HS Pro-Gay Tolerance Editorial Gets Warning from Principal

WoodburnSophomore Megan Chase wrote an opinion piece for her school newspaper at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School in Woodburn, Indiana, calling for tolerance of gays and lesbians. It read, in part:

“I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today’s society. I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they’re just different than you.”

The editorial really set off the school’s principal Edwin Yoder, who not only sent a letter to the newspaper staff, he sent a letter to the journalism teacher at the school warning her of ‘insubordination’ for exposing children to ‘inappropriate’ materials and threatened to fire her. He also demanded that he be able to sign off on every issue of the newspaper.

Woodlan Editorial on Gays Ignites Firestorm [journal gazette]

Comments

  1. John says

    The particular person who holds the job of principal at any given school makes an enormous difference in the quality of the school. Unfortunately, many school districts are not careful about whom they place in this job, or they have a very limited pool of applicants. This particular principal seems very out of touch and behind the times.

  2. Dan E says

    I’ve had the good fortune to do work (week-long professional development) three of the last four summers with some of the teachers in the Fort Wayne school system; they were bright, dedicated and open-minded; some of them were openly gay (at least they were openly gay in conversation with me; whether they were as open in the context of school, I’m not sure).

    Based on what I witnessed, this principal is far from the norm among the adults educating children in and around Fort Wayne; he’s the unfortunate exception.

  3. JT says

    Dan E: Woodburn is not in Fort Wayne…it’s actually closer to Toledo, I think. This kind of stupid, hate-filled bile doesn’t surprise me one bit. Small town midAmerica is fertile ground for growing nasty, bigoted, hate-filled monsters.

  4. Chris says

    Something very similar happened when I was the editor of our high school paper. We did one whole issue about sex, which was fine. What was not fine, ws that our Editorial piece was about homosexuality, and we basically condemned those who bullied and picked on kids who even appeared to be gay, while pointing out that being gay was not a choice, and even if your religion disagreed with it, you should still respect the people. Our principal made us get on the loud speaker at the end of 6th period and publicly apologize for spreading the homosexual agenda, lol. This was in 1999.

  5. says

    I really hope that we don’t let this one incident paint a tainted picture of all of small-town Indiana.

    I’m a 19 year old gay boy from Pendleton, Indiana. This is a town that probably has not even 1,000 people.

    Being gay actually got me farther in this town than if I had been straight, and nearly every student at the highschool is either “bi” or could honestly care less about who you love and sleep with.

    We had three openly gay teachers, a very strong GSA, and I was able to write pro-gay rights essays on numerous occasions for the school newspaper. For my Junior prom, my boyfriend and I were even allowed to register and be announced as a couple. All in all, a very healthy and gay-friendly environment.

    Sure, this man is ignorant and did a very ignorant thing, but he does NOT represent all of Indiana.

  6. rjp3 says

    Having worked in a High School in the past … more than likely this Principle is acting out of FEAR of losing his or her job.

    That is the tragedy … that not only gays but public employees, educators, children, HS newspaper advisors, and those in live in state without employment security for gays … straight or gay … we all have to live in FEAR of those who want to control society.

    Religious intimidation is the same everywhere …. if this Principle or Teacher is fearful of losing his job …. that is TERRORISM.

    THE THREAT OF HARM TO CONTROL BEHAVIOR.

    Period.

  7. Eddie says

    This principal won’t fare well in this matter. Very poor judgment on his part, all the way around. I hope and trust the journalism teacher will, at the very least, stand up for the freedom of the press issue. And ironically great learning opportunity.

  8. Dean says

    I’m the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper in California.

    I wrote an editorial called “Gay is okay” and stuck it on the front page. A lot of people didn’t like it and complained, but in the end the administration could do nothing.

    Reading the student’s article, I can easily say that my editorial was much more controversial, heavily attacking the ideas of anti-gays. I even indirectly compared homophobes to Holocaust deniers. I was practically begging for some sort of controversy.

    In one way, I’m glad I have more freedom of press but I’m jealous that my article didn’t get national attention.

  9. Jack! says

    This is happening all across the country. When I went to HS the teachers and administration were much more hostile to me than the students. It made for a very bad situation.

  10. Dan E says

    JT: Woodburn is functionally a suburb of Fort Wayne: it’s in the same county (Allen county), and the professional development I did was county-wide (in other words, it included teachers from Woodburn).

    Your prejudice against small-town America is telling; I come from a town of 60,000 which is surrounded by towns that range in population from a few hundred to a few thousand. I was in high school in the 80s, and there were multiple openly-gay students. In the 90’s my younger brother wrote an editorial for the school paper decrying homophobia and received praise and plaudits. Hell, when my mother went to buy a tinky-winky doll after Falwell decided the purplest telly-tubby was gay, she found the last one at the local target, and was told “everyone is buying them up. everyone hates Falwell so much.”

