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School Board Bans Book for Mentioning Gay Families Exist

4 Jun

Me, circa 1982.

I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and I knew from a very young age that I was different from the other kids. My story starts off like many of yours. I read all the storybooks you read, saw all the Disney Princess movies you saw and I knew there was a reason I liked Bo & Luke so much more than Daisy.

When I was 10, I started performing in musicals and at 11, I was in a Longwood Opera production of Gianni Schicchi. At the cast party, a very tall slender African American man was talking to my mother. Another man came up next to him and was introduced as his “lover.” Of course I knew what they meant, but I’d never seen someone who was gay. Not in any book, or Disney movie or TV show. This was a first for me. It was the first time in my childhood I didn’t think there was something wrong with me.

In Erie, IL yesterday, the Erie School Board voted to ban Todd Parr’s “The Family Book” from it’s elementary school. The book tells young children that families are different. It speaks of large and small families, families with of different ethnicities, single-parent families, families with adopted children and then of course…the most terrifying of all “Some families have two moms or two dads.” It’s this single line which caused such a stir in Erie, Illinois, that the school board has taken the book off the shelves. Parents called and complained that children that young should not be taught this kind of material. It’s okay if it’s taught to older children, but not younger kids who are potentially picking on other kids because they have two moms or two dads.

It seems that due to the complaints of just 4 parents, the Erie School Board, led by School Board President Charlie Brown decided to ban the book.

Brown additionally took to Facebook to endorse putting “the Bible back in schools,” as seen here in the screenshot:


I spoke with Zach Wahls, the young man from Iowa who courageously defended his own lesbian parents and their family about this story and he responded:

“As the grown son of a lesbian couple who attended public K-12, this is both frustrating and frightening. For the board of a school district to say that my family structure is an ‘issue’ that shouldn’t be included ‘at the elementary school level’ not only fails to explain why that’s the case but also alienates the students in that district who do have two moms or dads. This is another startling reminder of the fact that not all bullies are just adolescent kids: some of them grow up to be school board presidents”

Erie School Board President Charles Brown

Additionally some educators from the elementary school where the book was banned made statements. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they feared they couldn’t do so publicly without risking their jobs.

“As an educator at the elementary, I am very disappointed that the GLSEN materials and Todd Parr books won’t be used again. They were excellent resources for the diversity unit and completely age appropriate. At no time was there anything mentioned that was inappropriate. The elementary level is the perfect time to teach acceptance and respect for everyone and all types of families. I am also very disappointed that these materials were taken away from everyone due to a small group of parents that opposed it. The best option would have been to leave the materials in place and those that wanted their children to opt out do so. By banning materials and books, we are not moving in the right direction. I am very saddened by the whole situation!”

Sean Leeds, a former student in the district, has started a petition at Change.org. In it, he requests that the school board reconsider their actions. Please tell School Board President Charles Brown that all families matter. As of now, more than 100 Erie parents have signed another petition asking for the reinstatement of both the book and other anti-bullying educational materials.

Alabama Teen Censored for Supporting Gays

31 Aug

More bravery from a teenager standing up for equality! 15-year old Sara Couvillon, a student at Hoover High School in Alabama, has been told she can’t wear a t-shirt she happens to like.

The t-shirt, which states in big letters – “gay? fine by me” – is a shirt that Sara wore to school last year without any issue. This year however, her school administrators told her that the shirt causes them “concern for her safety” according to the Birmingham News.

The civil rights group, The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has sent a letter to the school demanding that they stop censoring students by September 12th or a suit will be filed against them.

Well done, Sara and thank you to SPLC for supporting a child who knows better than the adults surrounding her.

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.

Christian College Freshman Harassed By Students and Professors

9 May

Isaia Thomas (photo by John C. Whitehead for The Patriot News)

Openly gay freshman Isaiah Thomas has discovered Messiah College in Grantham, PA is not quite a good fit. According to PennLive, The student has been through hell at the Christian College – from having his wallet, room key and student ID stolen just a month after school started to having a professor call him “an abomination” in class to receiving a death threat on his facebook page. Isaiah has decided to transfer at the end of the semester.

The Christian College requires all students to sign a “Community Covenant” which forbids homosexual behavior, according to school provost Randy Bassinger. he also claimed the school had a very strict harassment policy and has investigated the claims from Isaiah, but they refuse to release the results of any of those findings.

What we find most interesting about Isaiah though is not that he was harassed and is leaving, but he actively worked to change the school’s policies. He is the secretary of the multicultural council, a member of the black student union and by invitation, vice president of the Middle Eastern Student Association. And when Isaiah learned about the Covenant, he actively worked for more inclusion, but each teacher he spoke to defended the covenant.

Back in March, we reported that another Christian school, Harding University was under fire from LGBT bloggers and press after they blocked an HU gay student website from being accessed from on-campus. The University defended it’s bigotry and it’s censorship of several students continues.

Stonewall, LA Principal Punishes 8th Grader Wearing Gay Positive T-Shirt

21 Mar

In the ironically-named Stonewall, Louisiana, it seems the principal of DeSoto Middle School is the one who needs some schooling.

Though students are usually required to wear a uniform, eighth grader Dawn Henderson had earned the right to dress casually to school. So she sported a t-shirt that read “Some kids are gay and that’s o.k.”

Dawn had the shirt covered by a zip-up, but word still spread around until she was told by the principal that she needed to change the shirt immediately. According to Dawn, “He basically told me he thought it was a distraction…My opinion is any shirt can be distracting.”

Principal Keith Simmons couldn’t be reached for a comment as of this afternoon, but we hope to be speaking with him soon.

