By the afternoon, the Equity Club called local news organizations to talk about the situation.
As Perry talked to a television reporter, a group of students armed with cans of red, white and blue spray paint arrived to paint a version of the U.S. flag on the back side of the rock.
The two groups of students maintained a respectful distance, with the newcomers insisting they weren’t involved with the original exchange and merely wanted to add an American flag to the rock.
Kennewick School District spokeswoman Robyn Chastain said the three high school rocks are typically painted with messages related to school spirit, birthdays and activities, and the district responds quickly to disparaging or inappropriate comments.
“School administrators are treating this as a teachable moment and are encouraging positive dialogue between students,” she said.