    I live in New York City now; I’m well aware of the assumptions people make about small-town America. I can tell you that, much like in the rest of the country, you find good people and bad people in small towns in Indiana, and probably in about the same proportion. All my small town friends embraced me when I came out and accepted me without hesitation or recrimination.

  11. Da says

    A similar thing happened to me in college.

    I did a story on lesbians and feminism on my radio show, and that got me in trouble with the chairman because the suggestion was that lesbianism might effect some students at the school. I, of course listened and nodded my head, then I got up and continued my programs as planned, knowing there was no possible argument against what I was doing..The plus is that my show was very much appreciated by the public, cause I was a guy talking from a feminist perspective which was seen as unusual for some reason.

  12. Da says

    By the way, I wanted to say how proud of I am of my fellow lgbt in this thread and others for their quick action!!!

    And thanks to Andy for continuously presenting us with stories that gives us the opportunity to empower ourselves into using our voices to make a difference. I feel inspired to be around you all.

  13. says

    Bless all of those now in, or from, “small towns” who are fighting/have fought the good fight, and making the point that there are “good” and “bad” people everywhere. In fact, there is an article in this morning’s “Bay Area Reporter” about a Mormon family suing a school in Santa Rosa, California, a much larger town [156,000], but within the realm of the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, for allegedly promoting homosexuality and allegedly harassing their daughter for her “religious” beliefs [read homohatred].

    But, forgive me, the more important issue here is not defending the fact that there are exceptions, and despite any selective experiences I guarantee you they ARE exceptions—there is a repeatedly documented correlation between city size and attitudes—than doing what we can to fight back against the small MINDS in positions of power everywhere.

    In this case, that includes writing and calling this fascist and his allies on the school board and telling them what there actions amount to. It also includes DEMANDING of HRC, “America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality,” that they climb down out of their Washington ivory tower, stop fantasizing that some messiah for gay rights is every going to come out of the politicians they blow millions of the dollars we send them, and devote less of the rest of their treasury on simply perpetuating their own existence and more on THE NUMBER ONE LGBT PROBLEM IN AMERICA. Not gay marriage, not gays in the military, but fighting in every way possible the independent and coordinated terrorizing of LGBT kids in our nation’s schools. But all we’ll GET is another belated, mealy-mouthed press release from Joe Solomnese issued from the safety of his DC high-rise office which will accomplish NOTHING! [Maybe they should hire Andy to issue search for them—this incident hasn’t even made the front page of their megasite yet.]

    I guarantee you some American Taliban attorney, probably a member of the highly funded and rabidly antigay Alliance Defense Fund, has already contacted the principal and the school board offering to represent them for free.

    This is a transparent attempt by this principal and similarly homophobic school board members to squash anything remotely gay-friendly; even if it is nothing more than an appeal for LGBT kids to NOT be terrorized. This incident was exposed thanks to the courage of a few people including 10 remarkable students. But I guarantee you that there are many similar incidents that happen across the country that never get such attention; and that there remains, overall, a chilling effect on students and teachers to prevent them from expressing their support as Megan Chase did.

    From GLSEN’s most recent survey of 13-18 yr. old students:
    65% of teens have been verbally or physically harassed or assaulted during the past year because
    of their perceived or actual appearance, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression,
    race/ethnicity, disability or religion.
    33% of teens report that students in their school are frequently harassed because of their
    perceived or actual sexual orientation.
    52% of teens frequently hear students make homophobic remarks.
    69% of teens frequently hear students say “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay”; expressions where
    “gay” is meant to mean something bad or devalued.
    36% of teens indicate that bullying or harassment is a serious problem at their school.
    53% of secondary school teachers say that bullying or harassment is a serious problem at their
    school.

    WHEN are we going to stop talking and DO something?

  14. rudy says

    Daniel your snide little comment is beneath contempt. Leland is asking–in his usual passionate and articulate way–questions that need to be addressed. If you want to pat yourself on the back try some other forum. I will not speak for others, but I do not appreciate or need your rhetorical contortions. Go look for stroking elsewhere.

  15. Kurt says

    I graduated from Woodlan’s rival HS, Leo, also a small-townish Jr-Sr High School, but as Dan E mentioned, functionally a bedroom community of Fort Wayne, so this is all known territory for me. Personally, I’m psyched that a HS Sophomore from that area had the guts to put out such an article, and her advisor gave it the green light. I think this shows some great progress in influencing change regarding acceptance of gay peers back where I grew up. I was scared to death to even think that I could be gay at that age back in Leo.