Meanwhile, the t-shirt is available at FCKH8.com.

The State Of The Gay UPDATED: H.U. Responds

2 Mar

Students at Harding University, an evangelical university in Arkansas affiliated with Churches of Christ, have banded together to start an ambitious and courageous LGBT student publication.

The H.U. Queer Press, as it is called, has issued a “State of the Gay” zine. In their own words:

We are here to share with you our struggle. We are here to be a voice for the voiceless who are quietly dying inside the walls of our campus. We want you to know us. We are your friends, co-workers, students, family members, fellow worshipers, professors, athletes, and scholars.[...] We are queer. We are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. While the rest of you fall in love with the opposite sex, we share our lives and beds with those of our own gender.

All is not well for us at Harding. Our voices are muted, our stories go unheard, and we are forced into hiding. We are threatened with re-orientation therapy, social isolation, and expulsion. We are told stories and lies that we are disgusting sinners who are damned to hell, that we are broken individuals and child abusers….We have felt the pain of the deep, dark closet, and we are here to announce that we will not stand for it any longer.

You see, at Harding University you can be suspended or kicked out for drinking, being gay, looking at porn, staying with a member of the opposite sex in a hotel, even if nobody actually observes you having sex, and for many other violations. Take a look at their student handbook and you will get a good idea of the climate in which these brave students are speaking out:

Harding UniversityHarding University holds to the biblical principle that sexual relationships are unacceptable to Godoutside the context of marriage. Sexual immorality in any form will result in suspension from the University. Visiting in the residence of a single member of the opposite gender, even though others are present, without permission is prohibited.

Staying overnight in a motel, hotel or any such arrangement with a member of the opposite gender will result in suspension, although explicit sexual immorality may not have been observed.

Students are prohibited from possessing or displaying pornographic materials of any type. This includes the use of vulgarity, profanity, and any offensive language or offensive symbols.

Students are not allowed to social dance or go to dance clubs, bars, or other inappropriate places of entertainment.

The illegal, unauthorized use or abuse of Harding University’s telephone, computer or network system is prohibited.

Men and women are discouraged from excessive public displays of affection.

Check out their incredible website. There are some touching personal stories:

So I don’t remember ever choosing to like girls. It’s just how things always were. It’s what felt natural. It wasn’t until I was told it was wrong that I felt I should be different.

This publication is partly introspective, partly angry, partly sad, often hopeful and completely personal. They simply want their colleagues at the University to know who they are and when I read their words I can’t help but think that they represent the queer experience of a lot of youth in unfriendly parts of the country.

Hopefully many people will read this wonderful venture and come away more compassionate, understanding, and with more empathy.  This is how we change hearts and minds.

 

****UPDATE****

Harding University has responded with regards to its’ censoring of the anonymous students who published the H.U. Queer Press:

Harding University is a private Christian university whose mission and policies are rooted in biblical principles. All students are given a copy of the handbook and know about our mission and policies before their first day on campus. The student handbook states that the university holds to the biblical principle that sexual relationships are unacceptable to God outside the context of marriage and that sexual immorality in any form will result in suspension from the university.

Based on that policy, university administrators felt that having this website available on campus goes against said mission and policies. In addition, the handbook states that any literature distributed on campus must be approved by the Office of Student Life and must state the name of the sponsoring organization. These pamphlets were both printed and distributed anonymously with no prior approval, and the website is an online version of that pamphlet.

Again, bravo to these brave young people for challenging archaic rules that can result in the long-term harm of their fellow students.

UPDATE: Long Island Principal Refuses GSA, Called People “Faggot” as a Kid, So It’s OK.

20 Jan

Valley Stream South High School

Today at 3pm at Valley Stream South High School in Long Island, students and their supporters will be holding a rally to protest the decision by the High School’s principal to deny their request for a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).

According to press notes, students from the school have been trying to form a GSA since October 2010. They have gone through the proper channels nd had numerous discussions with Principal Maureen Henry. After sharing their experiences of being bullied at the high school and being called “faggot,” Henry replied that she too called people “faggots” when she was young and didn’t mean anything bad by it. Using that as her excuse as to why the students didn’t need a GSA.

Senior Joseph Kofler, one of the organizers of today’s rally said, ““this school really needs a GSA and not because it’s a ‘gay club’. In fact it’s the opposite of our goals, which is to bring about understanding and acceptance for all of our students. And I want to feel safe coming to school everyday and this club will help toward reaching these goals” said the 17-year old.

The other organizer of today’s rally is Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY). “There are over 90 GSA’s that already exist in Long Island schools and by allowing a GSA for students to feel safer is not something revolutionary – in fact, the school is way behind the times and these brave students should be commended for trying to make a difference” said David Kilmnick, CEO of LIGALY.

On the High School’s website, Henry states:

“South High School is committed to a school environment that promotes personal growth, good citizenship and service to others.  South’s motto “small acts of kindness make a big difference” motivates all of the South community to share their time, talent and energy to provide service to others both here at South and in our community.”

Today’s rally will take place at 3:15pm outside the entrance of Valley Stream South High School, 135 Jedwood Place, Valley Stream, NY.

h/t: LezGetReal

UPDATE: According to the Long Island Herald, interim school Superintendent Dr. Richard Marsh announced today that the club has been approved and their first meeting is set for today.

While the club will have no funding or paid adviser for the remainder of this year (as budgets had already been set for the year), it will be part of the budget for following years.

The rally, which is still occurring after school today will hopefully continue to shed light on the bigoted earlier statement from Principal Henry.

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