"Gay-free" prom idea backfires on supporters in Indiana town
Students and the principal at an Indiana high school are disavowing a campaign by parents to organize a "gay-free" prom. Even the pastor of the church that hosted the original organizing meeting says the church doesn't back the effort to throw a straights-only prom for students at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Ind., south of Terre Haute.
The movement began after Principal David Springer was asked to clarify whether same-sex couples would be allowed to take part in the traditional grand march before the prom, which is scheduled for April 27. "Anybody can go to the prom," Springer told NBC station WTHR of Indianapolis. "Of course, a girl could go out with another girl if they didn't have a date or that was their choice."
The rest of NBC's report is dedicated to the now infamous comments of special ed teacher Diana Medley—the woman who told a reporter that her gay students are "offensive," that they chose to be gay, and that her gay students serve no purpose in life—and the drubbing Medley got online, which included calls for her to be fired. Some are saying that Medley has a right to her opinions and a right to express them. First Amendment! Free speech! And stuff! From a crazy commenter:
Dan Savage, you're a complete tool! You may not agree with Medley but Medley has done nothing wrong! She simply voiced her opinion, which the last time I checked was her right granted by the First Amendment. Her opinion has no baring on how she performs her job!
Medley has a right to her bigoted opinions and no one is arguing that the First Amendment doesn't apply to bigoted cranks like Medley or that Medley should be prevented from expressing her bigoted opinions publicly. People are arguing that Medley's remarks make it clear that she is unfit to work as a public school teacher. Take it away, sane commenters:
Freedom of speech protects us from the government punishing us for our speech as regular citizens. However your job may require a restriction of your freedom of speech, and if you take certain jobs you are implicitly agreeing to restrict your speech in certain ways. I can't bash my employer in the media. If I do I will be fired. A solider can't criticize the President publicly. That will get them reprimanded. A sales clerk can't call their black customers the "N" word no matter what justification they try to use.
I can't walk into a classroom and tell kids that they are all stupid and worthless and expect to keep my job. I can't single out just the non-white children and tell them they are inferior to their chosen-race classmates. And I can't single out gay kids and tell them they have no purpose. "This is a free country" does not permit bigots in schools.
David Badash at The New Civil Rights Movement did the best job outlining why Medley's job should be on the line:
She poses a serious emotional threat to any LGBTQ student, and it would be best for everyone if she resigned. Fired? If it’s determined she’s creating or has created a hostile environment for these kids, then yes. Any adult in a position of power of minors needs to be careful they don’t abuse their position and poison the minds of kids, especially LGBTQ kids, who suffer depression, homelessness, and attempt suicide at rates far greater than their heterosexual peers, exactly because of attitudes like Medley’s.
More than 15,000 people have signed a petition calling for Medley to be fired.
UPDATE: ThinkProgress just posted the news that Medley won't be fired and that no disciplinary action will be taken against her. Northeast School Corporation Superintendant Mark A. Baker just released this statement:
I would like to clearly state the Northeast School Corporation has never denied any student the right to attend prom or any other Northeast School Corporation sponsored event due to their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Furthermore, the Northeast School Corporation has never denied any student access to any events sponsored by Northeast School Corporation. This includes sports, plays, musicals and any other extra-curricular activities. In regards to the story that WTWO aired on February 10, 2013, the Northeast School Corporation employee that was interviewed was expressing her First Amendment rights. The views expressed are not the views of the Northeast School Corporation and/or the Board of Education. These comments were expressed during a Sunday community meeting at a local church and at no time was she representing the Northeast School Corporation. The teacher was participating in a meeting with her local church congregation.
First, Sullivan First Christian Church—where the meeting was held—denies that it was involved and a relative of a church employee has stated that Medley is not a member of the church. ("The Sullivan First Christian Church made national headlines recently due to being the meeting place of a small group of people... Diana Medley doesn’t even attend the church.")
Second, let's play let's pretend. Let's pretend a teacher at a public high school with a diverse student body didn't think her black students should be allowed to attend prom, attended a meeting called to organize a whites-only prom, and told a reporter for a local television station that her black students offended her and added that, in her opinion, African Americans "serve no purpose in life." How quickly would that teacher be fired?
Instantly. That teacher would be fired instantly. And no one would misconstrue her firing as an assault on her First Amendment rights. Diana Medley should be fired—and if she had made similar statements about black students or Jewish students, she would already have been fired.
Of course Medley has the right to her fraudulent, offensive beliefs, but she also has an obligation to the safety and well-being of students that she supervises. As a special ed teacher, she is likely working with students who are already vulnerable to bullying because of their physical, mental, or learning disabilities. By publicly stating that an entire group of students don’t have a purpose in life, she compromises her trust as an educator. At the very least, remediation to help her understand the obvious harm inherent in her position should be required, if not further disciplinary action.
Send an email to Mark A. Baker and tell him that his statement isn't good enough. Medley said this about interactions with queer students at Northeast School Corporation: "I have kids come to me because of their sexual preference, and they know that I don't agree with it." Ask Baker what steps are being taken to ensure that Medley isn't harassing or mistreating her queer students.
Baker's email again: firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: Here's Sullivan First Christian Church's statement, via the Support the Sullivan High School Prom for All Students Facebook page:
"I am afraid our church has been mischaracterized as this story has made its rounds. Let me, to quote a phrase, educate you. The First Christian Church is in no way affiliated with the group promoting a 'traditional prom.' One of our staff members gave permission for the Church building to be used as a meeting place without consulting other staff or leadership, nor fully understanding the nature of their meeting. Many community groups from weight loss groups, drug and alcohol recovery groups, gardening clubs, etc. use our facilities without incident. We regret the decision in this case as it has cast our church in a negative light and detracted from our mission to Love God, to love others, and the make a difference in our community. Personally, as a minister/pastor to teens in our community I have always and will continue to seek first to understand, and extend unconditional acceptance in the name of Jesus."
UPDATE 2: Ashley N. Holt, in an open letter to Mark A. Baker, points out that Diana Medley violated two bylaws of the Northeast School Corporation. Staff members are required to "exercise due care to protect the mental and physical safety of students," according to the bylaws that Mr. Baker is charged with enforcing, and are required to "state clearly that his/her expression represents personal views and not necessarily those of the School Corporation" when speaking out on controversial subjects in "non-instructional settings." Says Holt:
By stating that homosexuals have no clear purpose in life and that their lifestyle is offensive to her blatantly violates the above highlighted areas. "All individuals" includes homosexual students that she may encounter on a daily basis. Also, homosexual students are more likely than straight students to commit suicide. Do you honestly believe that hearing from a person of authority that you have no purpose in life is not damaging to the emotional well being of her students? ... Ms. Medley never once stated that her views were hers only. I hope that they are, without a doubt, hers only and that the school district does not agree with her. Her statements that homosexuals serve no purpose in life is absolutely baseless. There is no regard to truth or accuracy there. They serve great purpose. Unless, of course, you believe that Socrates, Whitman, Michelangelo, J. Edgar Hoover, Melville, or Aristotle have not provided the world with anything of significance. And though you do not know him, my life would not be as amazing at it is today without my big brother. His purpose in life is great. Her statement is absolutely atrocious. I hope that you will reconsider your decision and take appropriate action of releasing Ms. Medley from her contract.