Tania Lyon holds a unity sign as Mt. Lebanon community members gather to praise inclusion.
Debra Smit of Mt. Lebanon, second from left, stands with the crowd Sunday on the plaza of the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center and listens to the singing of the National Anthem.
A couple hundred people joined together to tout the community’s message that all people are welcome, but hate and intolerance are not in Mt. Lebanon.
Performers from the Nandanik Dance Troupe perform classical Indian dance on the plaza at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center.
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
They sang “This Land Is Your Land.”
They heard the words of Maya Angelou.
They stood in below-freezing temperature in the plaza of the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center holding signs that said “Welcome” and “Love Conquers Hate” as the crowd of a couple hundred people joined together to tout the community’s message that all people are welcome, but hate and intolerance are not.
State Rep. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon, organized the rally in part to quickly address incidents that had occurred recently within the Mt. Lebanon School District and on the local football field.
Four small swastikas were drawn into a windowsill of a girls’ bathroom at Jefferson Middle School, and a racial slur had been painted on a tackling dummy on the field.
In October, a swastika was drawn with mulch near the Washington Elementary playground.
“They are not reflective of the character of our community,” Mr. Miller said. “We thought it was important to do it now and send a message now.”
School superintendent Timothy Steinhauer said the district used the recent incidents as “teachable moments” to make sure the students understand what is acceptable behavior and to know that anything else will incur “disciplinary consequences.”
“The kids have been very receptive — understanding the words we use and how important they are,” he said. “We will not be defined by a couple of 11-year-olds.”
There were several speakers at the rally — representing various faiths, races and genders, as well as people with disabilities.
Emmie D’Amico, the president of the high school’s Gay Straight Alliance, praised the turnout because, she said, it shows that the community takes inclusion seriously.
She told those gathered that transgender students are more likely to attempt suicide than other teens.
“Lives are at stake, and showing a little bit of love and kindness can go a long way,” she said.
Varsha Venugopal, a senior at Mt. Lebanon High School and the junior commissioner, said she believes the recent presidential elections have driven those in her school to be more inclusive.
“All of this negative rhetoric is not accepted by the students,” she said.
Jennifer McDowell, who also attended the rally, is driving to Harrisburg today for the Pennsylvania Electoral College vote, and to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 21 for the Women’s March on Washington.
She believes the presidential election has allowed disenfranchisement to become normalized.
“I believe we have serious divisions, and they are just going to be worsened by the incoming administration,” she said. “Women have an important role to play.”
Ms. McDowell had wondered if she should attend Sunday’s rally in Mt. Lebanon.
“ ‘Do we need one more slightly-past-middle-aged white woman to show up for this?’ ” she asked herself. “Yes, we do.”
Mr. Miller urged those gathered to continue the conversation.
“Every time there is an act of hatred, an act of ignorance, or an act of stupidity, that action will be met tenfold by a message of love, appreciation and inclusion,” he said.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620.
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