I’ve had an amazing week! On Monday, I was in Othello, WA, speaking to the student body of Othello High School, and on Tuesday, I was able to speak to the students of Warden High School in Warden, WA. I was facilitating my signature workshop, The Wall, and, as I always am when I get to work with incredible young people, I left Washington feeling inspired. Thus, I plan to write a blog post in the next few days about the inspiration I draw from incredible young people like the ones I worked with in the last few days, but I have been swamped since getting home, so in the mean time, I am going to post a quick little something highlighting a mind-blowingly-awesome young person I’ve read about this week.
In October, Michigan teacher Jay McDowell was suspended for two days without pay for kicking a student out of class who, during an LGBTQ-awareness Spirit Day, allegedly questioned the teacher’s and other students’ participation in the Spirit Day, saying, “I don’t accept gays. It’s against my religion.” There was an exchange between the student and teacher (the details of which have been disputed), and the student was told something to the effect of, “If you don’t accept gay people, you can leave my classroom.” The student got up and left. The teacher was subsequently suspended for violating the student’s first amendment rights. Now, the tough thing about this situation is that the school board is actually completely justified in suspending the teacher based on the 1968 Supreme Court decision of Tinker vs. Des Moine, which establishes that students don’t shed their first amendment rights upon entering the school building (a court case I actually used to keep myself from getting suspended in high school when I was chastised by the administration for wearing an anti-Bush t-shirt). Therein lies a fine line because schools are able to reprimand students for hate speech, but it is not clear that the student in question used any blatant hate speech.
Whether or not the teacher should have been suspended is perhaps a discussion for the comments or for another blog post (and I welcome your opinions). However, my reason for posting today only peripherally relates to the actual events of that day. Instead, I want to highlight the courage of 14-year-old Graeme Taylor who testified in support of McDowell at a recent school board meeting on the incident.
The videos of Taylor speaking have gone viral on the internet, and he is soon going to be a guest on Ellen DeGeneres’ show. As this young man highlights and as I highlighted in my recent post entitled, “Let’s Make It Better Now,” bullying of LGBTQ students has reached epidemic proportions in this country. There are times, though, where I feel confused about how to respond. Research has shown that bullying behavior is really hard to change. However, seeing young heroes like Graeme Taylor stand up and speak out gives me incredible hope! After all, social norming, speaking out in support of those who are marginalized, and having the courage to stand up to bullying is exactly what will stop this behavior. People tend not to continue treating others poorly when they are shunned for doing so, when it is made clear that those around them don’t approve.
We can all take a lesson from Graeme Taylor’s courage as we look for our own ways to speak up and speak out.
Peace be the Journey.