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Local high school Spirit Rock vandalized with anti-LGBT slurs

November 22, 2018

POCATELLO — A well-known landmark at Pocatello High School typically used by students to express school spirit and to foster positive rivalrous traditions was recently the target of hateful vandalism.

Slurs derogatory to the LGBT community appeared twice on the high school’s Spirit Rock within 72 hours of two student clubs painting a rainbow on the well-known boulder. The Spirit Rock has been a fixture in front of Pocatello High School since 1970.

“We try to paint the rock as often as we can because it gets tagged all the time,” said Lisa Delonas, Pocatello High School principal. “It wasn’t looking super great so we had our Art and Human Rights clubs volunteer to paint the rock and they decided to paint a rainbow. There wasn’t this big hidden meaning behind their choice in a rainbow. They were just painting the rock.”

Last weekend the rock was spray-painted three times after the student clubs first painted the rainbow at lunchtime last Friday. Twice the rock was spray-painted with derogatory LGBT slurs and once with the phrase “Love Wins,” according to Billie Johnson, an adviser with the Pocatello High School Human Rights Club. Images of the slurs painted on the rock were shared numerous times via social media, Johnson added.

Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 officials were made aware of the first anti-LGBT slur on the rock last Saturday morning and dispatched a maintenance crew to cover the slur with white paint, according to Courtney Fisher, district spokesperson.

An art teacher at Pocatello High School, Jen VanWasshenova, and Lorraine Bowen, another adviser with the school’s Human Rights Club, replaced the white box painted over the slur with the corresponding colors of the rainbow last Saturday afternoon before the rock was tagged a second time with the phrase “Love Wins” sometime last Saturday night. This phrase was not covered because it was not deemed offensive, Johnson said.

Pocatello High School Art Club adviser Karen Whittier noticed an anti-LGBT slur was again painted on the rock when she arrived at the school early Monday morning.

Whittier said she personally lugged all six cans of paint used to create the rainbow from her classroom located on the opposite side of the school’s campus to paint over the slur on Monday morning before many students arrived for the start of classes. She then added the phrase “Be Kind” to the rock as a means to hopefully deter others from further defacing the clubs’ artwork.

The rock has not been spray-painted since.

“It just breaks my heart that people can be so mean-spirited and hurtful,” Whittier said. “We are all entitled to our own opinion but when you do something like this you not only hurt the people you attack but you hurt yourself too because it just eats at your soul.”

Though rainbow flags have recently been attributed as a symbol of LGBT pride, rainbows painted on flags have historically been used as a symbol of peace, too.

The students who painted the rock last week did so with the intention of showing others that Pocatello High School is an inclusive environment, Delonas said.

“Even if you don’t agree with somebody’s choices at Pocatello High School we try to promote a respect of those differences,” Delonas said. “We don’t have to believe in the same things to be respectful and kind. That’s what Pocatello High School is all about — that everybody here has a place.”

Johnson added, “Some of the students involved in painting this rock (with the rainbow colors) may identify as LGBT, but some don’t. This was about celebrating diversity and the presence of a wide array of students at Pocatello High School.”

Though the derogatory comments painted on the rock could be interpreted by some as a type of anti-LGBT hate speech, Johnson said she believes the vandalism was likely a stunt executed by someone simply crying out for attention.

“If you made me bet I would not think that this was actual anti-gay hate speech,” Johnson said about the slurs. “I imagine this was most likely an act of sophomoric vandalism from someone who just wanted to use this slur for attention because they were bored.”

The vandalism was reported to the Pocatello Police Department and officers have increased their patrols in the area of the high school as a result.

Fisher told the Journal on Tuesday that any student who defaces school property, including spray-painting derogatory comments on the Spirit Rock, could face disciplinary action from School District 25 in addition to criminal charges from the police. And any non-student could face the latter, she added.

“We always take vandalism seriously and address it immediately,” Fisher said. “But there is no way to tell whether this was a student or another community member so this is more than just a school district issue. This is a community issue.”

Johnson said the vandalism definitely hurt some feelings.

“At the end of the day I think the kids were thrilled to take part in a decades-long tradition and I’m sure this dealt them a blow,” Johnson said. “But to see the art teachers and everybody come repaint it, that’s what ‘Poky pride’ is.”

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