Brooklyn School Removes Students’ Black Trans Lives Matter Mural

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School officials at P.S. 295 in Brooklyn are under fire for removing a mural with messages about racial injustice and the queer community.
Google Maps/P.S. 295

A Brooklyn school is under fire for taking down a cafeteria mural that brought attention to racial injustice and honored the LGBTQ community, reports the New York Daily News.

The mural, which was created by fifth-graders at P.S. 295 at 330 18th Street in Park Slope, highlighted messages like “Black Trans Lives Matter” and “Your Silence Will Not Protect You,” a quote from the late LGBTQ activist and writer Audre Lorde. However, within days of the mural being put up in July, district superintendent Anita Skop slammed the student-led art as not “welcoming” or “inclusive” of all members of the schools’ community, according to text messages obtained by the New York Daily News.

Supporters of the mural faced additional criticism from Frank Giordano, the principal of New Voices Middle School, which is housed in the same school as P.S. 295.

According to text messages shared with the New York Daily News, Giordano told staffers he felt “attacked” by Lorde’s quote. Shortly after, Lisa Pagano, the principal of P.S. 295, asked if the school could replace “Black Trans Lives Matter” with a watered-down message such as “hate has no home here,” reports the New York Daily News. Ultimately, the school’s superintendent backed the decision to take down the mural and did not notify parents or families.

TS Candii, an LGBTQ activist and founder of the non-profit Black Trans Nation, has similarly faced resistance to her own bid to bring inclusive messages to public spaces. Earlier this year the Department of Transportation (DOT) stalled her proposal for a “Black Trans Lives Matter” street mural. TS Candii said she is standing in solidarity with the students, noting the importance of art as a tool for advocacy.

“That’s the only messaging that would keep the visibility alive,” TS Candii told Gay City News, pointing to the epidemic of fatal violence facing the trans community, which disproportionately targets Black trans women. “We are dying at a high rate, and removing [the mural] is simply erasing our existence and its discriminatory.”

Groundswell NYC, a community mural project, partnered with the school last year as part of the school’s remote learning curriculum. Despite criticism from school officials, Groundswell NYC continued to back the project’s diverse messaging, according to the New York Daily News.

In light of Groundswell’s support of the project, Pagano eventually agreed to keep some of the messaging up but asked the organization to “include references to other social justice causes important to the school,” reports the New York Daily News. In the end, the mural was taken down on July 11 — after just five days up.

As of press time, Pagano is on vacation and has limited access to emails. Groundswell NYC did not immediately respond to Gay City News’ request for comment.

Students who designed the mural also expressed frustration with school leaders. Jasmine Gellizeau-Ip, an 11-year-old, told the New York Daily News that the removal of the artwork saddened her.

“I was mostly proud of showing how I felt about that world and putting it into a piece of paper for everyone in my school to see … and be proud of their differences,” Gellizeau-Ip told the New York Daily News. “I thought I knew my principal, and she just tore it down…I felt really disappointed because I put a lot of work and love into it.”

Out gay Councilmember Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn, whose $20,000 allocation of city funds helped support the mural, condemned the school’s decision.

“School administrators in my district unilaterally removed this beautiful mural,” Menchaca tweeted. “No involvement w/ youth nor opportunity for education — at a school! What’s up with that.”

Following the incident, Amanda Bissell, a former parent coordinator at the school, said she is disgusted and heartbroken by the school’s actions. Bissell resigned from her position on July 13. In an email to Gay City News, she added, “I could not imagine explaining this decision to fellow parents as a representative of the school.”

“The students who worked on the mural were under the care of the school for as many as six years,” said Bissell, whose kids attend P.S. 295. “The lack of respect that was shown to their emotional well-being is abhorrent.”

In a phone call, Bissell said she’s also fielding questions about the mural’s removal at home in the wake of the incident.

“Talking to my kids about it, they’re confused… ‘why would she do this?'” Bissell said. “‘Could this happen to us? could they tell us we can’t do something or throw away something that we made?'”

This incident comes at a time when the school is discussing Black Lives Matter and gender identity in the classroom, Bissell said.

“They [the children] were really baffled as to why after they learned about it and talked about it…’Why can’t it be up?'” Bissell said. “We have students who are trans. We have students who are non-binary. This is something that is going to affect people on a personal level as well.”

She added, “I’m hoping that there will be a way to try and repair the hurt that’s done to the people that are most affected.”

Department of Education (DOE) spokesperson Danielle Filson denounced the incident and apologized on behalf of the school’s community. The DOE says the school is planning to create and design a new mural.

“Our schools must be safe and inclusive environments, and we’re very sorry this happened to our students,” Filson said. “We will make sure they are included in the process of designing and creating a new mural. We are investigating this and will take appropriate disciplinary action.”

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