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Oklahoma Teacher Fired Over The Laramie Project

After showing her class the 2002 film adaptation of The Laramie Project, about the hate crime killing of Matthew Shepard, Debra Taylor's high school class wanted to film scenes for a class project. A few weeks later she was fired. Students say it's because the community is homophobic.

Taylor USA Today reports: "Taylor, 50, knew the project was controversial with strong language, but got her principal's permission. A few weeks into it, the principal told her to stop production. After students protested, she held a 20-minute ceremony in a nearby park in which students wrote their thoughts and rolled them into helium balloons, then released them. The next day, Taylor says, Superintendent Ed Turlington canceled the class. After she complained to a school board member, Turlington put her on paid leave and recommended that she be fired. The school board approved her resignation Friday. Taylor says she was let go for complaining to the board member, but others say it was a result of the play's subject: homophobia. 'They don't want something like this addressed in our community,' says senior Matt Ebner, one of Taylor's former students."

Said Taylor: "I didn't ask [the students] to change their belief systems, but what I asked them was, 'Can you be tolerant of those that are different from you?' Many times the students came back and said, 'I don't like gays.' I said: 'I'm not asking you to like gays. But can you be tolerant?'"

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) is urging people to contact the school's superintendent at 580-479-5237 or email him at [email protected]

Watch a local news report on the incident, AFTER THE JUMP (warning: video is autoplay)...

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Comments

  1. So was she let go or did she resign?

    Posted by: Michael W. | Mar 17, 2009 12:34:12 PM


  2. Just emailed to show my support. Bounced back.

    Posted by: www.gaygregator.com | Mar 17, 2009 12:36:29 PM


  3. sounds like she resigned.

    i tried to email Ed Turlington, and the email address listed both here (towleroad) and on the high school website seem to have been disabled.

    how long has this story been out in the public?? perhaps he got bombarded with emails already.

    (i just hope he isn't high-fiving his OK pal, Sally Kern).

    Posted by: Joey B | Mar 17, 2009 12:38:52 PM


  4. Sigh.

    Yet more bullshit from my home state.

    It's a slow, hard, irritating slog toward modernity, isn't it? And it's people like this woman who deserve much of the credit for the progress we've made so far.

    Posted by: The Milkman | Mar 17, 2009 12:47:49 PM


  5. Can you be fired so easily as this in the USA? Just on a whim? Are there no tribunals? No laws? No contracts? No trade unions? Good grief, what an awful place in which to be "different" - absolutely unprotected unless you have money. Poor woman.

    Posted by: Coemgen in the UK | Mar 17, 2009 1:03:57 PM


  6. Just in case my email bounces too! Here's a copy:

    Dear Superintendent Ed Turlington,

    What a sad moment in our history. When the head of a teaching institution can fire a teacher for teaching our youth to be tolerant. When one human being shows another human being that there are simple ways we can all just get along, that is a wonderful moment. I hope one day someone will teach you how to get along with others and understand we can all hold differing beliefs, yet still live life, love people and embrace diversity.

    Please consider the reinstatement of Debra Taylor.

    Thank you
    John McCormick
    Los Angeles, CA.

    Posted by: John | Mar 17, 2009 1:06:57 PM


  7. Yes, this is pathetic, but it's Okalhoma... is anyone really surprised? Sally Kern is their Senator, Oral Roberts University is the largest university in the state... this is the last true Red state remaining and it will probably remain that way. If this were anywhere else I would be shocked but I'm not even phased when it happens there. No, it doesn't make it any less reprehensible but it does make perfect sense. This doesn't make me angry, it makes me sad for those brothers and sisters who must live in this sad excuse for a state in this union.

    Posted by: Wayne | Mar 17, 2009 1:47:10 PM


  8. So where are all of the defeatist self loathing homos who are either trying to explain it away through excuses or actively blame her for getting fired?

    I hope she sues the school district for a serious amount and wins...it couldn't possibly impact the quality of education those keids are receiving.

    Posted by: TANK | Mar 17, 2009 1:54:41 PM


  9. Wayne, Ms. Kern is a representative in the Oklahoma state legislature. She is not a senator, either in the OK state senate or in the US senate.

    Further, Oral Roberts University is hardly the largest univeresity in the state. ORU enrollment is around 3000 students. Oklahoma State University (Stillwater campus) and the University of Oklahoma (Norman campus) have enrollments of about 21,235 and 20,915 students respectively.

    There's plenty to bitch about when it comes to Oklahoma, but silly falsehoods like your previous post make any further arguments a bit suspect.

    Posted by: The Milkman | Mar 17, 2009 2:53:54 PM


  10. I'm a teacher and I know from the School Law class I took for my Masters that we have academic freedom-- free inquiry and robust exchange of ideas.

    Our academic freedom may not be as robust as those who teach college but we still have a lot of freedom.

    If she is being fired just for teaching about hate crimes and the Laramie Project then I think she will have a good case against the Superintendent and the School Board.

    Posted by: Josh | Mar 17, 2009 3:11:45 PM


  11. Thanks for alerting us that the news video is autoplay. However, all WorldNow videos allow you to change that feature before you publish.

    Scroll about halfway down in the embed code until you see the code "isAutoStart=true". Change "true" to "false". Republish. Problem solved.

    BTW, too bad the teacher lost her job. People shouldn't lose their jobs over politics.

