On May 31, several NFHS students spent the late afternoon busily decorating for their latest Peace Project, the second annual LGBTQ+ Pride Month. They planted colorful flowers, hung supportive signs, and created flags out of paper plates in a rainbow of colors. However, they were surprised to be joined by a handful of protestors who silently held signs that were blazoned with an “X” mark over an LGBTQ flag.
High School principal Dr. Richard Sanzo was quick to respond to the incident with a letter to parents that evening. In it, he walked a fine line to both defend the free speech of the protestors, while reassuring that the school appreciates all students. He wrote “While I in no way condone nor agree with this message, I recognize that this particular group of students was exercising their rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” He went on to clarify that “…my respect for free speech does not supersede my charge to keep all our students physically and emotionally safe. To the members of all groups who feel in any way marginalized, including the LGBTQ+ community, I reaffirm the principle that our school is a safe space within which they are warmly welcome and fully valued.”
The student-founded and -run Peace Project’s mission is “devoted to spreading awareness about social issues & advocating for a positive, educated, accepting, compassionate, and equal world.” In addition to LGBTQ+ Pride Month, they organize activities and fundraise for various human rights issues. Their website proclaims that their “goal is to become one step closer to ameliorating prejudices in the world around us, while making New Fairfield a very welcoming environment for all types of people.”
Dr. Sanzo has since facilitated discussions with all of the students who were involved in the incident, noting that congenial discourse is necessary, “Only with ongoing dialogue can we appreciate our differences and come to understand how we can continue to be a community, even with our differences. Barring disruption of the learning environment or personal attacks or slurs on students, the best antidote to unenlightened speech is enlightened speech.”
In an upbeat report on 6/5 he shared that, “The students had productive follow-up conversations on Thursday and Friday last week. The students involved agreed to continue meeting to engage in further dialogue. They will also be partnering together on future events to affirm that we are a community that accepts and respects all individuals.”
By Sarah Opdahl