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UPDATE: Principal Assaults Pro-Gay Student, School District Lies to Protect Him

5 Oct

Sequoya HS Senior Chris Sigler

Yesterday, we shared the story of Sequoya High School senior Chris Sigler who wore a T-shirt with the words “GSA: I’ve got your back” to school and was assaulted by his principal for it. The Tennessee high school was in the news recently when that same principal threatened to suspend students for even discussing the proposed gay-straight alliance.

After my conversation with Principal Maurice Moser, Chris’ story was no surprise to me. Moser came across combative and angry when discussing his own discriminatory actions towards the GSA.

Last night, we were able to speak with a lawyer from the ACLU, who yesterday sent out a press release regarding the assault on Chris Sigler.  The ACLU is demanding that the school administration not only confirm that students’ first amendment rights are being protected, but that students also be allowed to form the GSA. Principal Moser had said to me in our conversation that the only reason the GSA is unable to form is because they cannot find a faculty sponsor. Moser has helped other clubs find sponsors in the past, but is unwilling to help the GSA.

We were told by the ACLU that there is a “disturbing trend” in this high school where several members of the faculty have expressed great interest in becoming the sponsor for the GSA. Then they have a meeting with Principal Moser to discuss and return from that meeting “suddenly uninterested.” We have reached out to some of these teachers for comment and to find out what happened in their meetings and will update you should they respond.

We were also able to speak to Chris Sigler’s mother, Linda last night who told us her version of what happened, which obviously agrees with the ACLU’s press release. She also wanted to reiterate the need for the GSA at this high school. She told me “there are at least 30 students who would like to be part of the club and in a small town, that’s a lot.”

While her son is straight, he has a sister Jessica who identifies as bisexual. “Chris saw how these kids were being treated and knew he had to stand up for them. That’s just the kind of kid he is.” Jessica was the only other person in the room when Moser attacked Chris. To date, the Sheriff has not interviewed Jessica. Yesterday, the Tennessee Equality Project started a petition for a fair investigation. That petition has since closed as Linda Sigler will be speaking with the sheriff today to find out why he hasn’t interviewed Jessica. In the meantime, they have created another petition calling for an investigation into the ongoing harassment of LGBT teens at Sequoya High School.

She went on to mention that the school currently houses at least two Christian student groups – the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and “Prayer Around the Flagpole,” where once a week, a pastor comes on to the school grounds and students are asked to go pray around the flagpole. Until very recently, there was also a prayer said before every football game.

While Christian student organizations may not initially be seen as something to compare the plight of the GSA to, according to a poster on the GSA’s facebook page, there are area Christian churches which are getting involved in the fight to stop them:

“Heard this from a friend in Madisonville: At Howard Chapel Church in Vonore, the pastor preached on QUEERS and said the ACLU may be getting involved with the GSA at Sequoyah and for no church members to sign on or be involved, etc.”

The Howard Chapel Church is less than a mile from the home of a lesbian couple that was burned to the ground allegedly by their neighbor. The word “QUEER” was spray painted in large black letters on their adjoining garage. To add insult to injury, the couple’s insurance company is refusing to pay them on their claim. GetEQUAL has started a petition to the insurance company here and to date, more than 50,000 have signed.

Local NBC affiliate, WBIR has more on the alleged assault including a statement from Tim Blankenship, Ass’t Director of Schools for Monroe County:

“The Monroe County School System is aware of the alleged accusations. We have received written statements from all eyewitnesses. Our documentation clearly indicates that there are always two sides to every story. We’ll gladly provide more information when it becomes available.”

The problem with this claim is that according to Linda Sigler, no statement was taken by the school from her daughter Jessica – the only eyewitness to the assault. I called Tim Blankenship directly and when I attempted to ask him about the discrepancy in his statement and the truth, he hung up on me.

It’s become very clear that the school district is trying to protect Principal Moser to the point that they are silencing students and reporting untruths to the media about what is actually happening in Sequoya High School’s halls. When the bullying of LGBT students is literally coming from the top-down, something needs to change.

We’ll have more on this as it comes in.

TN Principal Assaults Student for Wearing Pro-Gay T-Shirt

4 Oct

Sequoyah HS principal Maurice Moser assaulted student for wearing pro-gay t-shirt

A few weeks ago, we brought you the story of Sequoya High School in Tennessee, where senior Nathan Carroll was attempting to start a Gay Straight Alliance.

After starting a petition in the school for the GSA, Nathan was threatened with suspension should he continue to pursue that course of action. I followed up by speaking with Principal Maurice Moser, who informed me that the only reason the GSA was not possible was due to the fact they couldn’t find a faculty sponsor. Moser went on to accidentally inform me that he’d assisted other clubs with finding one, and when I pressed him to find out why he wasn’t helping these students, he became very flustered and combative.

