News reports and blog commentary over the firing of Debra Taylor, an Ethics and Street Law teacher at Grandfield High School in Oklahoma, have been varied. According to initial reports, Ms. Taylor was asked to resign after attempting to teach the play, “The Laramie Project,” to her senior class. The reason initially provided was that the district could not allow the gay-related play to continue because of its homosexual tones. However, in an interview District Superintendent, Ed Turlington, claimed that the reason the district asked the play to be removed from her lesson plan was because it contained vulgar language. But what was the real reason?
Because Ms. Taylor and Mr. Turlington obviously have an economic or social interest in their stories, jaysays.com located one of Ms. Taylor’s students and requested his side of the story. According to Mike (name changed to protect the innocent), a 17 year old senior at Grandfield High School, Ms. Taylor had been teaching the play for about a month without incident. In fact, prior to teaching the story, Ms. Taylor was required to obtain approval for the play, and approval was given.
However, another teacher in the school, Mrs. Charlene Turlington (wife of the Superintendent) had heard Ms. Taylor was teaching a “gay” play and reported this to her husband, the Superintendent.
It is here I must note the absence of a proper chain of command. There is a principal, A.J. Mays, at the school, which would ordinarily be the person to report these issues to, however, nepotism often prevails and the Superintendent was informed of the gay play by his wife.
It was then that Ms. Taylor had to stand before her students and advise them that the play was being cancelled. Many of the students were angered by the play’s cancellation, including Mike. According to Mike, Mrs. Taylor advised him that the play was being cancelled because of reports that Mike was being picked on for his involvement in a “gay” play; an allegation which Mike denies.
Although the play had been cancelled, the battle line was drawn. Within a couple of days of the cancellation, Mrs. Turlington approached Mike to obtain a script of the play. She used her authority to manipulate and threaten Mike and made claims that he owed her because she did not report him for a previous small infraction of the school rules. Mrs. Turlington’s tactics were unethical at the least.
On Mrs. Taylor’s last day at the school, the Superintendent, Mr. Turlington, came to Mike’s class to discuss the cancellation of the play. He asked the class if they have any questions related to the cancellation. Mike asked why the play was cancelled and Mr. Turlington responded, “… because people in this community aren’t comfortable with that subject.”
Mike inquired further and asked, “About the gay subject?”
The answer was a far cry from Mr. Turlington’s reports to main stream media. He confirmed the play was cancelled because of the gay subject matter by answering the question, “Yes.”
Thus, again we see fear and hatred of gays running our school system and society; however, when people inquire, lies are told to protect those propagating the hatred from the deserved disciplinary actions.
According to Mike, none of Ms. Taylor’s students he had spoken with had any problem with doing the play and all of them were unhappy about the play’s cancellation.
Mrs. Taylor held a mock funeral for the play upon its cancellation. She took the students outside and they each wrote a note, tied the note to a balloon and released the balloons. Mike’s note read, in part:
Mr. Turlington is a homophobe.
There is a happy note to this story. The result of the cancellation of the play has taught Mike, as he says, “more about ethics than I can dream of.” Of course, he learned “ethics” from the lack of ethics shown by Mr. and Mrs. Turlington, not from the play or from Mrs. Taylor. He also states he has received a ton of support and learned a valuable life lesson, “Don’t hate or discriminate anyone because they are black, white, tall, short, fat, skinny, disabled, gay or straight. You should be an advocate for love, show compassion for those that are different and be tolerant of all in school and in life.”
In my communications with Mike, he ended his emails with this note, “Grandfield High School – Where Laramie can never be.”
To this, jaysays: Please continue to attempt to revoke students of their rights to learn about all aspects of the world. In doing so, you are teaching them the importance of learning from all different view points. Excellent job Mr. Turlington. I commend you on showing your students how NOT to be bigots and how hurtful bigotry and discrimination can be.
Inquiries to the Superintendent were not answered.
Special thanks to MJ for her invaluable assistance, comments and guidance.