ABERDEEN, S.D.—A photo of two high school students displaying Trump banners on school grounds—festooned with anti-gay slogans—was posted on social media, marring a week dedicated to diversity and sparking calls for a federal investigation.
One of the banners shown in the post depicts an American flag with ex-president Donald Trump in the center. The second says Trump 2020— Keep America Great. A pair of Aberdeen High School students held them up in the school commons and a photo of it was posted on Instagram.
The text over the photo read “#fuckpride,” along with “fuck CHS,” shorthand for Central High School.
“Thanks to all the students who whore (wore) black today let’s not let gays let their f----- ways into our school,” the text also read.
Andrew Lin, an Aberdeen Central student, shared a screenshot of the post on Twitter Thursday night. He said another student had shared it on Facebook to bring attention to what was happening at the school.
“This was at my school today and it was posted on Snapchat and Facebook,” Lin wrote in his post. “Blow this up. This is the hate fueled by Trump and his cultists. #SouthDakota #TrumpIsALaughingStock #TrumpIsACriminal.”
Lin told The Daily Beast that one of pro-Trump students waved a banner around on Tuesday and said Trump was his “papa.” He said he was told students also drew Xs on a Pride flag and spit on and burned one.
A second Snapchat post urged students to bring Bibles to school, to shun students taking part in Unity Week events, and to wear black on the day others were dressing in colors signifying support for diversity, according to a report in the Aberdeen American News.
“God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve or eve and bri and Adam and tractor,” the second post stated, according to the Aberdeen paper.
The principal, Dr. Jason Uttermark, told The Daily Beast he was aware of the incident and posting and said the school district denounces them.
“All concerns about this event are very understandable. Please know the views expressed by the student post do not represent any policies or positions of the Aberdeen School District,” he said, reading from a statement prepared after a request for an interview.
“An investigation was conducted and appropriate disciplinary action is being taken,” he said. “Due to student privacy rights, those details cannot be released. The Aberdeen School District condemns all types of hurtful behaviors and will take appropriate actions with any situation.”
Uttermark said the school district has “support available for any student who has been impacted by this situation.”
The South Dakota High School Democrats issued a release condemning the homophobic actions and comments and calling on the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights to investigate.
The release, sent out by club president Carter Demaray, an 18-year-old Yankton High School senior, said Aberdeen Central students claim this “coordinated harassment campaign” occurs every year and the district does nothing to stop it.
“With this, it is clear that the Aberdeen School District has allowed the targeted harassment of certain groups to go unrestrained,” it said. “They have failed to live up to the standard necessary to provide a safe educational environment for certain students.”
Lin, a 14-year-old freshman, is the son of Chinese immigrants. He was born in New York; his family moved to Aberdeen a decade ago. Lin said while he feels comfortable in the city and school, he said there have been occasional racist incidents.
Last fall, a student he has known for several years started calling him a slur in the classroom and urged others to do so, he said. A teacher told the boy to stop.
Aberdeen, the state’s third-largest city with around 28,500 people, is the seat of Brown County. Once a Democratic stronghold and the birthplace of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, in 2020, it went overwhelmingly for Trump, who easily won South Dakota both times he ran.
There has been other recent controversy over diversity initiatives in the community.
Timothy M. Downs, the president of a state college in Aberdeen, Northern State University, announced his resignation “to pursue a new opportunity in higher education”—after he drew fire from legislators and some residents over efforts to encourage diversity, including discarding the name “Gypsy Days” for its homecoming week.
“The reason for this change was due to the disconnect between our goal of building an inclusive campus culture, attentive to belonging and collegiality, with a term that many today recognize as offensive to a marginalized population,” Downs said in a Feb. 5 statement.
There was an immediate pushback, including a decline in contributions to the Northern State University Foundation. On March 10, NSU announced it would retain the traditional homecoming name, and five weeks later, Downs said he would depart.
The state capital has also been roiled by an LGBTQ-related debate.
The legislature passed a law banning transgender women from competing in high school and college sports, with Gov. Kristi Noem at first expressing support for it, then backtracking amid a boycott threat, and finally vetoing it.
Noem then issued a pair of executive orders, one banning transgender girls from competing in high school sports, the other urging college teams not to allow them to compete.