A lot of time has been spent over the last week talking about my hat and why I wear it. I want to tell you my side of the story.

I am a sophomore at South Portland High School. Last month I started wearing a red baseball cap with the slogan “Make America Great Again” to school, showing my support for the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.

Why? Because I like the slogan, I like Donald Trump and I like hats.

I never expected to have to defend my civil rights.

When I first wore the hat to school I was prepared for people to express their opinions on Mr. Trump and the other candidates for president. What I was not expecting was that other students would try to intimidate me or physically remove the hat from me as a way to express disagreement with my candidate.

Then it got worse. I was put in an uncomfortable position when staff at the school made comments about me, based upon my support of Mr. Trump. One teacher looked at me and said, “Thank God you can’t vote.” In a class discussion about uninformed voters, an educational technician took the hat off my head and pointed to it, drawing laughs from the rest of the class.

There is not an equal footing that I can stand on with these adults to have a conversation at school. Having just gone through Equality Week, it just didn’t seem right. I talked about it with my parents and with friends and came to the conclusion I should report it. But even that didn’t settle it.

When I told the school administration about what was going on, I was advised to leave my hat at home since it was the source of the conflict. They acted as if the hat were the problem. I felt the opposite was true, that the problem was the intolerance of others.

To me this goes much beyond the message on my hat and more about my right to express my beliefs no matter what they are.

I had not been asking for special treatment or rights and protections. I simply do not want anyone to infringe on my right to support a candidate or cause. I think that everyone in America should take an interest in politics and elections, because as informed citizens we can better make decisions that will affect our future. When we have open and respectful discussion of issues and get to know why someone might support a candidate, we can learn. It is when people judge you as a person based upon your support for a candidate that a chance for discussion is lost.

I’ve since had good conversations with the staff members about this issue, and in no way do I think that they are bad people. I like and respect them, just as I like my school. I think we all are going to be able to move forward in a positive way.

I support Donald Trump with just as much passion and conviction that I hope people supporting other candidates would have. The thing that has surprised and concerned me in this process is that no one has bothered to even ask me why I support him.

The reasons might surprise you.

People have labeled me a racist and a bigot. I am neither. I’m a 16-year-old boy who went to a rally in Portland, where I heard Mr. Trump talking in a way that was much different from the way that I had heard him represented in the media.

Did I like a lot of what Mr. Trump said? Absolutely.

Does that mean I will agree with him, or any adult, on every issue? Certainly not.

Since this has become a public issue there have been a few other students wearing clothing with similar messages. If my actions gave them the confidence to wear the clothes, I’m happy to have played a part.

If my hat makes someone want to wear a Bernie Sanders pin, I’m happy for him or her, too. As I learned in Equality Week, our school is supposed to be a place where many different ideas can come together with respect and great outcomes.

Hopefully we can all make South Portland High School and America great — again!

Connor Mullen is a sophomore at South Portland High School.

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