Outpouring of support after students’ LGBTQ+ Christmas tree is vandalized

A Christmas tree in Southold that had been decorated by Southold Junior Senior High School’s Gay Straight Alliance was vandalized on Thursday evening — just hours after it had been decorated — according to the club’s advisor, John Myers.

“My own reaction at first was clearly disappointment, and more for the students than for anyone else,” Mr. Myers said Friday afternoon. “I was the first one to discover what had happened and I shared the news with the club members soon after.”

The tree, located outside of Polywoda Beverage along Main Road, had been decorated with a garland of rainbow pride flags and others which represent members of the club and the LGBTQ+ community.

The tree had also been decorated with tinsel and white Christmas tree ornaments. Hours later, as he drove through town on his way home from work, Mr. Myers saw that someone had removed the garland of pride flags, leaving the tree with just the tinsel and white ornaments.

Apart from running SAFER, the Student Alliance for Equality and Respect, Mr. Myers, an English as a New Language teacher at the school, also heads the school’s International Club which had joined in decorating a different tree in another part of town with a garland of flags from many different nationalities. That tree, he said, has not been vandalized.

Rainbow pride flags were removed from the Christmas tree outside of Polywoda Beverage. (Credit: Melissa Azofeifa)

Contacted by a reporter Thursday afternoon, Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said that the incident has not been reported to police to date.

Angelica Klavas, a cashier at Polywoda Beverage, said the store’s security cameras did not catch footage of the person or people who vandalized the tree.

“I talked to the principal, actually, this morning.” Ms. Klavas said. “I [told him] I tried to look to see if we saw anything and [told him] nothing was on camera. We would love it if kids came back just to decorate the tree again and then hopefully no one will take it down.”

High School principal Terence Rusch shared in an email that the SAFER club is also receiving support from other local businesses to redecorate the tree.

“North Fork Oyster Company also reached out to offer not only new decorations, but also volunteers to assist,” he said. “The unwavering support from our Southold community is always inspiring.”

Sonia Spar, chair of the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, has called on community members to let these students and club members know that they are safe.

“I think that we need to be the light of these students,” she said. “So we need to come and help redecorate this tree and tell them your place is here and we make sure that you’re safe, that we are here supporting you.”

Mr. Myers confirmed that the SAFER club has decided to go back and redecorate the tree and he is hoping to do so by early next week.

Although the event was very disheartening for Mr. Myers and SAFER club members, he said the experience has turned into a “blessing.”

“The group came together this afternoon to discuss the wide variety of emotions we’ve all been experiencing the past day and decided as a whole that we were going to focus on the positives to come out of this and not the negative,” he said. “Feedback from the community has been incredibly supportive and it leaves the students with a strong sense that the people in their hometown wholeheartedly support them for who they are and that is as valuable a lesson as any I could have taught them.  We expressed not anger but regret and pity towards whoever committed this act, for now they know that theirs is a small mind unto itself and that they are the ones at odds with the sentiments of their own community and not us.”