Today, the ACLU is reporting that Principal Moser has assaulted one of his students for wearing a t-shirt promoting the Gay Straight Alliance. 17-year old senior Chris Sigler was reportedly shoved, bumped in the chest and verbally harassed by Moser for wearing the t-shirt that said “GSA: We’ve got your back.”

“It is totally unacceptable that a young man who was peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights would have his speech shut down by the public school principal,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “Last week’s incident clearly illustrates the hostile environment LGBT students face at Sequoyah High School. Given this context, it’s especially important that supportive voices like Sigler’s can be heard in order to overcome the school’s resistance to a GSA.”

According to the ACLU press release, a teacher ordered Sigler to cover up the shirt in the future after he wore it Tuesday. Sigler, knowing he had a right to wear the shirt, wore it again Friday, and resisted an order to remove the shirt. Sigler says that Moser then ordered all students out of the classroom, except for Sigler’s sister Jessica, who refused to leave. According to both students, Moser then grabbed Sigler’s arm, shoved him, and chest-bumped him repeatedly while asking “Who’s the big man now?” Sigler’s mother reported that when she arrived at the school, she saw her son seated in a desk with Moser leaning over him and shouting in Sigler’s face. The Siglers filed a report about the incident that afternoon with the Madisonville Police Department.

“All I want is to have a GSA at my school to help stop the bullying against gays and lesbians and their friends who support them,” Sigler said. “The shirt was a way to use my voice and show my support for the club. The way I was treated shows even more why we need a GSA here.”

“All students deserve a safe and respectful learning environment. Harassment, abuse or censorship of any student – regardless of sexual orientation – is absolutely reprehensible as well as illegal,” said Amanda Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “We expect the police to investigate this quickly and fairly, and take statements from all witnesses who were present.”

The ACLU has sent a demand letter to the school district can be viewed here.

Though the ACLU can only really protect these students’ constitutional rights, this physical and verbal intimidation from the principal of the school must be met with stronger action and a call for the principal’s resignation. If the story is true, Moser should be arrested and charged with assault as a hate crime. If this is the example being set for students in a time when bullying has become fatal, this is a man who should not be in charge of a school.

Sources say that the anti-gay hatred in Monroe County runs deep. One source claimed that churches in the area were telling parishioners to fight the GSA as hard as they can. Another source indicated that religious corruption has dictated governmental affairs there for a long time.

The Tennessee Equality Project has created a Change.org petition demanding a full and fair investigation into the assault. It seems when the Monroe County Sheriff questioned individuals involved in the incident, he left out the only non-participatory witness, Chris’ sister. The petition states:

“The Sigler family filed report about the assault which is being investigated by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. Deputies interviewed Chris Sigler, his teacher and Principal Mosby, but did not question Jessica Sigler who witnessed the entire incident. Given the level of intimidation and hostility that GSA-supportive students have experienced in recent weeks, TEP believes that the Sheriff is not fully and fairly investigating the assault of Chris Sigler by his Principal by leaving a key witness out of the investigation.”

Please sign the petition to demand a fair investigation into Chris’ assault.

Please check out our investigation and update to this story here.

Bigoted Teacher Returns to Classroom, Would You Want Him Teaching Your Kids?

25 Aug

Bigoted Teacher Jerry Buell

There’s been a lot of discussion about a Florida teacher who took to his Facebook page to say that he “almost threw up” upon seeing a news story about marriage equality coming to New York.

He was initially suspended for the comment, but Superintendent Susan Moxley reinstated him today.

In school districts across the country, teachers are not permitted to use social media inappropriately, as anything that might be said will undoubtedly reflect upon the school district. In fact, there are stories all over about teachers losing their jobs over Facebook and Twitter comments they’ve made. What’s different about Buell’s story however, is there is a small army of very vocal, very homophobic people who are jumping to his defense claiming the school infringed upon Buell’s “First Amendment rights.”

Strangely enough, these defenders of free speech were not there to stand up for Massachusetts teacher, Dr. June Talvitie-Siple when she took to her Facebook page to say that the residents of the town she taught in were “arrogant and snobby.” She lost her job.

Or another Massachusetts teacher, Jon O’Keefe – who was fired for simply accepting students as “friends” on Facebook.

Or Iowa Catholic school teacher, Abby Nurre who lost her job over saying she didn’t believe in God on Facebook.

Ashley Payne was fired for having this photo on her Facebook page

And then there was the Georgia Public School teacher, Ashley Payne who, after a European vacation including some drinking, was fired for having a picture of herself on Facebook holding a glass of wine.

It’s really troublesome to fight for free speech for some and not all.

