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Young Gay Student Stands Up for Teacher

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Nov 15, 2010
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A young gay student was one of a number of supporters who stuck up for an embattled schoolteacher in Michigan during a Nov. 8 Board of Education meeting.

The teacher, Jay McDowell, teaches economics at Howell High School, in Howell, Mich. A Nov. 9 MSNBC article recounted that on Oct. 20, a day when supporters nationwide wore purple to commemorate gay teens who had killed themselves after being subjected to anti-gay bullying, McDowell asked a student to remove a Confederate flag belt buckle. Although the student complied without protest, another student, Daniel Glowacki, 16, interjected and asked why the student with the belt buckle should be required to take off the Confederate flag buckle when other students were allowed to wear purple shirts.

According to media accounts, a heated exchange ensued, which Glowacki stating that he was a Christian and did not support the gay "lifestyle." McDowell told Glowacki to leave the classroom. But administrators subjected McDowell to punitive measures, sparking a controversy over whether McDowell followed school district policy regarding the disciplining of students and whether he trampled Glowacki’s First Amendment rights.

"It was a teachable moment and there could have been a dialogue rather than ejecting two students from class," Ron Wilson, the school superintendent, told MSNBC, noting that Glowacki had voiced his objection respectfully and without resorting to anti-gay epithets.

The board meeting brought people from "across the state," the article said, many of them supportive of McDowell, but others--such as Glowacki’s aunt, T.J. Conray--supportive of Glowacki.

A number of individuals addressed the board, but one of the most remarkable comments came from a gay student. "I myself am gay, and I am a young person," 14-year-old Graham Taylor told the meeting. "This teacher, whom I fully support, finally stood up and said something," Taylor said of McDowell. "I have been in rooms, in classes, where children have said the worst kind of things, the kinds of things that helped derive me to a suicide attempt when I was only nine years old. These are things that hurt a lot."


Taylor, who lives in Ann Arbor, told the board that McDowell "did an amazing thing. He did something that’s inspired a lot of people. And whenever, ever, I have a teacher stand up like me for that, they change in my eyes. I support Jay McDowell," Taylor concluded.

Taylor referenced a perception that Howell had served as a base of operations for the Ku Klux Klan in the past. However, the board noted in its response to comments, that was not true: a KKK Grand Wizard had convened rallies in another town to the north, Cohoctah Township, reported the Daily Press & Argus on Nov. 9.

McDowell received a brief suspension and a letter of reprimand that read in part, "You went on to discipline two students who told you they do not accept gays due to their religion. After a failure of getting one student to recant, you engaged in an unsupported snap suspension, rather than allow the student his beliefs."

The letter added, "You also state you routinely do not allow this expression [the Confederate flag] in your classroom because it offends you, and you personally connect this symbol to a list of oppressions and atrocities. You do, however, allow the display of the rainbow flag, to which some of your students have voiced opposition."

McDowell responded in his own statement that there are no rainbow flags in his classroom--only the American flag. Moreover, McDowell noted that restrictions on the Confederate flag were not limited to his own classroom: "the district has for the last year asked students to remove Confederate flags that have flown from the back of cars and trucks in the school parking lot," McDowell’s statement said.

"The reprimand states that the wearing of the Confederate flag and the statement, ’I don’t accept gays,’ did not cause a substantial disruption to the educational process and, therefore, I violated the students’ First Amendment rights," McDowell’s statement continued. "I disagree. I believe any symbol or speech that can cause a student to sit in fear in the classroom whether or not there is an outward show of that fear is by its very nature a disruption to the educational process." McDowell went on to say that he had abided by school district policies and emphasized that he did not punish the student for his religious beliefs or political opinions, but rather sent him out of the room for disruptive behavior.

Next: District, Teacher, Disagree on Events, Response



Comments

  • Anonymous, 2010-11-15 18:27:37

    The board is right. I’m gay and it scares me that this kid that is not even a student of the suspended teacher, is garnering all of this one-sided publicity. It scares me because given the gay suicide/bullying issue is VERY popular, should we sacrifice protecting our Constitutional rights of those people with whom we disagree?


  • Anonymous, 2010-11-15 19:21:53

    The board is completely wrong! As a gay student myself, having a teacher stand up like this against intimidation and bullying is really big for me. It sends a message that my school is going to be a safe place for me to come to. That message is invaluable and I applaud Jay McDowell for letting the students of Howell hear it.


  • Anonymous, 2010-11-15 19:22:37

    If were actually gay, I doubt you would be making such a comment. The only thing that scares you and other people is that homosexuality might not be discriminated against one day. This supposed fear of yours has nothing to do with protecting constitutional rights. A gay person would not describe the gay suicide/bullying issue as "VERY popular"--not any self-respecting, sane one anyway. The bullying issue is relevant, important and the situation itself is dire. Get your head out of your ass.


