Eric Stinton: Why I Have A Pride Flag In My Classroom - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

It’s to make up for my own insensitivity when I was young, and to provoke conversations with kids with attitudes like I used to have.

I was in 7th grade when Eminem released “The Marshall Mathers LP.”

Within a week it sold nearly 2 million copies, making it the second fastest-selling album ever at the time. It was everywhere, including my portable CD player, where it remained in steady rotation for the rest of the year. 

To say it was a controversial album would be an understatement. Among the various groups that protested its release was the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which quite reasonably took issue with its frequent use of derogatory and anti-gay language, particularly the repeated use of the F-slur in lyrics like “hate f**s? The answer’s yes.” 

The album seeped into my habits, and like most boys of my generation, I used the F-slur relentlessly and called anything I didn’t like “gay,” regardless of the context. If I had to defend my use of those words — which I never did, because it was broadly accepted — I would have done so the same way Eminem did: I used them to describe people or things that I thought sucked; it had nothing to do with anyone’s sexual preference.

I didn’t hate gay people, I would’ve said, and besides I didn’t know any. Looking back now, I’m not sure that’s true. I probably did know some gay people, but based on how I talked and acted at the time, they had every reason to hide it from me. I would’ve mercilessly teased anyone who was openly gay, because they would’ve been an easy target.

I currently teach 7th grade, the same age I was when anti-gay sentiments and language became normalized for me. Though Eminem hasn’t been relevant for a long time, those ways of speaking and thinking about LGBTQ+ people are every bit as commonplace now as they were 20 years ago. 

Anti-gay language is still the go-to method for kids to make fun of each other, and they carry an extra sting for kids who are anything other than cisgender and heterosexual, even when those words aren’t directly hurled at them. Just being in proximity to them makes it clear that being LGBTQ+ is something to be ashamed of, something to ridicule, something to hide. 

Pride students design bricks Eric Stinton column
At the end of the year, students at Kailua Intermediate School got to paint bricks outside a classroom with whatever they wanted to leave a legacy. Some focused on LGBTQ+ issues.(Eric Stinton/Civil Beat/2023)

That’s why I have a pride flag hanging in my classroom.

The flag, which is taped on the wall above my desk, serves two fundamental purposes. The first is for the kids who see themselves in it, so they know they can feel safe.

As Representative Adrian Tam wrote last month, 85% of LGBTQ+ students experience verbal harassment and 50% report being physically harassed at school — for nothing other than being who they are. If these statistics were true for girls or Hawaiians or Filipinos — for any other group of students — no one would consider it a political talking point to say this is unacceptable and that we should support the kids being targeted. 

But for various reasons — primarily religious traditions and those who exploit them for personal gain — the basic wellbeing of LGBTQ+ kids is mired in culture war nonsense.

Which leads to the other reason for my pride flag. I tend to have good relationships with students who are a little rough around the edges: boys, typically, who like fighting and football, getting in trouble and making fun of other kids. Any of my middle school teachers would understand why I can connect with them.

Every year, at least some of these boys ask me about the flag, usually in an effort to roast me, as middle schoolers do. The ensuing conversation is highly revealing: after asking me what the flag means and why I have it (“it’s for pride, and I want kids to feel comfortable being who they are”), they almost always disclose to me, in genuine frustration, that they don’t get why people choose to be gay. 

I ask them if they think people choose to be gay — or straight or any other preference or identity — or if we’re all just born being the way we are. Given the reality of how often LGBTQ+ people are bullied and harassed, it would be strange to choose to be that way when choosing to be heterosexual would certainly save them a lot of hardship. The answer becomes obvious that it’s not a choice.

It’s important to expose them to the idea that people simply are the way they are. And if they want to continue the discussion, I ask questions about whether or not it’s OK to make fun of people for simply being themselves, or if all straight people are the same.

Honolulu Hale lit in rainbow colors in support of the victims of the mass casualty shooting inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. (Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2016)

The hope is to get them to think about how their words and behaviors affect people, and how our intentions are not always what’s received by others, and that how we identify and who we are attracted to is not a totalizing characteristic of who we are. It’s what I wish someone would’ve done for me.

As for the inevitable claims that test scores are falling because teachers spend too much time on the pride flag — or whatever else the grievance du jour is — and not enough time teaching reading and math, it’s a dumb political talking point that does not hold up under scrutiny. If anything, being curious about things that are different and unknown is a positive sign for academic achievement. 

The only connection between academic performance and treating LGBTQ+ kids with basic human decency is that the kids who lack that decency are usually not getting much help or guidance at home to succeed academically either. 

LGBTQ+ people exist, which means that LGBTQ+ kids exist, and in most schools they are an oft-targeted minority. I have a pride flag in my classroom because I regret the years I acted as a bully and a coward, because kindness and curiosity are every bit as important as any math lesson, and because whatever differences there are between us, they are dwarfed by the dignity we all share.

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Latest Comments (0)

Kids should be learning about these things from their parents! However, not every kid is able to talk to their parents about this or any subject. By hanging the flag and welcoming a dialogue about it, Mr Stinton is helping to turn the teens of today into future parents who will be more willing and able to have these types of open discussions with their kids.

hapa_boy · 3 months ago

Mahalo nui loa, Eric! Keep up da great work you're doing!

SgtRainbow · 3 months ago

I'm so impressed with this teacher, and this one simple act. Hanging this flag in his classroom does not say he's promoting this; but it does say that this is a safe place for all students, not just the LGBTQ+ kids. It also opens the door for others to ask questions. And I do not think for one moment that this will become the lesson for the day. But a student stopping by after class or after school knows that it is a safe zone to ask questions.I raised four children. When people asked me about my kids, my answer was that one was step, one was left-handed, one was gay, one was foster. None of them chose this; all of them were loved. Family & friends who knew my children knew who was who, and they were either okay with it, or they were no longer in our circle. Now they're grown with children of their own, and their tolerance and acceptance levels for others are traits I'm very proud of.Eric Stinton - mahalo nui for being an open book for life lessons outside of your subject matter. I hope your students know what a blessing your attitude is.

opae · 3 months ago

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