14 year old stands up for gay-defending teacher

Graeme Taylor is my new favorite person in the world. He’s an openly gay 14-year old who eloquently defended Jay McDowell, a teacher who had been recently suspended without pay at his school in Howell, Michigan. What horrible thing did McDowell do that warranted this suspension? He told a student to take off a confederate flag belt buckle and removed two students for making anti-gay remarks.

You can hear Taylor’s speech to the school board here:

Videos like this make me simultaneously proud and disappointed. Proud that young people can so eloquently understand and defend the rights of minorities…and disappointed that so-called adults still don’t get it.


  1. chicagodyke says

    i’m not from Howell, but i know it well and i was born in rural (more rural than Howell) MI and raised there. Howell has a reputation, as do many of the little bergs and hamlets along the 96/94/131 triangle of republicanism in MI. it’s not as bad as some places in the south, or some places in NoCal, but it’s definitely a place i don’t rush to be. redneck theocrats are boring and do stupid, oafish things. places like Howell are filled with them, for all the local LWV wants to present these bastions of the lord’s good people as “w0nderful places to raise your children.” right now, what people there are most angry about? 1. meth 2. their kids all don’t have jobs. 3. the dealership just closed, and it looks like another diner is about to. meanwhile, the television is showing niggers and wetbacks in the white house, and blasphemous infidels dancing naked on practically every channel. and can you believe it? people are actually mocking the lord on the internet, and there were two gay men getting married so a liberal woman can have an abortion.”i saw that on some show, some time. i just know it. now, where is my medication?”the church, and republican party, make sure these people get a flyer about a month before the election, nice and shiny and what tells ’em how to vote right and with jeebus. the dems don’t. but if you’re bluehair flyoverland tiny mind, what happened to this teacher is “keeping you safe” and should happen.

  2. Jason Creighton says

    Great speeh. One minor nitpick: His statistic of an “estimated six million” gay people that commit suicide every year is almost certainly wrong, as Wikipedia tells me that only about one million people commit suicide each year in total.

  3. says

    That’s awesome. As backwards as it is that McDowell was reprimanded, it definitely says something positive about the shifting cultural zeitgeist that a 14-year-old can not only be proudly openly gay, but speak about equality so eloquently and so boldly.

  4. bnaji says

    Just nitpicking here, but Democrats do distribute official ballots that tell Democrats how to vote, at least they do in Missouri.

  5. FrankP says

    What an extraordinary, articulate young man. I was blown away by this clip – in tears in fact. There is hope for the future if there are young people like this coming up. Bravo!

  6. ckitching says

    I’m disappointed that it had to be left to a child to defend this person, in the first place. This should have never even happened.

  7. Katy says

    I’m so glad that he is willing to take such a public stand for doing the right thing, and that his parents support him in doing that. And while his parents could have spoken to the school board, I think it’s so much more powerful to have him speak to them instead. I hope they feel ashamed that such a young person clearly knows right and wrong when he sees it and is proud to be himself – and that such a young person rightfully took them to task, when they are supposed to be the leaders. What a great life lesson for everyone involved.

  8. SteveS says

    The links are a little unclear on the details. Was it one student? two students? One incident? Two separate incidents?This had the best detail:http://www.edgeboston.com/inde…What I was able to find out was the following sequence of events:1. Teacher Jay McDowell wore a purple T-shirt to school.2. He later told a student to take off a Confederate Flag belt buckle because it represented racism.3. A second student protested, identifying the conflict between McDowell using his 1st Am. rights to make a statement w/ the shirt, while denying a student the same right to make a statement with a belt buckle.4. An argument ensued, bigoted statements were made, and the two students were ejected from the classroom.I am not a lawyerr, but …IMO, the teacher is in the wrong, and was correctly punished.1. The shirt. While public officials do have 1st Am. rights to express their views, those rights are limited _when_they_are_working_ to not give the impression that government endorses a particular view. However, I think McDowell was okay here.2. The belt buckle. Unlike teachers, students have much broader rights to express their views, as long as it’s not disruptive. McDowell was wrong to ask her to remove it. However offended he may have been by it, he does not have the right to censor her free speech rights. The entire thrust of the 1st Am. is to protect unpopular views – as the student’s was in this case.3&4. The student who pointed out McDowell’s error was correct in his analysis. I’m willing to bet, however, that as a teenager, he probably didn’t express it in the best way, and the whole situation devolved into chaos. At that point, McDowell was probably correct in ejecting them, because the situation had become a distraction in the classroom.A two-day suspension for this sort of gaffe by the teacher is, IMO. appropriate. I hope the school board sticks to it’s guns in the face of emorionally loaded statements that miss the point and paint everything as a gay-rights issue.It’s only tangentially a gay-rights issue. It is mainly a freedom of speech issue, and I’m afraid that Jay McDowell is on the wrong side of the law.