    Posted by: Deseret Dawg | Mar 17, 2009 4:25:35 PM


  12. I was born and raised in Oklahoma but got "paroled" i.e. was able to escape to California when I was 16. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

    Although I have always felt something akin to survivor's guilt over those good folks I left behind, although their numbers are rather small.

    This last election showed the entire country is trending "bluer", even Utah! The two places that have become more conservative since 2000 are the hillbilly areas of Appalachia and, you guessed it, Sooner Land. Must be something in the water. Something that was in cows before it landed in the water.

    Posted by: filmex | Mar 17, 2009 5:38:52 PM


  13. I was born and raised in Oklahoma but got "paroled" i.e. was able to escape to California when I was 16. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

    Although I have always felt something akin to survivor's guilt over those good folks I left behind, although their numbers are rather small.

    This last election showed the entire country is trending "bluer", even Utah! The two places that have become more conservative since 2000 are the hillbilly areas of Appalachia and, you guessed it, Sooner Land. Must be something in the water. Something that was in cows before it landed in the water.

    Posted by: filmex | Mar 17, 2009 5:40:32 PM


  14. filmex-- sadly, you are correct.

    I'm from eastern most KY. Even though KY is red, Pike County is usually a blue county. Yet in the last election it went for McCain.

    Too many people here still think that Obama is a secret radical Muslim or the Anti-Christ or both.

    Its ridiculous.

    Posted by: Josh | Mar 17, 2009 5:50:40 PM


  15. I'm from Oklahoma as well, moved away to Los Angeles at 18 haha... OK is really backward and this doesn't surprise me at all. I spent a lot of time as a teen fighting to add homosexuals to the 'no discrimination rule' section of the Oklahoma City public school handbook. It never happened while I was living there, perhaps more developments have taken place since... but it says a lot about their school district by not adding gays to the book, tells me loud and clear they don't care if bad things to happen to their gay students.

    Posted by: Paul | Mar 17, 2009 8:04:20 PM


  16. This story made http://detentionslip.org ! Check it out for all the crazy headlines from our schools.

    Posted by: hall monitor | Mar 17, 2009 8:38:57 PM


  17. More school news in LGBT bigotry:

    http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/2009/03/aclu_demands_peoria_school_dis.php

    Posted by: Wheezy | Mar 17, 2009 10:09:27 PM


  18. I think the real story here is the attitude of the kids. Change is coming, even here in the Sooner state. It's only a matter of time.

    Posted by: clint | Mar 18, 2009 12:25:51 PM


  19. Kudos to the teacher for bringing the issue of "tolerance" to the students. Even though she got canned, perhaps other teachers will be inspired to do the same.
    http://www.echelonmagazine.com

    Posted by: Michael | Mar 18, 2009 1:05:20 PM


  20. She was going to be fired, but resigned because being "fired" would affect her ability to get another teaching job within the state. And she wasn't going to be fired for the subject matter of the curriculum. She held this mock funeral and took students OFF school property without permission. The mock funeral can be seen in two ways that could be insubordination: 1) a continuation of lesson plans after being told to stop them, or 2) a demonstration against the administrations decisions, i.e. a demonstration against her employers. Either way, that is insubordination, which is a part of her teaching contract. That is a fire-able offense. Her actions gave the school administration just cause for the firing. She was suspended and her class was disbanded AFTER the mock funeral, not BEFORE. That highly suggests that the funeral, not the play or its contents, is the issue.

    Posted by: hope | Mar 19, 2009 1:13:23 PM


  21. Oh my gosh, I do not know where to begin. Our children are living (surviving?) in an era that is swimming with hate crime. The Laramie Project is not a play about homosexuality but a play about acceptance, equality, diversity and love. The Laramie Project is first and foremost not a re-enactment of the hate crime but a dialogic portrait of a small town and the effect of hate on it. After showing her class the 2002 film adaptation of The Laramie Project, about the hate crime killing of Matthew Shepard, Debra Taylor's should have been heralded as a courageous soul who took her class' sense of fairness and understanding into consideration and opted to be brave in order to make a difference in their lives. Do we now reside in a world where brave souls are condemned or do we embrace braveness? An interesting question to be sure. Students walk the halls and call math gay, people they don’t like gay, their friends gay, their parents gay, police efforts gay, the economic recession gay – they call everything they don’t like gay. How a teacher who chose to lead her students down the path of acceptance could be removed from her job is beyond me. Don’t teachers have the obligation to help their students become better, stronger, more tolerant adults? Why when Ms Taylor was doing EXACTLY what the public expects was she ostracized? Isn’t that, technically speaking what happened to Matthew Shepard? Shame on you Oklahoma School Board!

    Posted by: Wendy McIsaac | Apr 27, 2009 5:15:39 PM


  22. You can look at this another way, and that's the district used "insubordination" as an excuse to get rid of an older, more controversial teacher. School districts can and do fire teachers for stupid reasons all of the time. Unfortunately, administrators aren't held accountable for their actions. People like "Hope" believe administrators are always in the right.

    Posted by: Susan | Jul 24, 2009 10:52:08 AM


  23. Oh, and I am sure she resigned in exchange for a "good evaluation," as school districts do so often in this case. But school districts can and do whatever the hell they want, and nobody holds them accountable.

    Posted by: Susan | Jul 24, 2009 10:54:42 AM


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