Twelve-year-old Leo Hoffman, who identifies as nonbinary, was “drug to the ground, stomped on, and covered in water” as at least a half-dozen children wrestled over the rainbow-colored flag, said a relative who posted a video of the incident on Twitter on Wednesday.
“Leo was frightened,” Leo’s father, Benjamin Hoffman, told Bay News 9 this week. “Not so much for themselves but for their friends. Leo is very strong and would do anything to protect their friends.”
Officials at Seminole Middle School in Largo, Fla., said that the students who stole the flag have been suspended, and that some would be reassigned to other schools. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office told The Washington Post that it has opened an investigation into the incident, but could not provide additional details while the case is open.
“The students’ behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable, and they were disciplined for it,” school district spokeswoman Isabel Mascareñas told the Tampa Bay Times. “Pinellas County schools does not tolerate this behavior.”
The fight, which occurred just before LGBTQ Pride Month began, is one of several incidents in which gay, transgender and nonbinary people have been harassed or attacked in recent weeks.
In mid-May, college students at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., watched terrified from inside their on-campus house as former members of a now-banned fraternity shouted at them, urinated on the porch and swung a metal bar at the home’s pride flag. Two weeks ago, a 13-year-old student was slammed to the ground at a South Florida middle school as other students shouted homophobic slurs. And over Memorial Day weekend, boaters in Washington state allegedly circled and jeered at another boat that was adorned with pride flags, creating a dangerous wake.
Leo’s father told Bay News 9 that the conflict began when a student snatched the pride flag and threw it in a trash can. Leo fished the banner out of the bin, but other students soon tried to take it away again.
Hoffman said he was shocked after watching the video of the attack. The clip showed several children tugging on the flag at either end, shouting at one another and shoving other students to the ground.
“It blew my mind,” he told Bay 9 News. “You can’t put your hands on someone else. Violence is just inexcusable.”
Seminole Middle School’s principal, Michael Moss, said that after the incident, he told teachers to review policies against discrimination and announced that he would implement a new bullying prevention program in the next school year, the Times reported.
By early Friday, video of the clash had gained nearly 160,000 views on Twitter and sparked responses from LGBTQ advocates and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), whose office contacted the school district about the incident.
“I hope the students in question will be able to learn from this and do better in [the] future,” Crist told the Times.