2021 | Schools

Two anti-LGBTQ incidents reported at Damascus High within a week

Club was targeted, then students drove with offensive flag during protest, principal says

share this

File image

Two anti-LGBTQ incidents involving students occurred within a week at Damascus High School, according to a letter from the school’s principal.

The first incident involved threats targeting the school’s Genders and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club, the letter says. The second occurred on Monday at a walkout in response to the GSA incident, when two students allegedly drove a truck around with an offensive flag.

Principal Kevin Yates wrote in one letter on Nov. 30 that an incident “discriminatory in nature” occurred in a room where the GSA club was meeting during the school’s lunch period that day. The incident involved “inappropriate comments” toward students in the club.

“Supervising school staff immediately recognized this as a serious matter and called for school security who responded immediately,” Yates wrote in the letter. He did not specify what the comments were.

In a second letter Yates sent on Tuesday, he wrote that the comments made during the meeting were “seen as physically threatening to the students in the room and specifically were demeaning to LGBTRQ+ students.” He also wrote that students in the room heard other students in the hallway saying “white power.”

“These types of comments are hurtful and demeaning and do not represent the values of our school or our community,” he wrote on Tuesday.

Yates wrote in the second letter that “disciplinary measures were taken that are aligned with the MCPS Student Code of Conduct.” He did not elaborate.

Following the incident on Nov. 30, students held a walkout on Monday to protest discrimination.

Yates wrote that school officials “are aware of” two students who, during the protest, drove a truck back and forth “with an offensive flag bearing a weapon with the text, ‘come and take it.’”

“School administrators are following up with parents/guardians of the two students, and will be taking appropriate disciplinary action based on the MCPS Student Code of Conduct,” Yates wrote.

“I have met with the students affected by these incidents and committed the resources of the school on a continuing basis should they need time with our counselors to further discuss these incidents,” Yates wrote. “We did in fact conduct restorative conversations to fully hear, understand and help students work through their feelings.”

Yates did not specify whether police were called in either instance. When contacted by Bethesda Beat, he referred questions to MCPS’s communications office.

Shiera Goff, a Montgomery County police spokeswoman, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat that she had not heard about the incident. She did not respond to a follow-up email Tuesday.

Mark Eckstein, who chairs the Montgomery County Council of PTAs’ LGBTQ Committee, told Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that he thinks news of the incident involving the GSA club has spread beyond the Damascus High community in the last 24 hours.

“It seems like only because the students were vocal and had a walkout that this really came to light. So I’ve had ongoing conversations with the school district to try to maybe elevate the severity when you have events like this,” he said.

Eckstein previously urged MCPS officials to respond more swiftly to anti-LGBTQ discrimination following an incident in October at Walter Johnson High School, telling Bethesda Beat at the time that school officials often respond more quickly to racial and religious discrimination.

Racist and homophobic graffiti was spray painted at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda on Oct. 3. The graffiti referenced white supremacy and included the phrase “LGBT is unnatural,” according to MCPS.

Walter Johnson Principal Jennifer Baker was criticized criticized at the time for only mentioning racism, and not homophobia, when describing the graffiti. However, the school addressed both types of hate speech in its follow-up messages and actions.

On Tuesday, Eckstein again said he’s worried that MCPS officials aren’t being responsive enough to LGBTQ concerns.

“Incidents like this usually rely on MCPS making outreach to various stakeholders and leaders in the community that have been harmed. And I find it troubling that that outreach did not happen,” he said.

MCPS spokesman Chris Cram, responding in an email to questions from Bethesda Beat about Eckstein’s criticism, wrote that the school “did communicate about the incident and followed up after the student walk-out and follow[ed] restorative conversations with students.”

“As you know incidents evolve and responses to incidents adjust to support what is very likely complex and nuanced,” he wrote.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com