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Students and teachers respond to Rep. Pierick's pride flag remarks

Last week, a freshman representative of the state Legislature posted a video to his social media questioning the motives of LGBTQ+ flags around ʻEwa Makai Middle School.

While parents and lawmakers have been vocal with their concerns about Rep. Elijah Pierick's opinions, students have also noticed the video.

That's how one teacher at a neighboring middle school found out.

Sarah "Mili" Milianta-Laffin is the adviser of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance club at ʻIlima Intermediate School, a campus about 1.5 miles away from ʻEwa Makai's.

"I've just really kind of put this on the adults lately that we need to explain to kids that this is not the aloha spirit. This is not the way we're going to live and that you get to be safe at school," Milianta-Laffin told HPR.

She said her students are made aware of global current events through social media platforms like TikTok, which sparks their interest in activism. For example, several of her students were involved in supporting the legislative bill to provide free period products at public schools last year.

Milianta-Laffin added that the students involved in ʻIlima Intermediate's GSA have been tuned into the current legislative session after they caught wind that a proposed bill would have prohibited sexual orientation and gender identity education.

House Bill 509 was introduced by Rep. Diamond Garcia, who hosted a rally for the bill at the capitol — which Pierick also spoke in support of.

In opposition, Milianta-Laffin helped organize a "Leading with Love" counter rally on Valentine's Day. Several state legislators and Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke attended.

"You have to think like a middle schooler or a high schooler. They don't understand the legislative system enough to be like, 'Oh, it's proposed, and it's been on the news, but it's not going to pass.' They still are afraid because it's out there because it's being talked about." Milianta-Laffin explained.

At the end of his video, Pierick posted contact information for ʻEwa Makai's Principal Kim Sanders, asking viewers to contact her if they have concerns with her pride flag.

Sanders said she has received support for her flag and provided the following comment:

"At ‘Ewa Makai Middle School, we strive to ensure that all students feel that they belong and are valued so that we can carry out our vision to empower, explore, excel together. Fostering a sense of inclusiveness leads to successful student outcomes. I'm so appreciative of the outpouring support from our community members who have reached out with positive calls and emails. Their support helps validate the work we're doing to care for all of our students."

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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