  • Michael Fontana, 2010-11-15 19:36:27

    I am afraid of the teachers motives but the fact that this child is able to speak to this issue with more dignity than the HRC makes me proud! BULLYING MUST STOP IT KILLS but as the victim of both student and teacher bullying I think these kids need to be fostered and looked after mentally they seem to have no threshold for life struggle just committing suicide at the drop of a hat. WTF I came out and everyone died of AIDS and then I went to school and had the S#it kicked outta me then went home and cried in solitude... Kids today are a strange breed Straight or gay BUT bullying needs to stop and PARENTS are to be held accountable! AND our leaders Are late on laws RIGHTS DELAYED ARE RIGHTS DENIED!!!!


  • Andrew W, 2010-11-15 19:50:05

    THIS is actually HELPFUL. It’s honest and it gets us useful attention. We need more of this and less of the idiotic GetEQUAL bunch of wanna-be-famous "activists."


  • Anonymous, 2010-11-15 22:20:21

    I do not disagree with the fact that an openly gay student (person) should not be bullied. I only disagree that the teacher let his opinion fog his judgment in his classroom. As an educator, I would have handled it this way: If the student said something derogatory toward the gay community or hateful about others wearing purple shirts, ABSOLUTELY, kick him out of class! He would have been out of my class in a heartbeat! I am saying this as a Christian. My JOB is to educate... and as a Christian, I feel it is not my job to judge ANY lifestyle even if I do not agree with it. Back to how I would handle the situation. If all of the facts are true, the student simply stated that he did not agree with the gay "lifestyle"; if the facts are true here, the teacher CAN NOT tell that student that his views are "not appropriate" (I believe that was what the local paper reported as being the teachers’ words). He is basically telling this kid that he does not have the right to voice his Christian beliefs. And plese do not get started on the separation of the church and state because I know the law and this is not part of classroom curriculum so it doesn’t apply. My point is, if the student is being openly intolerant to the point where he is disrupting class and being hurtful, (by hurtful, I mean blatant hatred and not simply expressing views that others disagree with)then kick that student out of class. If he is simply expressing his side of the argument (which was simply that the student had a right to wear the belt buckle and not that he hated gays!) then you either say that now is not the time to talk about this and move on with class, or you allow EVERYONE to give their opinion. This teacher allowed HIS views to get in the way of what was really important, and that is tolerance. I have defended several kids for various forms of hatred, (race, weight, appearance, hair color, sex, sexual orientation, LACK OF BODY HAIR, etc. etc. etc.) but when kids are in your classroom having a CIVILIZED, which seemed to be the case, let them debate or defuse the situation. People should not be arrogant enough to assume their opinion is FACT... and if they do, they have a problem. It is fine to think you are right but to not hear the opposition is ignorant. That being said, the rebel flag has long been associated with racism and that is fine but there is opposition to that. Why wouldn’t the teacher have brought up both points to help EDUCATE the students so that they can think for themselves as apposed to forcing his beliefs on his students. I want our future to think for themselves, not follow what I believe, or what any particular group of people believe. I want them to get both sides of EVERYTHING and make a choice for themselves. As an educator, I feel this is our duty... and this man failed on this particular day. I understand that people make mistakes and hopefully this is one Mr. McDowell will only make once.


  • Anonymous, 2010-11-16 07:34:41

    What a brilliant young beautiful boy Graham Taylor is. I am more than impressed with his ability to articulate his point seamlessly. I am assuming that the young Mr. Taylor was addressing the school board or a faction there of. In my day I doubt that such testimony as such from a 13 year old would have been in an open forum as this, much less televised. Bravo to you Graham.You presented your point brilliantly, and truly spoke from a point of experience, and not mere opinion. How could this board NOT listen. Bravo to you Son, you are a credit to all Gay youth across the nation. This country need millions more like you. Keep your head up your hart open, and an eye always looking over your shoulder. We’ve come a long way, but the battle against ignorance is a never ending one. Yes IT WILL GET BETTER with brilliant young men like you leading the way for your generation. God Bless You Graham.


  • Bruce Alexander, 2010-11-19 22:07:06

    I also applaud Graham Taylor for having the GUTS to speak with such conviction. As a past educator, I would have LOVED to have an open conversation regarding the "gay lifestyle" vs the "straight" lifestyle. The unfortunate thing is, here in Canada, a teacher could get fired just by talking about ANY KIND OF SEX with a student. I found Graham’s speak FANTASTIC! I am sure this is not the last we have heard of him. He will be on the Ellen show on Monday, November 22, 2010. Everyone watch to show your support for this great kid. Way to go Graham. All me best.


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