PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Atkinson Elementary School will not hold its Pride Fest slated for Friday after details of the celebration were shared on conservative social media accounts, spurring multiple threats the interim principal called “significant.”
In a letter on May 5, Interim Principal Beth Essex informed students’ families of threatening remarks made through social media, by phone and emailed to staff members’ accounts.
“It is sad to me that the voices of the few can outweigh the voices of the many – and thus take away an anticipated, optional, after school event from those who it meant so much to,” said Essex. “It is my hope that as a community, we can rise above our disagreements and respect the differences that make each of us unique. Atkinson has always been a diverse community of learners who celebrate one another. I hope that we can move forward from this negative experience and rebuild the culture of trust and acceptance that we value so much.”
The event, which was intended to support and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, was an optional, after-school event that families could attend with their students and participate in drag, according to Miss Madi, a counselor at both Atkinson and Glencoe elementary schools. Miss Madi claimed she intended to invite Glencoe Elementary School families to the event as well but said she didn’t get the chance once “anti-LGBTQIA+ statements about [the] event and those involved” circulated on social media, leaving some community members uneasy and making herself, a co-planner and a local drag entertainer the “target of vile harassment and terrifying threats.”
“One lesson I’ve garnered from this deeply disheartening situation is that the work we do to counter hate in our communities is more important than ever, and it’s crucial to note this happening here, in Portland,” said Miss Madi. “This is a time for all of us to come together and support one another. While I wish the world were a much more inclusive place, the truth is that the fight for equity is on-going and extremely high-stakes for those who choose to combat hateful rhetoric, particularly for LGBTQIA+ youth whose very right to exist is under attack in many states and districts across the nation.”
In a letter to families, she explained she made the decision because of the “very real” risks to the school and families and not simply because of the pushback.
A Change.org petition created on Wednesday by a user claiming to be an affected parent called on school officials to hold a meeting with parents to discuss safety plans, saying the district has failed to communicate the situation to families.
“This is not an isolated incident of intimidation and hate,” the user posted. “Today, it’s Atkinson. Another day, it may be another PPS school. What is the school board doing to protect us from these hate-fueled attacks on our kids, families, and communities?”
This call for a meeting comes almost two weeks after Essex’s letters to parents were posted on Atkinson Elementary School’s website saying the school is looking into scheduling a town hall or information session for parents in the coming weeks.
Despite the cancellation of Friday’s celebration, Chief of School Dr. John Franco said Portland Public Schools will continue to focus on equity and inclusion and plans to hold future events that promote diversity and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
KOIN 6 will have more on this story later in the day.