Students at Walter Johnson High School packed the bleachers at the school’s football stadium Friday morning to gather in solidarity against racism and homophobia.
The rally came less than two weeks after graffiti was found sprayed on campus with the words “white pride” and “LGBT is unnatural.”
“There is nothing wrong with us. We deserve to be here. I’m proud to be a transgender man,” a member of the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) told the crowd.
“To anyone in the crowd out there who has been victimized and made fun of and made to feel less than because of how they were made and who they are, we stand with you and we are not gonna put up with it anymore. Enough is enough.”
Students from multiple organizations representing the LGBTQ, Black and other communities spoke during the event. Senior Catherine Prado asked students to raise their hand if they had been affected by racism or homophobia. Several students’ hands went up.
Many students carried signs with messages such as “Be One,” “No Hate Just Love” and “Love Respect Freedom Equality Pride.” Afterward, students embraced each other in support.
Eglan Hagos, a freshman, said in an interview after the event that she thinks the school will be a more accepting place after the rally.
“There should be no difference between a Black woman and a white woman or a Black man and a white man. And there should be no difference between an LGBTQ+ member and a straight person because they should just be seen like family,” she said.
Shiima Nantulya, a junior, said Friday’s rally was important to raise awareness of what students of color face. This week, she said, some boys yelled racial slurs in the hallway after school.
“It just reminded me of how silenced we are, because no one spoke up. And that is an issue here that we need to solve, the silencing of voices of color,” she said.
Asked if she felt that she had the support of the school’s leadership, Nantulya said she does “sometimes.”
Principal Jennifer Baker, who was at Friday’s rally, said it was entirely student-run and was an important illustration of unity.
“The students took something that was a hateful, racist, homophobic crime and they saw the silver linings and turned it into a unity event. … So, for me, it was just an amazing experience of unity, and what I want to see and what the kids want to see at our school,” she said.
Baker said school employees have conducted town hall meetings, and have several initiatives to try to create a more equitable environment for students.
She previously told Bethesda Beat this week that after the graffiti incident, she met with GSA, the Minority Scholars Program and the Hispanic Cultural Club, among other groups. Additionally, students were asked to sign a pledge to “stand up against hate.
On Friday, Baker again acknowledged that a letter sent home to parents after the graffiti incident could have been clearer about the fact that both Black and LGBTQ students were targeted. She pointed out that the letter references “and other hate speech.”
“In the future, I will be very specific about what groups are targeted,” she said.
“But we’ve actually been working on this since the day that it happened. We’ve been collaborating with parents, we’ve been collaborating with students and staff and MCPS, so I think that we have done quite a bit. And I think that this event was a culminating activity that proves the work that we’re doing here is moving forward.”
As of Friday, no arrests had been made in connection with the vandalism, Montgomery County police spokeswoman Shiera Goff wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat.
A detective is reviewing security camera footage and the investigation remains ongoing, she wrote.
Dan Schere can be reached at email@example.com