NMU students write letter in support of LGBTQ+ students in Gwinn


Photo courtesy of Kat Torreano

PRIDE FLAGS – The removal of three LGBTQ+ pride flags from Gwinn public school classrooms has sparked a community-wide debate. Two NMU students are working to convince the Gwinn Area School Board to allow the flags to be reinstated.

Katarina Rothhorn

During the week of Sept. 20, Gwinn Area Schools’ Superintendent, Brandon Bruce, instructed three teachers to remove the LGBTQ+ pride flags from their classrooms. This prompted a debate from the school board concerning a new flag policy that would permanently ban the flags from Gwinn classrooms. 

This conversation has gained attention from the Marquette community with people arguing both sides of the issue. 

Two NMU students, Juniper Blandin and Madison Dejohn, responded to the news by drafting a formal letter to the Gwinn Area School Board and superintendent, urging them to rethink their decision. 

“We decided that we weren’t comfortable with this happening,” Dejohn said. “We wanted to make sure that they knew that they were not going to [remove the flags] with no resistance.”

Blandin and Dejohn immediately started doing research for the letter once they heard about the school board’s proposal. They included statistics about LGBTQ+ youth mental health and population in the Upper Peninsula. 

“We wanted to make sure there were no holes in this letter that they could poke,” Dejohn said. “Part of the letter too, as much as it is a petition, is also trying to educate the board as to why they should not be making this decision.”

They had the letter drafted and edited within a day to be sent to a professor for revision. Afterwards, it was sent to the wider community to be signed as a show of support. 

Currently, the letter has over eight pages of signatures, including supporters from downstate at the University of Michigan and other institutions. 

The letter will be formally emailed and sent via snail mail to the Gwinn Area School Board and superintendent on Friday, Oct. 14. 

“I care because I didn’t have this when I was younger, and I know the pain and the difficulties that come with growing up LGBT+ in a conservative community,” Dejohn said.

The Gwinn Area School Board has their next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17 at Gwinn High School. Blandin and Dejohn are encouraging as many people to attend the meeting as possible to show support for the LGBTQ+ students in Gwinn and other rural U.P. high schools. 

“You can sign a letter in your support, but actually showing up and the kids that need to see people there … it’s going to make them feel so much better … knowing that there actually is this community supporting them,” Dejohn said. 

They plan on speaking up during the community comment portion of the meeting to express their opinions as well. In order to provide the opportunity for as many people to attend as possible, they have created a carpool link to help with transportation to the meeting.

“We’re trying to help people get there if they want to go,” Blandin said. “We plan on talking for as long as they allow us to share our opinions and our stance on the issue.”

For Blandin, Dejohn and many others in the Marquette community, this issue is both personal and important to support Gwinn kids.

“Those kids don’t have the support from their peers. They don’t have it from their community members. They don’t have it from their parents some of the time,” Blandin said. “Those kids are discriminated against historically and presently, and they need support and advocacy. It’s not just a flag that’s important. It’s the symbolization and all it represents.”