Teacher Who Supported Gay, Atheist Students Punished


You may remember the story a few months ago when a high school in Tennessee refused to allow a student to publish an article in the school newspaper about the pervasively Christian atmosphere at the school and mistreatment of atheist students. I hadn’t kept up with the situation, but it seems things have gotten worse. A few months later, a gay student had an article in the yearbook saying “It’s OK to be gay” — and all hell broke loose.

Much of the community freaked out, of course. Kids were encouraged to rip that page out of their yearbook, the student who wrote it was in fear of her life, and people even demanded a criminal investigation of the teacher who led the yearbook effort — the same teacher who sponsored and worked with the school newspaper in the earlier incident. That teacher rightly stood up for the free speech rights of those students, which got him in trouble with the administration. And they have apparently taken their revenge by transferring him to the middle school:

“I’m fairly certain they transferred me so I would quit,” he said…

The tipping point occurred late in April when the school yearbook that contained an article about a gay student was distributed. He said other teachers complained and opposition in the community began to grow.

“The administration didn’t talk to me for two weeks,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, the principal asked him to resign.

“He said I was improperly influencing my students,” Yoakley said.

Yoakley said he refused to resign and three weeks later was notified of his transfer to the middle school. The loss of the yearbook adviser position cost him $5,000, he said.

A subsequent Freedom of Information request by the Student Press Law Center revealed the pressure that the school administrators were subjected to by members of the community. A number of emails that were described as “vicious and vitriolic,” he said.

The worst part of this, to me, is that it’s entirely unsurprising. It’s so predictable that it’s banal. This is very much in line with the subject of the book I’m working on, which details how those who dare to threaten Christian hegemony, especially in schools, are almost always subjected to this kind of thing — and much worse.

Comments

  1. dingojack says

    That’s exactly what I was thinking here Ed; another chapter for ‘the Neverending Story’…
    :( Dingo

  2. Aratina Cage says

    I’m extremely happy to see that James Yoakley refused to back down and quit. By doing so, he rightly stopped the simple act of giving a voice to LGBT people to appear shameful or wrong, which a resignation would have done. Bravo to him!

    A number of emails that were described as “vicious and vitriolic,” he said.

    The same thing is happening to some of the FTB writers. It’s becoming a major problem in society.

  3. Taz says

    If you didn’t read the post by Hemant Mehta, this part is worth noticing. It was written by the yearbook editor to a school board member who called for a criminal investigation of the teacher:

    Courtney Price, the editor of the yearbook, sent a message to Shaver — and he was so appalled by it, he posted it on his website:

    Dear Sir,

    My name is Courtney Price. I am editor of the yearbook. Sir, excuse my rudeness, but you do not have your facts straight. I decided to publish Zach’s story. I did not do this to cause any kind of uproar, or religion target. I am an 18 year old Southern Baptist student who is in a four year relationship with a man. I am in no way trying to plead a case for homosexuals, and taking from your stupidity, I can tell you did not read the yearbook. There are multiple stories about kids who have been bullied because of their lives (disabled kids, adopted kids, kids with tattoos, etc.) along with stories about hanging out at church. I would enjoy if you would stop your slander. Thank you.

  4. d cwilson says

    Ms. Price sounds like an intelligent, polite, and well-spoken young woman. I can see why her fascist school board member found her so “appalling”.

  5. Michael Heath says

    This high school is in Loudon County, one of the Virginia counties that makes an Obama victory in VA possible. The county went 54%/45% for Obama in 2008.

    Virginia has come more into play for liberals and moderates as more educated people move to the state of Virginia, especially in this county and a few others surrounding the D.C. beltway, like Fairfax County; where their respective professional class largely works for the federal government or in related sectors.

    It’s a story of some newcomers challenging and sometimes overwhelming the confederates who used to dominate the place when it was a more rural enclave; so the frustration can be rawly displayed as these old Virginia’s once again ‘lose their country’. In addition some of those professional-class newcomers are evangelicals, so the old confederates are also gaining new allies on some issues, though because they’re younger, not so much on gay rights issues.

