Students at a Pennsylvania high school held an "Anti-Gay Day" protest on Thursday, wearing coordinated flannel shirts, writing "anti-gay" on their hands, and sticking Bible verses on LGBT students' lockers.
"We came in to school on Thursday and found a lot of people wearing flannel and we couldn't figure out why," Zoe Johnson, a 16-year-old bisexual student at McGuffey High School in Claysville, told BuzzFeed News. "People started getting pushed and notes were left on people's lockers."
The anti-gay protest occurred a day after students with the school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) held a "Day of Silence," an event aimed at drawing attention to anti-gay bullying.
"I got called a dyke, a faggot," Johnson said. "They were calling us every horrible name you can think of."
The national Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) organized a "Day of Silence" around the United States on Friday, but Johnson said she and her friends held their protest on Wednesday because of a school field trip scheduled for Friday.
As part of their protest, Johnson and the other dozen members of the GSA arranged to wear black, paint rainbows on their faces, and stay silent for much of the day.
She told BuzzFeed News she was touched that many non-GSA members also took part. "There was about 30 to 50 students," she said. "It was a very nice feeling to see that many people participating."
Johnson said the event was met with no resistance on Wednesday, but roughly 50 students took part in a counter-protest on Thursday and Friday.
"They had a very silent, respectful day of action, and then they came to school on Thursday to an organized backlash," Kathy Cameron, chair of the board of directors of the Washington County Gay Straight Alliance, told BuzzFeed News.
"The instigators, the bullies, seemed to be very proud of their efforts, and posted many smiling pictures online," Cameron said.
Johnson said some of the students uploaded Bible verses to Instagram and tagged out gay classmates. She also said some students began circulating a "lynch list" of students who had participated in the Day of Silence and that a noose was tied to a flag in one teacher's classroom.
"This is a troubling turn of events," wrote Sue Kerr, editor-in-chief of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, in a blog post. "These kids didn’t just spontaneously pull a homophobic move. They have a plan. They have coordinated outfits."
Johnson and her fellow students spoke on Thursday night at a school board meeting to raise the anti-gay bullying issue with administrators. "We had a really positive reaction," she said. "Both the superintendent and assistant superintendent shook my hand. It was very positive. You could tell whose side they were truly on."
"The kids were very calm and well prepared," said Cameron, who also attended the meeting. "They wanted to make sure that it didn't happen again and that the bullies were taken to task."
"The board was appalled that the kids had been exposed to this treatment and assured them that they would look into it," Cameron said.
"It also makes it crystal clear that despite small improvements in school climate for LGBT youth, there remains a great deal of work to be done by students, educators, and administrators," Betz said.
Cameron said she knows anti-gay bullying takes place at schools across the country, but that staff need to move quickly to stamp it out. "The administrators need the opportunity to investigate this and take what steps are appropriate," she said. "Now everyone is watching, so they have to follow through."
Speaking on Sunday night, Johnson said she feared returning to school on Monday. "I'm concerned because I don't think it will settle down because it only seems to be getting worse," she said.
UPDATE - April 20, 3:52 p.m. ET: Superintendent Erica Kolat released the following statement to BuzzFeed News on Monday afternoon:
On Thursday, April 16, 2015, allegations of harassment were brought to administration’s attention following the McGuffey High School Gay-Straight Alliance Club’s observance of GLSEN’s “Day of Silence.” Administration and school police officers have been investigating all allegations and continue to do so.
At this time, no witnesses have seen the rumored “lynch list” that was mentioned in previous news reports. Additionally, no statements have included physical harassment.
Our investigation is ongoing, and we encourage anyone with information to contact McGuffey School District administration immediately.
McGuffey School District is committed to providing a safe, supportive environment for all children.
UPDATE - April 20, 5:55 p.m. ET: A small group of protesters gathered at McGuffey High School on Monday morning to show their support for the LGBT students.
"We were there, seen, and treated to thumbs-up, honks and waves from tons of passing cars," one woman wrote on the Facebook event page. "Most of the buses coming from the west saw us, and hopefully some downtrodden youngsters felt a little jolt of love!"
David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.
Contact David Mack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.