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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.

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Miami-Dade Schools Increase Protections for LGBT Students, Staff

21 Jul

Save Dade's CJ Ortuno (Photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

According to a press release from Talk About Equality friend, CJ Ortuno at SaveDade.org, Miami-Dade Schools have just announced increased protections for LGBT students. Three years after having passed the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act,  which prohibits the bullying or harassment, including cyber bullying, of any public K-12 student or employee, Miami-Dade County Administration amended their policy to be explicitly inclusive of students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT). The policy will now include “sexual orientation and gender identity” providing clearer protections for LGBT students.

“For the past year we’ve focused on strengthening Miami-Dade’s anti-bullying policy as a way to create a climate where bullying a student because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity is no longer tolerated,” said C.J. Ortuno, executive director of SAVE Dade. SAVE Dade worked with their partner the ACLU of Florida in developing the policy’s new language.

According to GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey 7,261 middle and high school students found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students (84.6%) experienced harassment at school in the previous year. Miami-Dade County provides significant support through public school programs and nonprofit organizations for LGBT students.

“SAVE Dade’s contribution is to strengthen policies in hope that it provides some clarity for adults and students on the frontlines of bulling – if a teacher knows and understands that gay students are explicitly protected from bullying, it could result in a report that saves a young person’s life,” said Ortuno.

The new policy updates will go into effect Friday, July 22, 2011. An English version will be posted on the school board’s website at that time, with Spanish and Creole versions to follow.

The new policy language will read:

“Bullying, Harassment, Cyberbullying, and Discrimination (as referred to and defined herein) encompasses, but is not limited to, unwanted harm towards a student or employee based on or with regard to actual or perceived: sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability (physical, mental, or educational), marital status, socio-economic background, ancestry, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, linguistic preference, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or social/family background. This policy prohibits bullying or harassment of any student by any Board member, District employee, consultant, contractor, agent, visitor, volunteer, student, or other person in the school or outside of the school at school-sponsored events, on school buses, and at training facilities or training programs sponsored by the District.”

 

WATCH AND SHARE: The Kids Are Listening

4 May

With the non-stop influx of social media nowadays, it takes something really special to break through and make you take more than a glance at something. And today, this little video popped up on my facebook feed and I knew I had to do more than take a glance:

I followed through to the website listed on the video and I discovered what looks to be a moving and desperately-needed campaign aimed at improving the lives of LGBTQ foster youth. This is quite clearly the most underserved portion of our community and we must do more to include these kids in our conversations around equality.

According to the campaign running The Kids Are Listening website:

The Opening Doors Project works to make life better for LGBTQ youth today. The project is dedicated to training and supporting the legal and social service professionals on the front lines to ensure that LGBTQ foster youth have the support they deserve and the rights they demand.

Through on-the-ground trainings, local task forces and comprehensive research and training material The Opening Doors Project provides the legal community with the advocacy tools they need to successfully represent LGBTQ youth in foster care.

Also on the site, you can sign up to receive more information from the campaign. The pledge you sign is also linked to the It Gets Better Project.

So many organizations and campaigns come and go and I truly hope to see more from the people who put together this stirring video. Please share the video wherever you can and visit their site to find out more.

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.