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House Panel Rejects Ban on ‘Political’ Flags, Including LGBTQ+ Flag

March 8, 2024

House Education Committee members on Friday rejected legislation aimed to limit the display of flags and banners on public school property “that represent a political viewpoint.”

In a 10-5 vote, the committee rejected Senate Bill 1362 after more than an hour of testimony and discussion, and just a few days after the Senate approved the bill by an overwhelming margin.

Much of the debate and testimony focused on how the bill would impact the display of LGBTQ+ rainbow flags in the classroom. The legislation listed sexual orientation among several examples of “political viewpoints” that the bill was targeting. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Chris Trakel (R-Caldwell) and Rep. Elaine Price (R-Coeur d’Alene)

Julia Sharkey, a Kuna High School educator, testified against Senate Bill 1362 on behalf of IEA members.

Julia Sharkey, a business and graphic design teacher at Kuna High School and Idaho Education Association member, testified against the bill on behalf of the IEA. She told the panel that, in her role as advisor for KHS’s gay-straight alliance club, she sees first-hand how the LGBTQ+ flag represents a safe haven for many of her students.

“My LGBTQ students are violently, physically assaulted daily at school,” Sharkey told the committee. “They’re being called slurs constantly. Their classmates are saying things like all LGBTQ people should be rounded up and shot. It happens so often, and so rarely results in consequences, they don’t even think about reporting it anymore. Want to know where all a school’s cameras are? Ask a gay kid.”

Proponents of the bill argued that their goal was to create a politically neutral learning environment where prominent display of political perspectives is forbidden. Rep. Chris Mathias (D-Boise) said that concept is commendable in theory, but likely unattainable in reality.

“The second a lot of these kids step out of these classrooms and into the hallways and bathrooms, life is anything but neutral,” Mathias said. “I have a hard time with the argument that certain flags make certain people uncomfortable or discomforted. While I’m sensitive to that, that discomfort is not coupled and is not followed up by physical attacks, suicidal ideations and hate crimes. Our gay and trans kids are not ok.”

Committee members also questioned how legislation banning any symbols of political viewpoints would impact instruction about government, elections and history.

“I’m struggling, as an educator who loves to teach history, how I’m going to be in compliance with this proposed law,” said Rep. Sonia Galaviz (D-Boise), an educator and IEA member. “In U.S. history, there are flags and banners that are worth unpacking with your students. They are points of instruction that bring about critical conversations about who and why, who brought it about and for what reason.”

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