A gay teacher has lost his job after explaining his rainbow-coloured Pride bracelet to some of his students after they asked him about it.
The incident at a Huntington Local High School, near the city of Chillicothe, in Ross County, in the Midwestern US state of Ohio, has started a huge protest, with hundreds of people in the local community, including parents and teachers, voicing their support for the teacher.
The substitute teacher, Jay Bowman, has refused to remain silent over his firing and he told ABC: “I know I’ve opened a can of worms and I know I’ve started a discussion, and I trust that the members of this community know that I did that with no ill intent.”
He said on Facebook that the “greater lesson here isn’t about me ever being welcomed back”, arguing instead that it is about “that student sitting alone in the classroom, feeling like they are somehow less”.
The now openly gay man, who has been teaching for over 30 years, added: “If a kid has questions, if a kid wants honesty, I don’t think I should be forbidden from providing that.”
His dismissal came after Bowman was reportedly asked by some students about his “First Capital PRIDE”, rainbow-coloured bracelet. First Capital PRIDE is a local LGBTQ+ rights organisation.
He told the Scioto Valley Guardian: “When approached by students who expressed a certain point of view, I happily slid the band off my arm, offered it to the student, and explained that First Capital Pride offered support groups for teens who may be struggling, are suicidal, are ostracized, and need support.” (sic)
But he was soon dismissed and after looking into why he got the sack, he claims it was because of his sexual orientation and the school’s policies, which prevent him from discussing “religious and political topics”.
He said the school told him they had received “community complaints”, but the popular teacher has also received overwhelming support from parents and students in the community, with whom he is reportedly very popular, and who have reportedly shared his posts hundreds of times, according to the Scioto Valley Guardian.
The school board maintains that Bowman “violated board policies by speaking to students about political and religious topics, as well as distributing bracelets”.
In response, students have reportedly staged a protest outside the high school to show their support for the popular teacher.
Some students have even reportedly worn Pride bracelets to class in support of the teacher, but ABC also said that some flyers were torn off walls, ending up in the school’s urinals.
In the 1990s, Bowman said he had remained “closeted” about his sexual orientation because he knew that it would have resulted in his immediate dismissal, had it been known at the time.
Bowman claims that over the course of his career as a teacher, he has taught approximately 40 students and athletes who later came out, and this leaves him wondering how he might have been able to help them if he had not been forced to remain silent about his homosexuality.
The teacher explained that he is speaking up because he does not want any student to “feel less” and he said: “Huntington is my home. It is where I got my first teaching job. It is everything to me.”
He added: “I love this community. I love this school.”
He said in a post dated 24 March: “I am a good, student-first teacher. I love all God’s children and the kids at Huntington will always hold a place in my heart. Huntington Schools is home to me. I lived there for more years than anywhere else. I do not ever put students at risk. I work hard at reaching out to every single student I meet. These great kids respond well to me and we have a genuine teacher/student affection for one another.”
He added: “By the way…Ohio state law still permits firing anyone just for being LGBTQIA+. Some don’t realized this fact.” (sic)
In a post dated 27 March, he also said: “The purpose of my 3/24 post was not for the district to be punished in any way, shape or form…but feel they should be open & honest about how lowly they regard the LGBTQIA+ and not hide behind a flimsy policy. I hold no ill will towards anyone affiliated with their decision to cancel me.”
He added: “The admin’s reasoning for cancelling me (community complaints/violation of policy…of which I was unaware until I was cancelled) rings more than a bit hollow to me. If the bands (pic of offending phrase and color scheme is below) had been supportive of any number of other ideas/entities, I believe the outcome would have been far different. Current post responses/shares reveal a strong disparity between the policy used against me & the views of the broader community (specifically parents & students).”
Bowman also said: “Remember, the greater lesson here isn’t about me ever being welcomed back (going public probably sealed that door forever) or about showing hatred towards anyone…it is about that student sitting alone in the classroom, feeling like they are somehow less. And showing them that they can change their world!!” (sic)
Members of the local community are planning to bring the matter up at a school board meeting scheduled for 11 April in a bid for them to reconsider the policies.
The Scioto Valley Guardian reports that the school is now at risk of losing its federal funding over the matter, saying: “On his first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order declaring that prohibitions on discrimination on the basis of sex cover discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. […]
“It is unknown how much of the local school district’s funding is federal, but it is believed millions of dollars are at risk.”