PORTLAND — The Portland Board of Education wants teachers to use a recent spate of homophobic mail sent to residents in the area as a teaching opportunity.

Because the eight recipients of the threatening letters each flew a gay pride flag or a Black Lives Matter flag on their properties, the board, as part of a resolution being drafted, also would like to see “pride stickers, posters, flags and other queer-positive images in the classrooms and elsewhere in our schools.”

The board at a workshop last week discussed a resolution that “commits to rooting out homophobia in our schools, creating a LGBTQ-positive culture, and ensuring that LGBTQ students see themselves in the curriculum.” The resolution will encouraging teachers and staff to “engage in age-appropriate conversations with students about the recent incidents to bring these injustices to light.”

Chairperson Emily Figdor, who drafted the resolution, said the board must take a firm stance to show LGBTQ students, staff and families that such acts as the recent hate letters won’t be tolerated in the schools.

“This is an important issue and I am glad the board is on record standing in solidarity,” board member Anna Trevorrow said.

School board member Adam Burk, who said he displays a gay pride flag at his home, supports the resolution but is concerned that simply displaying pride stickers, posters and flags is “performative allyship versus the real work in not perpetuating harm.”

“I’d love, if only for my own benefit, to hear more about how that could be an effective response to these acts of hate,” Burk said.

Barrett Wilkinson, the district’s equity coordinator, said Burk’s concern is valid, but the resolution is a way to “stand in solidarity.”

The board is scheduled to vote on the resolution Tuesday, Feb. 2. Figdor said she hopes the final wording will reflect input from students and asked the board’s student representatives to bring the topic up with their classmates.

Classroom discussions stemming from the recent hate mail incidents and beyond will “bring to light some of the daily bigotry that people in our community face, whether that’s homophobia, racism or misogyny,” Figdor told The Forecaster. “It is an opportunity to highlight even in our community, which I see as a more welcoming community, we still have these acts of hate.”

Equality Maine Executive Director Matt Moonen said the organization supports having age-appropriate discussions about these incidents as well as others in recent years that have targeted other groups.

“It is a little cliché, but kids aren’t born hating other people. They are taught that,” Moonen said, “To the extent we can, we should educate our young people how our community has progressed, not just with LGBTQ issues, but in general. It is important for them to learn.”

Equality Maine often works with schools to set up gay/straight/trans alliance or gender sexuality groups and offers teachers professional development on how to take steps for more inclusive schools. It also works with school districts on anti-bullying and inclusive bathroom/locker room policies.

Since Jan. 5, Portland police have received eight complaints from people who received letters that contained an image of a rainbow pride flag with the Satanic Temple logo on it, along with a threatening message that contained a slur against gay people.

Portland Police Lt. Robert Martin said no one has been arrested in connection to the letters. Martin told the Press Herald earlier this month the message included in the letters included threats against the recipients and therefore met the criteria for a charge of terrorizing.

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