Students filed in and out of Denver’s Lake Middle School on Friday, each taking turns with their contributions to a new mural across a wall on the campus. Buckets of paint and countless brushes were used to fill in pre-sketched sections of gray and blue.
The mural was an addition and repair by the school’s Gender and Sexualities Alliance of a previously painted area that was defaced in March. The original mural, which stated “Trans Lives Matter,” was painted in February and March before being covered in graffiti saying “KEEP THIS CRAP OUT OF SCHOOL WTF” just before spring break.
The GSA had planned out the mural, which included supportive messages of Black, Chicano and other students, and was disappointed to see trans students targeted by the vandalism.
“I had one kid that said, ‘People either hate us or they don’t care about us,’ and this is evident of it,” said Liv Owens, a member of AmeriCorps who helps run the GSA and teach eighth grade.
School officials asked reporters not to interview students during Friday’s painting event to protect their privacy.
Mark Trujillo, a teacher and co-leader of the GSA at Lake Middle School, said the club of students quickly banded together after spring break to repair the mural, with the school adding another section to expand the project.
Students took the initiative to plan how they wanted to repair the mural and eventually the project became a schoolwide day of painting and celebration. Owens said that the whole day was filled with music and laughter as students were able to paint and celebrate their identities.
“I think it does say a lot that we’re able to bounce right back in a positive way,” Trujillo said.
The organizers also are planning to put a protective anti-graffiti coat over the painting, alleviating worries about possible vandalism. Also, the teachers saw neighbors and even the mailman coming out during the day to express support for the mural.
Owens and Trujillo said that the mural is a small but vital step toward making sure LGBTQ+ students are safe and included in Denver Public Schools. While the vandalism was a setback, the repainting of the mural has been a chance for the GSA to show that all are still welcome at the school.
“Lake Middle School knows that trans lives matter and that is why we are here,” Owens said.
Owens also hopes the mural serves as a conversation starter within Denver Public Schools, saying the district needs to go further in making safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students, staff and teachers.
“I hope this does inspire a lot of conversations within DPS because DPS does have a long way to go,” Owens said.
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