Queerty happened to archive a website they found regarding the experience of a gay student in Jerry Buell’s classroom. Unfortunately, the blogger has pulled the post from his site, but this account of a gay student’s experience in his classroom is certainly jarring. The original post appeared on AntiGayBigotryScaresMe.blogspot.com

The clearest and most specific example I can provide of Jerry Buell’s anti-gay remarks in the classroom happened my 11th grade year (2001-2002) during his American History course. Before explaining this occurrence, I would like to first comment on Mr. Buell’s classroom. Among several things hung around the room, Bible verses were spread across the walls, accented by a picture of Jesus Christ above the clock. While there may have been some additional quotes from other scholars and philosophers, the signs were predominantly Christian. And while, yes, Buell’s number one rule was/is Respect, I personally fail to find how those signs are equally respectful to other religions in a public school classroom or how his statement respects human life.

… a student provocatively asked Mr. Buell what he thoughts about gays in the military. I tensed, knowing full well the point of view to follow in Mr. Buell’s response.

I looked up when he said he supported gays in the military, stunned by the answer. He immediately followed that comment with the statement that we should then put them on the front lines, and pull back. Disgusted at the thought of violence and murder of humans being vocally supported, I shut my book and walked out of class, the only time I would ever do this during my educational career.

I returned at the closing bell to raise the issue with Mr. Buell. He noted my actions could be grounds for discipline, to which I countered by noting that his comments, if reported, would be the same. I also pointed out that the man in the picture hanging above the clock never advocated murdering another human being.

I didn’t report him then, and am sharing this story now to simply provide an example of Buell’s personal opinions infiltrating his classroom and teaching. His statements in recent media stories that he values students equally and loves his gay students I personally believe are inaccurate given my experiences as a student and alumni of his classrooms.

It should also be noted that Buell’s classroom syllabus states:

 “I teach God’s truth, I make very few compromises. If you believe you may have a problem with that, get your schedule changed, ’cause I ain’t changing!”

If teachers can get fired for holding a glass of wine in a Facbook picture, calling the parents of their students “snobby,” saying they don’t believe in God or even adding students as “friends,” then how is a man who refuses to separate church and state and wish death upon his LGBT students – still teaching.

Wouldn’t it be great if GLSEN, The Trevor Project, HRC and the It Gets Better Project and all the other organizations fighting for our rights made a specific campaign to educate and empower the parents and students of this school?

I believe in the freedom of speech for all, however I also believe that those who use it to hate and oppress others should be held responsible for the things they say. And if the things they say are harmful to the people they are charged with educating in a public school, they should not be entitled to that job.

School Principal Bans “Bohemian Rhapsody” Because a Gay Man Wrote It

13 May

My senior year at Marshfield High School was getting rolling and auditions for our drama club’s production of Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” were scheduled for the afternoon. We’d had a reading of the script and everyone was excited about it. It was about a private girls’ school where this nasty little girl decides to spread a rumor that two of her teachers are lesbians. Turns out one is and is actually in love with the one that isn’t. *Spoiler Alert* Drama ensues, lesbian teacher kills herself over the rumors and unrequited love in the end. That morning, the principal got on the loudspeaker and announced that the auditions were cancelled and that the drama club would be selecting a new play. We were all confused and some of us marched down to the his office to find out what was up.

It seems the principal had heard from a few freshman parents that the play was all about lesbians and he decided it wasn’t appropriate. We hemmed and hawed and the principal told us his decision was “final.” So I marched over to the library (the librarian loved me and let me hang out in her office and use the phone if I wanted), and I called the ACLU. The next morning, the officers of the drama club were called down to his office – “I rented the movie last night and my real problem is that there’s a suicide, so just make sure that happens offstage and you can do the play.” Cuz ya know, we were thinking it might be fun to have someone shoot themselves center stage. Anyway…I was reminded of this story when I read this little morsel of bigotry straight out of Sarah Palin’s hometown.

Wasilla High School’s Symphonic Jazz Choir had been working on Freddie Mercury’s hit anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” all year in preparation for a performance at the school’s graduation next month. The song had been played at several school events including the prom and (as is the case for several decades now), no one seemed to have a problem with it. Until now.

Wasilla High School Principal Dwight Probasco

It seems Principal Dwight Probasco received some phone calls from some angry parents who deemed the song “inappropriate” because it was written by a gay man. So, instead of realizing he was the principal of a high school which more than likely taught about Michelangelo, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Proust, Stein, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, Andy Warhol, Leonardo Da Vinci, Melville, Tchaikovsky, Eleanor Roosevelt, Julius Caesar, Hans Christian Anderson, Aristotle, Noel Coward and Cole Porter, he decided to ban the song.

The students were naturally up in arms about this, having been practicing for some time. Choir member Casey Hight went so far as to contact a gay and lesbian organization in Anchorage for some help. Monday, reportedly due to fear of the ACLU, Probasco lifted the ban and is allowing an edited version of the song to be performed (to leave out the parts about killing). The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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