Above: EGHS Pride gathered to repaint the rock Sunday after their “Happy Pride” message on the rock was defaced over the weekend.
By Ana Chelidze and Morgan Walsh
For decades at East Greenwich High School, The Rock has been a staple of school life. Each morning as students, parents, and teachers drive down Avenger Drive, they pass by The Rock. When you go up close, you can see layers upon layers of sun-hardened spray paint from years of Senior Night announcements, birthday messages, and school news.
Recently, a group of LGBTQ+ students decided to paint their own message on The Rock. On June 2, the group painted a Pride flag, spraying “Happy Pride!” over it. Four days later, the rock was defaced – a giant “X” was painted over the Pride message, along with the words, “Nah. Nah. Nah.”
Ella Saint, a junior who attended the first painting of the rock, explained the group’s feelings.
“At first I was excited, and I was happy, because, you know, we were getting together as a community to paint the rock. It was fun. We had snacks, we played music, we got to know each other – it was really fun. And I think we all kind of knew that something like this was going to happen, we were actually taking bets on it, like for how long the rock would stay un-vandalized. But it was kind of a joke, and it was really upsetting that it actually did happen, you know?”
Though some were shocked, sophomore Geoffrey Aptt said he was “not surprised by the reaction that people had.” Aptt was one of the original group of students to paint the rock for Pride. He also mentioned everyone was taking bets on how long the message would remain unaltered.
“I was like, ‘do we have extra paint? ‘Cause this is going to get hate crimed.’” Michaela Shunney, a junior and the organizer of East Greenwich’s first-ever Pride Event June 26, echoed this sentiment, saying they “were prepared for that to happen,” and just to be safe “had bought extra spray paint.”
Saint was the first to have seen the blemished rock, sending out a text to the group. Even she couldn’t predict the community reaction, thinking only a handful of people would respond.
“It kind of became something I didn’t expect. There were, like, 20 or 30 people there.” And the support didn’t just come from the students. EGHS Principal Kenneth Hopkins, Supt. Alexis Meyer, Asst. Supt. Michael Podraza, and School Committee Chair Anne Musella all came to the repainting to show their support. “Obviously one incident is one incident too many,” Hopkins said in regard to the vandalism. The key thing to remember, he said, was, “It’s not everybody in this community,” and that “there’s a lot more people that are in support than are not.”
This time the group painted the modern pride flag, which includes stripes for transgender, black, and brown communities, and added the single word, “Love,” across the banner.
Principal Hopkins calls the Rock “old-school social media.” But attacks took place on social media too, in some negative responses by members of the Pride group, including comments that Pride Month shouldn’t exist that sparked online fights between students. Not all comments were negative though, and the group received support from a wide variety of students and parents in the community.
In fact, the group largely benefited from the attention received through social media. As a result, ASAPP (a local, teen-led, mental health organization) started an online fundraiser for the Trevor Project. Michela Shunney, who helped organize it, said, “We were just talking about ways that we could take this and make it into something, and one thing that immediately happened was Miguel [Figueroa] actually had the idea that any time the rock would be vandalized or painted over, we would all donate $20 to The Trevor Project. So, immediately we were all like, ‘Great, we’re gonna donate.’ and anytime somebody does something to the rock, or says something homophobic, we’re gonna donate money and . . . even with all this hate there’s gonna be someone benefiting from it.”
In the East Greenwich School District’s official “EG Moms” Facebook group, mothers of students voiced their outrage at the disrespectful response to the Pride message, as well as their support of their lgbt+ kids, with more than one mom commenting “love always wins,” on Sheri Shunney’s original post about the incident.
For most of Sunday, social media was flooded with posts, stories, and comments in response to the defacement of the Rock, and most of it was overwhelmingly positive. The Trevor Project fundraiser’s original goal was $100. As of today, over $500 have been donated.
Despite any backlash they might face, members of the lgbtq+ community at EGHS continue to have pride in their community.
“Really, all it’s done though is made the LGBTQ community stronger, and the Trevor Project gets so much more money,” said sophomore Julia Erickson. “Her sentiments were echoed by Matt Cosgrove, a fellow sophomore: “We’re like a hydra, you can cut off one of our heads but we’ll grow back two. We get stronger every time we get knocked down.”
In the spirit of continuing on, the group will be holding a Pride Picnic at Academy Field this month. “Michaela and I planned the first East Greenwich Pride Event,” said Cosgrove, “We’ve been planning this since March. It’s happening June 26th, 11 am to 1 pm, at the Academy Field. We wanted it to be a community event with local businesses and feel open to members of the school, very student-driven.”
As Pride month continues, ASAPP and the LGBTQ members of EGHS say it is important to remember that we all belong to the same community.
Despite differences, people may have in gender and sexuality, people have come together to spread the message of love for Pride Month.
Ana Chelidze and Morgan Walsh are students at East Greenwich High School.