Berner briefly suspends, reinstates GSA campaign


Berner GSA member Tiffany Wong speaks before the board of education on January 22. Board members commended her and other members of the GSA for their role in promoting and managing the anti-discrimination campaign.

Nelson Gomez, Editor-in-Chief

Berner Middle School’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) and district administration unexpectedly found themselves at the center of controversy after the GSA’s “NOH8” campaign was suspended on January 16.

The NOH8 Campaign is an effort to promote “marriage, gender, and human equality” according to its website. Its cornerstone is a celebrity photo shoot where subjects’ mouths are duct taped, symbolizing the silencing of LGBT+ voices by Proposition 8 and similar legislation.

“Photos feature subjects with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Prop 8 and similar legislation around the world,” a description on the campaign’s website says, “with ‘NOH8’ painted on one cheek in protest.”

Initially started in response to California’s passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, which banned same-sex marriage throughout the state, NOH8 now seeks to stand against discrimination and bullying “of all kinds.”

Berner’s GSA planned a similar campaign, with hundreds of students and faculty having signed up to participate in photo shoots where subjects would have their mouths duct-taped in protest and “NOH8” painted on their cheeks.

“To me, the NOH8 campaign increases awareness of the silence that is not heard from the LGBT community,” Berner GSA member Tiffany Wong said at a board of education meeting. “When a symbol is painted on your child’s cheek and your mouth is covered, it gives the tiniest bit of insight into the life of an LGBT student.”

However, three days after beginning sign-ups, the photo shoot was suspended by school administrators; a petition started in response to the shutdown and cited “parent complaints” as the primary reason for the incident. The petition amassed over 1,500 signatures within three days. BMS principal Mr. Jason Esposito declined to comment on the effect the petition had on the movement’s resumption.

“It is imperative that this campaign is restored in our school,” the petition’s statement read. “If this is done, it is another step taken towards ending discrimination and bullying in our schools.”

Mr. Esposito and superintendent Mrs. Lucille Iconis, however, cited concerns over how age-appropriate the presentation of the campaign was as the main reason for suspension. The use of duct tape was especially questioned, fearing that parallels would be drawn to terrorist incidents abroad.

“While we felt that [duct tape over one’s mouth] symbolized the silence that LGBT felt they were under, that wasn’t a part of the campaign that we wanted to participate in,” Mr. Esposito said. “We wanted to participate in everything about the fairness and equality, and the anti-bullying and anti-discrimination, but didn’t feel that was age-appropriate for students.”

Contrary to rumors circulating throughout the community,it was made clear that administrators and other BMS faculty members wanted to help spread the intended message of the campaign, and that the GSA itself was never at risk of dissolution.

“These students were understanding, respectful, and articulate,” Mrs. Iconis said at the board meeting. “We applaud their dedication, their courage, and their bravery.“

As of January 22, sign-ups have resumed at Berner for the movement, and photo shoots are planned to continue through February 13.

“We’re really proud of the GSA club and we’re proud of all the kids that want to support this message because it reinforces everything that we say and stand for,” Mr. Esposito said. “To be able to show that at the middle school level and have so many students… want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each other along with our staff, it’s actually really exciting for us.”

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