    While I’m in agreement with Leland that reaching school-aged kids, school boards, teachers, and administrators is a primo goal to turn the tide on our collective future, I’d strongly caution all of us “big city” gays to be very thoughtful in how we execute our tactics. Small-town Indiana, like most of our country, highly prizes unity and homogenous thinking—It’s what keeps families, businesses, and churches strong in most of the country. Our prejudices against small-town America (yeah JT, I’m talking about your comments above) typically drive us to react in ways that only make small-town America more defensive and self-justified in their fear mongering against the LGBT community.

    I’m incredibly thankful that Andy posted this story and that many of you are responding to the principal and school board, but remember your audience, guys. I sincerely wouldn’t be surprised if Yoder or others in this case actually don’t know an out gay person. In this situation, a reasoned, level-minded, and dare I say, civil response will carry much more weight in influencing hearts about who “we” are and what we’re seeking to change.

  16. says

    Well, fortunately my school’s a bit better than most. Lots of gay kids, GSA, and nobody ever gets bullied. Not to their face. The straight guys just…ignore them. Nobody really gets “bullied” in my school. Nobody cares enough about anybody. There is way too much “that’s gay” crap, though.

  17. says

    Kurt, while I certainly agree with you that one must tailor one’s approach to one’s audience, just as one would not yell English at a non-English speaker, I fear I disagree with you in the benefit of the doubt you are admirably giving this particular audience. I thank Phil above for referencing the editorial in the “Fort Wayne News-Sentinal” from which I quote:

    “[Principal] Yoder compounds the problem by responding to reporters only through Andy Melin, EACS assistant superintendent, instead of standing up for himself.

    ‘It’s not the topic of the article’, Melin said. ‘It’s the content of the article in terms of its level of its appropriateness and its balance. You have seventh- and eighth-graders who are far less mature than 11th- and 12th-graders’.

    Balance? What could Yoder or Melin be thinking? Were Sorrell and Chase supposed to find a student to argue in favor of mocking or ostracizing gay kids to offer some ‘balance’ to a call for tolerance? Appropriateness? There are no safer-sex pointers or lurid descriptions in Chase’s column. It doesn’t get any more explicit than acknowledging that some people feel desire for members of their own gender.

    What seventh-grader wouldn’t know that some people are homosexual? Aren’t openly gay people characters in television shows, hosts of talk shows, athletes, politicians, writers and actors? Isn’t the General Assembly debating a constitutional amendment that would outlaw same-sex marriages? Do newspapers and TV signals not make it all the way out to that corner of the county?

    Of course students at Woodlan know some people are gay. … We might quibble with Chase’s use of statistics and her sometimes simplistic view of sexuality and social adjustment, but in the end, Chase’s opinion piece is about as controversial as urging Woodlan students to be nice to their neighbors.” End quote.

    I did not jump to conclusions about the “hearts” or lack of same of those involved simply from Andy’s description. What I believe and wrote came after reading this perspective and common sense deconstruction of the opposition’s arguments from informed locals—the principal and school board assistant superintendent are acting out of willful homophobia and the desire to suppress anything and anyone who disagrees. “Hearts,” as well as brains, can be “washed,” and bigotry and bigots must be named for what they are.

  18. Kurt says

    Leland, I’m all for you advocating action, brother. And my response wasn’t personally directed at you. My response is meant to caution us collectively against using the same vitriol or tactics in this situation that we might consider against say corporate America (ala the Snickers commercial, or last year’s Boston Macy’s debaucle, etc.).

    We all should call a spade a spade. I’m trying to encourage saying that in a way that will be actually heard by the recipient and not immediately dismissed. We’re talking about people who live in an incredibly homogenous community who typically aren’t personally acquainted with someone who’s out. My father taught in this same school district for 29 years. My parents still send me the weekly East Allen Courier filled with lock step thinking letters to the editor. I’m simply advocating for a civil response b/c that IMHO is what will work best.

  19. Daniel says

    Sorry I was unable to post a response sooner, I was volunteering at a youth center.

    You can take my comments as snide if you want to but I believe that all the angry emails and phone calls in the world won’t equal getting off our butts and becoming active in the community at large.

  20. martini says

    stupid principals….stupid principles…zieg heil….yet, i’ve heard of stories like this on atlantis cruise lines as well….perhaps, not with the same sense of wonder-bread glee, but stupid principals….stupid principles — so immensely over them. their tired sensibility, their tired sense of closet glass pipe tokes, their tired lines, their tired nose bleeds, their tired groping, their tired wardrobe, their tired ignorance, their tired sense of travel, their tired sense of eudcation, and their desperate requirement to walk the gangplank and release themselves from clutching the tree they would so readily burn.

  21. rudy says

    Daniel, Your previous comments were snide–intentionally so. Had you said originally what you stated in the last clause of your second sentence, then you could have made your (valid) point without being churlish. Unfortunately, you make yourself far less persuasive when you begin, again, with a prissy little snippy comment. Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.

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