    Here’s a brief article about how this county plays in the 2012 election: http://watchdog.org/44811/44811/ . A poll on how the ’12 race stacks up in this county would be most appreciated.

  6. says

    Americans United also reported on this and said:

    In fact, Yoakley said that he was wary of even being seen in Lenoir City for a while and that school officials considered hiring a security detail for him during the graduation ceremonies. Instead, Yoakley chose not to attend.

    Yoakley says he loves his new job at the middle school, and I have no reason to doubt that. Still, I can’t help but feel sad over this incident. Here’s a man who by all accounts was dedicated to his job and cared about his students. And this is the reward he got?

    I bet the guy is glad to be out of that cesspool of bigotry and hate.

  7. eric says

    This is the bit I find most ironic. From the article:

    Although the article [on atheism] was not published in the school newspaper, it was eventually published by the News Sentinel and gained national readership in dozens of newspapers and on-line forums.

    IOW, his kids succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, the school had a journalism teacher who got student articles published nationally, and the administration fired him for rocking the boat.

  8. =8)-DX says

    Loved how the article ended:

    “Me and my friend Ashanti were in Nashville. A lot more people are out about being gay [there] than there is here. Ashanti was like ‘do you want to cross dress?’ and I was like ‘Oh my gosh yes, I would love to!'” tells Zac. “Cross dressing was so much fun. It was funny, so many straight guys came and hit on me that night”.

    Oh noes! An openly cross-dressing-for-fun gay student!?! Must’ve blown there minds.

  9. Ben P says

    He got 5 grand for being yearbook adviser?

    Some, but not all, schools offer teaches extra compensation for taking on time consuming roles. Being a football or a basketball coach is one that usually brings a little extra. I could see being a yearbook advisor being a pretty big time commitment such that the position might be worth a couple grand a year.

  10. kosk11348 says

    A Loudon County school board member by the name of Van Shaver is actually calling for a criminal investigation focusing on Yoakle:

    If in fact it was Mr. Yoakley or any other teacher who allowed this article to be published in the year book, they should be dismissed from the school immediately. If it is found or known that Mr. Yoakley or any other teacher at any time has had any conversations or discussions with this student or any other student about their sexual orientation, sexual activities or anything about their private lives prior to those students being of legal age, those teachers should be charged with child sex abuse by an authority figure and arrested.

    (bolding mine)

    So a teacher who asks “Are you having any trouble at home I should know about?” or “Do you have any brothers and sisters enrolling soon?” or “Anyone watch the news last night?” should be arrested, according to Shaver, since all these questions involve a student’s private life. And how is knowing a student’s sexual orientation a violation of privacy? Does anyone serious think he would dream of censoring a teacher who discussed a straight student’s sexual orientation? Oh, that teacher mentioned Bobby and Suzie are dating now. Lock ‘em up!

    Shaver sounds like a fucking lunatic.

  11. Chiroptera says

    kosk11348, #11: Does anyone serious think he would dream of censoring a teacher who discussed a straight student’s sexual orientation?

    I certainly suspect that in Van Shaver’s mind, a teacher advising a gay student to not be gay would be well within accepted guidelines.

  12. yoav says

    And if republicans manage to get their way and kill teacher tenure and the right to unionize, the administration won’t have to try to push Yoakley to resign by transferring him and making his work environment as unpleasant as they can, there will be nothing to prevent school boards for firing a teacher for not being enough of a bigot.

  13. eric says

    yoav @13 – I don’t think this is a union issue so much as it is one of administrative competence. Good managers do not throw good employees under the bus, even in at-will corporations. Then again, good managers tend to take corporate counsel advice very seriously, too – something fundie school administrators apparently do not do.
    In any event, the superintendent should be reading the principal the riot act over this, teacher’s union or not.

  14. Rip Steakface says

    Some, but not all, schools offer teaches extra compensation for taking on time consuming roles. Being a football or a basketball coach is one that usually brings a little extra. I could see being a yearbook advisor being a pretty big time commitment such that the position might be worth a couple grand a year.

