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Colorado Springs School District 11 becomes first public school district to march in PrideFest parade 

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click to enlarge Superintendent Michael Thomas meeting kids. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS SCHOOL DISTRICT 11
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs School District 11
  • Superintendent Michael Thomas meeting kids.

The landscape of Colorado Springs is getting a bit more colorful as our city boasts its first-ever rainbow crosswalk, temporarily installed downtown in honor of PrideFest.

But it’s not just the physical landscape that changed during this year’s Pride event, which was held at America the Beautiful Park the weekend of July 13. This year also marked the first time a Colorado Springs public school district marched in the Pride parade.

When a local friend told me District 11 would be marching, I couldn’t believe it.

This was actually happening? In Colorado Springs? I was absolutely shocked that a public school district was willing to stand up for LGBTQ rights in our conservative community.

But District 11’s superintendent, Dr. Michael Thomas, was not. This used to be his normal.

During Dr. Thomas’ time as a chief of academics, leadership and learning back in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, it was commonplace to have school districts march in city Pride parades. So when Thomas received pushback about marching in Colorado Springs in 2018, it was quite a curveball.

He didn’t think that there was a problem with standing in solidarity with his queer staff and students. But, with it being his first year, he decided the district would not march. He wanted to try and understand the culture better before making waves.

After a year of waiting and observing, he decided it was time.

“If we embody the spirit of inclusivity,” Thomas shares, “all means all. It’s not just some aspects of our community. It’s everyone. [As a superintendent] it is my ethical and moral obligation to take a stance that serves all students.”

But taking a stance for inclusivity did not go unchallenged.
Dr. Thomas received “very mixed feedback” after he announced the district would be marching, ranging from teachers thanking him for “giving us permission to be here today,” to emails asking, “What is the process for firing a superintendent?”

When I ask Thomas if he is nervous about the negative feedback or fears for his job, his response surprises me.

“I’m not here to do a job,” he says. “I’m purposed to be here. It’s much bigger than me. It’s not just a job. I moved here to be a part of instrumental and fundamental change.”

Thomas points to statistics that, as a queer person myself, I have become all too familiar with: 60 percent of LGBTQ students hate going to school because they don’t feel welcome; LGBTQ students are twice as likely to experience bullying, three times as likely to attempt suicide.

“As a superintendent, I have to respond to this data,” he says. And that’s why he marches. He wants his staff and his students to know they are seen and they have a place.

As a queer person who was raised in Colorado Springs, it would have meant the world to see my superintendent march as my ally, to not only recognize my existence, but to be proud of who I am and support all of me, not just the academic part of me.

But it wasn’t just Dr. Thomas marching.

Though they didn’t “dominate T-Mobile,” (Dr. Thomas’ competitive nature wanted to beat every other group in size, as he had done back in Minneapolis) nearly 200 people from District 11 joined him, and all of the onlookers cheered at their presence. In Thomas’ words, they received “an outpouring of support,” in spite of the scathing criticism in the weeks leading up to the event.

Things are changing in this city. People are standing up for equality, in spite of threatening emails and aggressive protesters. And it’s happening because brave people like Dr. Michael Thomas stand up for what they believe is right, and refuse to give in to fear.

As a queer person in Colorado Springs, I want to say thank you, Dr. Michael Thomas, and thank you to everyone else who chooses to not only see queer people, but supports us, even when it’s not popular to do so.

Brandon Flanery is a graduate of UCCS and an occasional contributor to the Colorado Springs Independent’s Queer & There column.

Editor's note: This column originally referred to Dr. Michael Thomas as a former superintendent in Minnesota, when his actual title was Chief of Academics, Leadership and Learning. We regret the error.

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