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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.

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.

Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” Country Version to Benefit GLSEN

4 Apr

Lady Gaga…We haven’t talked a lot about her here, but the time has come.

People inside and outside the LGBT community have mixed reactions to La Gaga. But one thing is for certain, and for that one thing – I think she’s great. No matter what she does, what she wears, what she says or where she goes, that one thing that remains true – is that she’s got our back.

Lady Gaga at the National Equality March (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, talkaboutequality.com)

I have a confession to make – the first time I ever really noticed her was in October of 2009. I had organized 25 buses to come from New York to DC for the National Equality March. I was with friends and quickly found my way to the front of the crowd to take photos of the speeches. Pressed up against the plastic fence on a very warm afternoon, I was astounded by the incredible sense of community I felt. People were kind and people were respectful of one another’s space…and then Gaga came out. Within a matter of 4 seconds, I was on the ground with my face pressed against the plastic fence. The crowd dove for the fence and all civility disappeared to catch a glimpse of this blond wonder.

While on the ground and snapping pictures, I was amazed. This pretty, young celebrity was screaming at President Obama to listen to us. It was a speech I won’t soon forget. And she was gone as quickly as she came.

Over the past two years since then, she has advocated for us on several occasions – from speaking out in defense of her gay “little monsters” to being a steadfast advocate for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now, she’s putting her money where her mouth is. Her hit song, “Born This Way,” is an anthem to the LGBT community that has been censored in some countries due to it’s LGBT inclusion – . She has spoken out against this censorship and is taking it to the next level.

It seems she has recorded a country version of the hit and has decided to release it. Today, she announced that all sales from the single will benefit the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN). GLSEN is an incredible organization we’ve spoken about frequently at Talk About Equality and is responsible for Gay Straight Associations (GSAs) at high schools and colleges around the country. Please support GLSEN and purchase this single from one of our most ardent supporters.

The track is now available by clicking HERE!

Growing Up GLBTQ: Now There’s a Guide!

30 Mar GLBTQ--survival-guide

When I was just considering coming out, I was 18 years old. I lived with my mom on the bottom floor of a house next door to a church. Across the street was a little plaza which contained a video store. When I was home on breaks from college, I would wander through the tiny video store reading the back of every VHS tape and searching for the word “gay.” I’d tuck the bulky tapes under my coat and sneak them into my house and spend afternoons watching them while my mother was at work.

It was then I learned that others like me existed. From the beautiful Merchant Ivory film, Maurice to the campy Jeffrey, I was discovering who I was through film. It was the perfect anonymous way to do a little research. Movies like this are what made me realize that there was a community for me. As I became more confident, my friend Michael Hammond became my fairy godmother in a way. He would take me to Boston or Cambridge and we’d go see gay movies in the art houses there – we tried to catch Johns with David Arquette, but it was unfortunately sold out that evening. “Johns is sold out” then became code when Michael wanted to point out to me another person who was gay. I was beginning to discover my community.

I often think about what would have happened had I started that research when I was still in high school, but there was very little available to me that would answer the questions I had. Things have changed.


Free Spirit Publishing has published the second edition of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teens. This is a book I would have stolen from my library. Written by Kelly Huegel, GLBTQ is a book that NEEDS to be in every junior high and high school library. The book is thorough and could help empower so many young people who are going through their adolescence full of fear.

The book covers so many different topics, opening with the basics of figuring out who you are and moving through how to deal with homophobia, strategies for coming out – specifically figuring out if it is safe to do so and how to tell your family if it is, finding community, dating, sexual and emotional health, religion and even features some in-depth discussion for transgender teens.

The author not only offers intelligent commentary and advice for teens, but she features real-life examples. Throughout the book, you’ll find segments titled “BEEN THERE,” which feature teens’ stories of how they have dealt with the challenges mentioned in each chapter. These real-life examples help illustrate the real-life challenges kids face, and how they deal with them.

The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has a wonderful program which sends “Safe Space Kits” to schools around the country. For only $20, you can send a kit to your high school to help educate that school’s staff and administration on how to make the school safe for LGBT students. It’s a wonderful campaign, and I can tell you that the two high schools and three junior high schools I attended have all received one. I would like to recommend to GLSEN that they find a way to include this book in their kits. And if that is not cost-effective, I would like to call on anyone who reads this, to send a copy of this book to your own school library.

GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teens is available at Amazon for $10.87!  Please, take a moment and do an ounce of research. Find out who at your high school or junior high should receive this to make it a part of the school’s library collection and send a copy. Make sure that the kids who are growing up now have a resource. And more importantly than that – help those kids understand that there is a community for them, they have friends and people who love them unconditionally.

Being a teenager is rough. Being an LGBTQ teenager can be hell. We know this. Help make it easier and send this book back to your school.

Virulently Homophobic Lawmaker Inspires Gay Blogger

25 Mar

Homophobic Lawmaker Eugene Delgaudio

Okay, so I’m one of those people who signs up for the mailing lists of the people who hate me because I’m truly interested in reading the arguments others are using to fight against my equality.