    More common than not, I’m pretty sure. My band director teaches three bands (a lower band and an upper band along with jazz band) as well as doing competitive marching band with the upper band. As a result, he gets paid quite a bit more for the insane time commitment required (playing at every home football and basketball game, four marching competitions, band camp, weekly after-school rehearsal through November… yeah).

    I fully intend to pick up Ed’s book as soon as it’s out. As a young person who’s been harassed for nonbelief, even in atheist-friendly, liberal, western Washington, I hope to see some advice for what to do when such stuff occurs.

  15. meursalt says

    @Michael Heath, #5

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the high school was in Tennessee, not Virginia. While your insights about Virginia are interesting, I’m not sure how they’re relevant to this story ;). Keep in mind, Southern States have never been terribly original in their naming of counties.

  16. Michael Heath says

    meursalt writes:

    I thought the high school was in Tennessee, not Virginia.

    Ed’s first link refers to this school in Loudon County, which I inadvertently confused with a county in Virginia correctly spelled ‘Loudoun’ County. Thanks for the correction.

  17. Paul Neubauer says

    @meursalt #17

    It isn’t only southern states that aren’t “terribly original” that way. For example, Ohio and Illinois both have Champaign counties and the county seats of both are named Urbana. Indiana and Oregon both have their capitals located in Marion county.

    (Yes, I do have a trivial mind.)

    Paul

  18. Ben P says

    So a teacher who asks “Are you having any trouble at home I should know about?” or “Do you have any brothers and sisters enrolling soon?” or “Anyone watch the news last night?” should be arrested, according to Shaver, since all these questions involve a student’s private life. And how is knowing a student’s sexual orientation a violation of privacy? Does anyone serious think he would dream of censoring a teacher who discussed a straight student’s sexual orientation? Oh, that teacher mentioned Bobby and Suzie are dating now. Lock ‘em up!

    Shaver sounds like a fucking lunatic.

    The only way you understand Shaver’s comment is to remember that for a whole lot of fundies that are really really opposed to homosexuality, they somehow cannot separate the mere fact of homosexuality from the act of gay sex.*

    I’m quite sure the reason Shaver can say something like this with a straight face is that he honestly equates the teacher discussing a student’s sexual orientation with the teacher having a discussion with the student about the merits of sex with men.

    * – NB It’s always men, because *for some reason* lesbians don’t evoke the same disgust reaction in most of those people.

  19. jamessweet says

    Free speech 101 for these idiots:

    Kids were encouraged to rip that page out of their yearbook

    Hey, go for it, it’s your yearbook. Assholes…

    the student who wrote it was in fear of her life

    Not okay.

    people even demanded a criminal investigation of the teacher who led the yearbook effort

    Not okay.

    Alright then! We’ve got it all covered and we can go back to our regularly scheduled programming, right? No? Oh damn..

  20. dingojack says

    It’s interesting, Ben, you brought that up. I read an article in the New Scientist recently (and I will rummage around to see if I can find it) reporting that a new study suggests that conservatives have a strong physical disgust reaction to things they dislike; liberals have a far weaker one.
    It’s a brain wiring thing, which is why neither side can fully understand the other’s position.
    Dingo

  21. blf says

    I read an article in the New Scientist recently … reporting that a new study suggests that conservatives have a strong physical disgust reaction to things they dislike; liberals have a far weaker one.

    Yer perhaps thinking of this, Why gay marriage divides the world (which is an opinion piece commenting on some psychological research into differing world views). An excerpt:

    [T]here seems to be an intuitive link between disgust and moral judgement, and this link seems to be much stronger for conservatives than for liberals.

    This, we believe, explains some of the differences in opinion on gay marriage. In short, conservatives are more likely to find homosexuality disgusting and therefore morally unacceptable; liberals might feel some disgust at the idea of gay sex but consciously reject it as a basis for moral opinion.

  22. says

    “It’s a brain wiring thing, which is why neither side can fully understand the other’s position.
    Dingo”

    There is no fool-proof decoder ring for teh Batshit KKKrazzee.

  23. tomp says

    the student who wrote it was in fear of her life

    For some reason this is reminding me of Pakistan and blasphemy laws.

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