Where’s The Pride?


Bhoomi Patel and Jayden Felix

Last school year, PASE, as well as PREP and PHS, hosted a Pride flag-raising event to honor Pride and the members of Passaic’s LGBTQ community. 

It was speculated that it would be a yearly event; however, it was revealed that the school district has a policy that only allows for Passaic schools to fly the school flag, United States flag, and the state of New Jersey flag. 

Mr. Velez, one of the history teachers here at PASE, is one of the few teachers who have spoken out against the district’s flag-raising policy. 

Velez gave an impassioned speech at the Feb 28 board meeting concerning the Pride flag-raising in which he expressed his dismay.  

Many staff and students were allegedly unaware of the said policy until Velez informed them about it. 

PREP Academy’s Student Gay-Straight Alliance organized an event for students and staff to share their concerns. The upcoming student-led event will take place in the auditorium on Thursday, March 3 at 3:45 p.m. 

The event will address the Pride flag not being raised in any of the schools. 

All students from PASE/PREP and PHS are welcomed. 

Bhoomi Patel and Jayden Felix had the chance to interview Mr. Velez regarding his concerns. Below is the full interview. 

  • What does Pride mean to you? 

Pride to me has been a gift.  It has allowed me to accept myself as worthy as anyone else to live life to the fullest and not think of myself as less than because I do not fit into traditional molds of what I should walk like, talk like, be like, or who I should love, etc.  I take pride in knowing there are people like me in every racial, ethnic and religious category you can imagine because at the end of the day, we are everywhere, always have been, and always will be.  It’s just that PRIDE has allowed us to be more visible and that was born out of resistance to the idea that we should be ashamed of who we are.    

  • What do you think you can do to raise awareness about the important issues that impact the LGBTQ community?

I think the best thing anyone can do is tell their story. That’s what I did at the Board Meeting last June.  The second best thing that anyone can do is listen to the stories from the young and old alike.  Being informed about what’s going on is just as important as anything else and talking about it.  When I reviewed the Board Agenda in November and found out about the change in policy, I spoke about it.  Now the heads of the GSA’s at our schools are aware and the students can plan for June accordingly.  Organizations like The Advocate, LGBTQ Nation, and others also report on what is going on nationwide, statewide and in local communities as well to raise awareness of LGBTQ issues.

  • Thinking locally to Passaic, do you believe that we as a community here show respect to the LGBTQ community? Why or Why not? 

That’s a good question and one that ultimately can only be answered by our history and what the community itself has to say about it.  I can tell you that it felt great to see the PRIDE flags flying at Prep, PHS, and PASE last year.  At that time, it was a very visible acknowledgment that the LGBTQ community is here in Passaic and we have no problem publicly acknowledging them during their month of celebration and letting them know that a school is a safe place for them to be themselves.  

Growing up in Passaic, there were very few openly lesbian, gay, bi, or trans students when I was in school.  More and more, because of social media, movies and television, people are becoming less afraid to come out which leads to more visibility and that’s a good thing.  It allows us to have more and more conversations and learn about one another.

I know as a high schooler,  I came very close to telling my mom I was gay when we just happened to come across a Lifetime movie called “The Truth About Jane,” together but I was too terrified to tell her.  Because of that movie, I found out about organizations like PFLAG which help parents and families navigate through the coming out process.  However, I didn’t think it was my time to come out yet.    

  • How did it make you feel when you found out about the new rule in the district, of not letting the flag fly up? 

Very hurt because it felt like a rejection of the work that was accomplished last June and that my former students had started.  I was so proud of them and their leadership and now that some of them have graduated, just as fast, that progress was effectively rolled back for this Pride Month.  

As a history teacher, I thought it important for me to model using my voice to speak up so I vocalized my concern at the most recent board meeting.  My comments/questions were:

Last June, students at all three public high schools raised the PRIDE flag.  They were proud to act as the next generation of leaders that our public school system shapes them up to be and they fully expected to continue this nascent tradition that they themselves began.  