The most offensive and idiotic of the-eblasts I get, are from a man named Eugene Delgaudio. Eugene is a Virginia lawmaker frighteningly enough, and once in a while, his lunacy gets some attention. His homo-erotic pulp fiction once included the following:

“One stormy night I drove to a mailshop hidden deep in a nearly deserted stand of warehouses. I’d heard something was up and wanted to see for myself. As I rounded the final turn my eyes nearly popped. Tractor-trailers pulled up to loading docks, cars and vans everywhere and long-haired, earring-pierced men scurrying around running forklifts, inserters and huge printing presses. Trembling with worry I went inside. It was worse than I ever imagined. Row after row of boxes bulging with pro-homosexual petitions lined the walls, stacked to the ceiling. My mind reeled as I realized hundreds, maybe thousands, more boxes were already loaded on the tractor-trailers. And still more petitions were flying off the press.”

I’m sure if we look at the un-edited version, we’d find moments where the earring-pierced men pushed him against a forklift, grabbed the back of his head and forced their tongue into his plump lips past his teeth. But I digress…

Most recently, he spoke up about the recent changes in the TSA security checks at airports. While many viewed these changes as extreme due to the “intimacy” involved in the pat-downs – Eugene announced via his website, that the new enhanced security measures were “part of the homosexual agenda.” Apparently, gay TSA employees are getting their jollies by feeling up male passengers.

Today, he sent out the shortest message I have ever received. While most of his emails begging for cash rival War & Peace, this email was simple, short, and to the point. Eugene warned “Watch at your own risk” and included links to a video from a school in Cambridge, MA. After some research, I discovered this was filmed more than 15 years ago. While the video is titled “Homosexuals Brainwashing Public School Children,” a simple Google search will show that the first school featured in the video is a private school.

I felt ready to be offended when I pressed play – prepared to see a propaganda film from the homophobic movement. But then I went to youtube and watched both parts of the video. I found myself crying. The two-part “documentary,” though offensively titled on youtube, features educators talking with grade school kids about acceptance for their fellow students and citizens. The children are being educated properly and though I’d assumed it might be edited to make LGBT families look terrible it is actually a beautiful piece of journalism. The things being taught to these young children gives me hope that our next generations will have less hate.

So once again, I would like to thank wingnut Eugene Delgaudio for giving me some hope that the right thing is happening in this country.

Please watch the following videos (ignoring the addendums by whatever homophobic person posted) and watch them quickly as I’ve notified the filmmaker of the copyright infringement that is clearly taking place and they could be pulled from youtube soon.

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.

An Awkward Lunch With Mrs. Mesheau: How Teachers Change the World

18 Mar

Mrs. Mesheau was the toughest teacher in the Grace Farrar Cole School in Norwell, MA. You wandered from 1st to 2nd to 3rd grade hearing stories of how horrible it would be if you wound up with Mrs. Mesheau when you got into 6th grade. Stories of strict rules, public humiliation and the “Mesheau Glare” haunted every 5th grader in the summer before that first day of 6th grade.

She was an older troll-like woman who smelled of stale cigarettes and regret. She required every student have an American Heritage Dictionary in their desk at all times with their last name emblazoned in black sharpie across the side of the book. She’d toss out random words and point at you. If you didn’t know the definition, you were required to stand up and recite the definition to the class – branding you an “idiot” for the rest of the day.

6th grade was not unlike every other grade for me – I was fairly quiet and reserved because every time I opened my mouth, someone would make fun of me. I was picked on mercilessly, thrown into thorny bushes after school and spent my recesses playing “spank the babies” with the girls (it was basically “tag” but if you got caught, you had to be spanked by the person who tagged you – wow. yeah, things were different then).

Then one day in the Spring, I was in line at the cafeteria spending my 25 cents on the little carton of milk when I smelled her behind me. Her chubby nicotined fingers wrapped around my tiny arm and she said “come with me, we’re eating in the classroom.” I immediately panicked and wondered what I’d done wrong. Sweating, I followed her.

We sat down and she said to me, “Jamie, I notice you’re not having a very good time in school. I see what the other kids do to you, how they treat you.” I nodded my head as I ripped the cellophane off the plastic half-sandwich container which concealed my peanut butter and fluff. She went on, “Don’t listen to them…they don’t really matter.” I sat in silence, still somewhat frightened that I was somehow in trouble and that I’d become another story passed-down to the 1st graders to terrify them. “I want you to know that you should be exactly who you are and be the great person I know you’re going to be.” I sat in silence.

Of course these aren’t direct quotes as I wasn’t carrying a tape recorder and my memory of 6th grade has grown somewhat misty at this point, but I do remember her telling me I was going to be a great person someday and specifically that I should be exactly who I am. I also distinctly remember her telling me to not tell anyone about our meeting because she had an image to uphold, and with a wink, she lit her cigarette and told me to go back to the cafeteria.

Teachers play such an enormous part in our young lives and tonight, when I googled Carol Mesheau, I made the sad discovery that she’d passed a few years ago at the age of 77. It makes me sad that I was never able to tell her what a difference she made in my life, but somehow, somewhere – I can’t help but imagine that she knew. I couldn’t have been the only kid she took off her mask for.

I was thinking about Mrs. Mesheau today when I received an email about the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) Educator of the Year award. While the form they ask you to fill out asks you to talk about specific work your nominee has done for the LGBT students and such, I think the most important thing any teacher can do for a student is to let them know that they should be proud of exactly who they are.

So thank you Mrs. Mesheau, and all you educators out there who are making differences in the lives of your students, one awkward lunch at a time.

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