Former Principal Alleges in Lawsuit Anti-LGBTQ+ Parents, Clergy Behind Her Ouster

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday December 8, 2021

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Stock image  (Source:Getty Images)

A former middle school principal says she encountered hostility and retaliation for putting up a Pride flag in the school cafeteria as a gesture of inclusivity. Now she's filed suit, local newspaper the Park Rapids Enterprise reported.

The suit was filed Nov. 30 and alleges that after then-Principal Mary Kay Thomas put up a Pride flag as part of an "inclusiveness campaign," she was subject to an ordeal in which "the Marshall School District targeted her with an investigation, placed her on administrative leave, suspended her without pay and eventually drove her to quit after the district removed her as principal and placed her in a 'demeaning' special projects position," the Enterprise reported.

"She also claims school staff hostile to LGBT causes played a role in her removal and that Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams told her he could 'make this all go away' if she stepped down."

MPR News reported that the Pride flag was part of "a display of 30 or more flags representing different cultural backgrounds and life experiences." But it was evidently the only one that drew opposition.

The suit alleges that "a small group of 'anti-LGBTQ middle-school staff, parents, students, and local clergy'" drove the push to oust her, the article said, adding that as efforts mounted to have the flag taken down, "Thomas began distributing rainbow stickers at the school."

Thomas' suit follows one in which a group calling itself Marshall Concerned Citizens bought a lawsuit of their own last spring, "alleging school officials unfairly targeted a group of students petitioning for the removal of the pride flag," the newspaper recalled. That lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice.

The article said that Thomas had won accolades during her 16-year stint as middle school principal, being praised as a "Champion of Students" — in particular, the article noted, "the underrepresented and marginalized."

"I feel like the people who are losing are the kids," Thomas told MPR News. "They felt like once they had that flag up, that they were finally recognized as quality human beings."

However, Thomas added, "As soon as there was discussion and concern about whether or not that flag would come down, there were kids trembling across from me at my desk, and in pure tears, kids were leaving the school on those days because they couldn't tolerate it."

Williams issued a statement denying the allegations made in Thomas' lawsuit, declaring that "the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct," and vowing that the district would "vigorously defend itself against these allegations."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.