Symbols Matter: Removing Club’s Mural Erased Important Message of Inclusivity

The Human Rights Clubs Homecoming mural, which featured a rainbow pride flag, was removed soon after the club completed it.

Alia Attar

The Human Rights Club’s Homecoming mural, which featured a rainbow pride flag, was removed soon after the club completed it.

By Alia Attar, Lake Forest High School

For the celebration and return of homecoming, students spent the weekend before the festivities painting and decorating the windows of businesses in downtown Lake Forest. Window painting, an LFHS homecoming tradition, is a bonding experience, a chance for students to get to know their fellow sports or club members.

Additionally, homecoming is about expressing our school’s spirit and values, as well as reflecting that pride by connecting with the community. This year, however, the LFHS Human Rights Club did not experience this feeling of support and community.

The club was assigned a window at Egg Harbor Cafe, a Lake Forest classic, and painted a mural, which showcased motifs of human rights. The display included flags of many countries, art of activist Keith Haring, symbols of peace, and last of all, a rainbow pride flag.

It was a colorful display of humanity and compassion, striving to portray the core principles of the Human Rights Club: inclusivity, empathy, generosity, and unity.

Sadly, it was erased.

The detailed painting exhibited the creativity and hard work of the students involved with the club. To our dismay, we learned Tuesday evening that the mural had been taken down entirely.

Principal Dr. Erin Lenart came to a meeting where the club discussed and contributed to a letter sent to Egg Harbor Cafe. Representatives of the club, such as myself, and the LFHS administration, including Dr. Lenart, spoke with a public relations official from Egg Harbor over the phone on Nov. 19. During this conversation, the spokesperson confirmed that customers complained about the pride flag, but a misunderstanding regarding how long the windows would stay up led to the mural being taken down prematurely.

As a next step forward, the representative apologized for the incident and stated that the company is willing to work with the club in future homecomings and other events.

When the painting was erased, so was the acceptance of diverse gender and sexuality orientations.”

As president of the club, I was very disheartened that both our hard work and the message we stand for as a club was erased. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a shock to me that a pride flag would be rejected in the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff communities. When painting the display, in the back of my mind, I knew there was a chance that we could face backlash for the flag.

Some might be quick to dismiss this as a minor incident; however, the homecoming windows are not just another annual tradition; they portray an artistic connection between students and community members. The specific symbol of using a window additionally demonstrates the purpose of the paintings; looking through windows allows students to be represented as they express themselves.

In this circumstance, the bond between the students and the community was broken, and the Human Rights Club was left feeling unseen. The mural was a symbol of inclusivity, and both Egg Harbor Cafe and those who complained about the window denied the club’s right to express this important message.

It is crucial to reflect on this incident and understand the bigger picture of the marginalization of the LGBTQ+ community in LFHS.  Club member Brendan Arch reminds us that “putting up the flag doesn’t hurt anyone, but the action of taking it down does.”

Discussing human rights in the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff community is too often taboo, especially themes such as race, gender, sexuality, and politics. When discriminatory and exclusionary acts occur, it should be our priority to acknowledge them in order to be more conscious of differing perspectives, as well as become a more welcoming and inclusive society.

At the same time, however, we must establish that basic human rights of minority groups, which includes the LGBTQ+ community, are not up for debate, and we must hold the community accountable. In this case specifically, students should have the right to express themselves especially when considering the underrepresented identities that the pride flag symbolized.

Unfortunately, many students of the LGBTQ+ community do not feel as welcome as their cisgender and straight peers.

“Although many students and teachers are supportive here, I do not feel comfortable expressing my identity fully. I’ve also faced negative reactions from some who I’ve come out to, due to society’s standards that reinforce heteronormativity, which are very present at our school,” said one student under the condition of anonymity.

Another critical issue within the LGBTQ+ community is the lack of representation, which plays a major role in this situation especially. When the painting was erased, so was the acceptance of diverse gender and sexuality orientations.

In the week of homecoming, a time to celebrate school spirit and the start of a new year, our goal as a school is to highlight the pride of students. However, in the future, a value our community needs to prioritize is inclusivity, in order to represent the entirety of the student body.

We all have the choice to ignore, acknowledge, or support issues so prevalent in our school and community. It is each individual’s job to educate themselves on what’s right, especially when it comes to deconstructing societal norms that are harmful to the identities of others.

Junior Alia Attar is the President of the Human Rights Club.

This story was originally published on The Forest Scout on December 2, 2021.