Ellensburg High School takes precaution against threats towards LGBTQ+ students

Evan Couch, News Editor

As Ellensburg High School (EHS) wrapped up its annual Associated Student Body (ASB) elections, threats towards two student candidates prompted the district to move candidate speeches to a virtual setting on April 18 as a safety precaution.

The two students identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and told The Observer their campaign posters were vandalized and they received negative comments online. One of the students said he heard rumors that someone wanted to “shoot” him, potentially at the planned assembly.

EHS Principal Beau Snow said rumors of threats were reported to him and the same threats were received in an anonymous tip on the school’s STOPit app, a reporting app available to both students and parents. 

The severity of the reported threats motivated the school to move the speeches online and contact the Ellensburg Police Department (EPD). 

The school is currently working with EPD on active investigations regarding the threats reported on the app, according to Snow.

The Observer reached out to EPD Captain Dan Hansberry, who said he cannot comment on the incident at this time due to the premature nature of the investigation.

When the elections began on April 11, campaign posters of candidates who are part of the LGBTQ+ community were reported vandalized. According to Snow, administration reviewed school camera footage to find the students responsible for the damages. Those students were assigned “school consequences,” Snow said.

In a letter Snow sent to students and families on April 15 regarding the situation, he explained that negative comments towards candidates of the LGBTQ+ community were being made primarily on Instagram and Snapchat, after school hours. Snow told The Observer that parents of the responsible students were informed of the issue and the postings stopped.

According to EHS student Grady Fortier, who ran for executive board president, the harassment that went on during the elections was nothing new to him.

“I’ve experienced quite a bit of hate and dscrimination at the school as an openly gay man for a few years now,” Fortier said. “The things happening during this time weren’t much different.” 

Fortier said he believes that his openness about his sexuality made him a target during the election. He said he believed there was a “theme” for those who were being harassed during the elections.

“There were specific people with specific beliefs, specific sexual orientation a specific look who were being attacked during this time,” Fortier said.

“I’ve always been pretty good at ignoring it,” Fortier said. “I have an incredible support system and I’ve always been a very confident person.”

Another student that faced the issues was Ashley Callan, who was running for re-election for Public Relations. Callan said she also felt targeted during the elections due to being openly bisexual. Callan said she gets told that she is a “stereotype of a lesbian” and she said she believes this had an influence on how she was being treated. 

“I feel like it was very easy to target because a lot of people already have these opinions of me,”  Callan said. 

Callan explained that she had been a part of ASB for four years now and had never experienced anything like this prior.

“I didn’t really think that anything was going to happen,” Callan said. “I didn’t put up all of my posters and was like ‘well I should worry about people ripping my stuff down,’ that wasn’t even a thought that came to mind until it did happen.” 

Fortier explained that his posters were also among those vandalized at the school. According to Fortier, his posters were being ripped down starting the first day of campaigning, April 11, and some went as far as crossing letters off of his first name to spell “Gay” Fortier.

Fortier added that many of the anonymous posts online were referring to him with slurs and other rude comments. 

Principal Snow told The Observer: “The behavior and actions that students were taking were unacceptable … We actively are working with our SAGA (Straight and Gay Alliance) advisor Cathie Day on how we can improve the acceptance and tolerance of all students at EHS.”

Snow also added that they reached out to Kittitas County’s Prosecutor’s office to arrange for a speaker to talk about the consequences of inappropriate online behavior. According to Snow, they are working on specific efforts to be put in place in the fall. 

In Snow’s letter to students and families, he stated: “Tolerance and acceptance of everyone should be a goal for our school and community.  We are working every day to try and help students feel safe and accepted for who they are.”