However, since then there has been a change.  In November, the Board revised the policy to effectively ban any future flag raisings of any kind, including for this June’s Pride Month. 

My question to the Board President is: what led to this policy change, what options did you have to address the concerns of the Board, and why did the Board choose the path they did?  Was there any discussion prior to the vote of the perception this policy change might have on its face or the impact it might have on the morale of students looking forward to continuing their tradition?  In addition, what message does each Board Member have specifically to the LGBTQ youth of our city?  

I am hopeful the Board will reconsider the policy in time for this year’s PRIDE month so that students and staff across the district will feel supported in their plans to commemorate what was accomplished across all three high schools last year and continue their student led tradition in the City of Passaic.

The Board President responded that it would be unfair to answer my questions that night in light of the fact that the person who led the policy committee was absent.  The Superintendent agreed and deferred to the Board.  

The formal response came via email at the request of the Board President:  Commissioner Danny Rodriguez responded,

“On behalf of the board and administration, this is the policy that was agreed upon by all in order to be consistent and equitable with any and all school clubs, for profit or not-for profit organizations and/or community groups, in regards to request for flag displays on school poles. All requests are treated the same. As a school and a Board our policy does not prohibit celebrations and displays approved within the schools by administration.” 

  • Does the government also play a role in how people perceive what is means to be a part of LGBTQ+/Pride community? 

Yes, the gay marriage ruling allowed people to affirm their relationships nationwide legally which helped us to feel accepted and proud to be ourselves.  It made people a little more comfortable to hold hands in public or introduce each other as their spouse.  

The State of New Jersey requires school districts to include LGBTQ voices.  This can help students develop more inclusive and accepting attitudes and not only see or hear about our community in negative contexts or no context at all.  As recent as 2008, when I started teaching, our history textbook had no mention of Stone Wall or the gay rights movement and that’s sad because I remember being in college and hearing so much about it.

In Cedar Grove, students gained the support of their Board of Education and flew the PRIDE flags at their school buildings.  I think that’s part of what progress looks like and the government can choose to either restrict or expand people’s visibility.  The text of their decision reads as follows:

Whereas, June is a time to celebrate our dynamic Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning + (LGBTQ+) community, raise awareness of quality services, and foster dialogue to promote healthy, safe, and prosperous school climates and communities for all; and 

Whereas, in 2019, New Jersey became the second state to pass a law requiring public schools to incorporate an LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum into their classrooms; 

and Whereas, all children and youth should be able to attend school in a safe and inclusive environment free from discrimination, and civil rights laws contribute to such environments; and 

Whereas, the lack of awareness and understanding of issues facing LGBTQ+ children and youth has contributed to higher rates of school dropout, academic failure, and school disengagement; 

and Whereas, policies that specifically mention sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are associated with: students feeling safer; lower levels of bullying; decreased incidents of harassment related to sexual orientation; increased teacher/staff interventions; and a greater reporting of incidents; 

and Whereas, Board Policy 5756 prohibits discrimination in its programs and activities based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression among other characteristics; and 

Whereas, the rainbow flag, also known as the LGBTQ+ pride flag, serves as a symbol of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning pride and LGBTQ+ social movement; 

and Whereas, flying the rainbow flag throughout the month of June further symbolizes the District’s celebration of diversity and support for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community. 

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved, that Cedar Grove School District recognizes the month of June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month and will begin the implementation of flying the rainbow flag at its buildings during June to inspire equity, create alliances, celebrate diversity, and establish a safe environment in our schools and community; and that this resolution be distributed to every school in the District.

We’re not there yet but that doesn’t stop individuals from carrying on in their own traditions.  For example, the Passaic community as a whole, independent of government, can give itself, every first school day of June, a PRIDE Day to commemorate what was accomplished and begun here by our school community.  It could be a day where Passaic community members can show their support for LGBTQ students in spite of not having that support at home or elsewhere by raising the PRIDE flag everywhere:  private businesses and residential homes.  It can start small and grow from there. The government often takes time to catch up with the times.  Maybe this is no different.  We’ll get there someday.  I’m optimistic.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.