  9. schancellor says

    Completely agree with this. While I think the speech is interesting and it’s great to hear a student in support of gay rights, this issue is about free speech. This is circumventing the actual issue at hand of speech restriction in public school. We should be looking at whether or not McDowell had the right to order a student to remove his belt buckle or not. We also should be asking whether this teacher is allowing free speech in the classroom and it is his obligation to not restrict speech that he personally feels offensive. There’s one thing in saying “I don’t like gay people because of my religion” and another in saying “Gay people are the devil and they deserve to rot”, especially in an academic setting. Although we at this blog probably tend to agree that both aren’t views people should hold (and oh do I hate bigots), free speech allows bigots to speak as much as we speak too.

  10. says

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Steve S. Without knowing the details of what actually occurred, unless that Confederate belt buckle was disrupting the educational process the teacher was legally in the wrong to make the student remove it.

  11. says

    To all of you viewing this as a free speech issue and believing the teacher to be in the wrong:You are correct that it is a free speech issue; even speech that is racist, homophobic, sexist and bigoted.But you are wrong about the teacher being in the wrong.Court after court throughout the US has upheld the right of school systems to ban clothing, symbols or anything else the school believes is disrupting to the educational process.Personally I believe the courts are wrong. Perhaps the teacher might have been able to turn this into a lively class discussion about hate and bigotry and lost an opportunity to educate.

  12. jess says

    To SteveSI don’t see how the teacher wearing a purple shirt is a free speech issue. Unless that day was designated as meaning something if wore a purple shirt or the shirt had text on it, it’s just the teacher wearing a shirt that happens to purple. Whether or not he had the right to ask the student to remove the confederate flag belt buckle depends on that schools dress policy. Many schools allow teachers to request the removal of clothing that is disruptive. Since I don’t see the teacher’s shirt as a free speech issue I don’t believe the student was correct in comparing it to the belt buckle. If the students made bigoted statements, regardless of the cause, I believe the teacher was correct in removing them from the classroom in an effort to stop those remarks and show that is not acceptable.That boy and his teacher give me hope that someday the world will be a better place and students won’t be driven to suicide because of bullying.

  13. Smurfe says

    Bottom line: a student was asked to remove a belt buckle that was an expression of free speech. A belt buckle is NOT disruptive and it seems very unlikely that it could ever be construed as such. If we are going to start labeling all things we disagree with as disruptive just so they can be censored then we have come to a very dark place indeed.

  14. jimmyboy99 says

    I’m really surprised at the continuation of this US ‘we’ve got the right to say anything’ thing, when a) it seems frequently omly to extend to those whose speech you like (I note the huge national move to try to stop the preacher from burning his qu’rans recently, and the generally popular attempts to suppress Islam generally in the US for eg); and b) when the exercise of that free speech appears to be directly associated with the shameful suicides of young gay people (just one group: I’d bet my right arm there are other minorities who are seriously hurt by the exercise of your ‘free speech’, not to mention the zilliosn who are physically hurt by the exercise of your alleged ‘right to bear arms’).Is it not time to revisit your’ rights’ perhaps? When Iran can criticise the US record on human rights – http://www.guardian.co.uk/worl… and the criticism resonates…?If one takes off the ‘First Amendment’ hat for a moment: as presented it looks like a teacher ion a highly bigoted part of the US stood up against racism and homophobia. I’m not sure at what point there is any valid criticism to make of that teacher on this issue. But then, I wasn’t there so perhaps there is more to this story?

  15. jimmyboy99 says

    But I thought that confederate symbols are disruptive, as they are a calling to arms for bigots and rcaists and are regularly used as such. Right? So you seem to have misrepresented the case there… We have the same now with certain uses of our national flag. As a result there is little place for these symbols in the classroom, clearly.To suggest that this was just a teacher’s whim (‘sometheing we disagree with’) seemns to be deliberately misrepresenting the situation. Why would you do that?

  16. Andrew Mckenzie says

    Where on earth did this kid get is figures from!? 6 million gays commit suicide each year when according to the WHO only one million people kill themselves in total!!!! Good public speaker, not so crash hot with the research.

  17. SteveS says

    “Unless that day was designated as meaning something if wore a purple shirt”Please go read the article I linked to. It answers your comment by noting that Mr. McDowell wore the purple shirt on that specific day BECAUSE it was designated as a day for remembering victims of anti-gay bullying.That’s why I referred to it as a free-speech issue.

  18. zuche says

    It’s possible he got the correct figure confused with another infamous six million deaths figure when he was speaking. Even if not, it should be the deaths, not the statistic, that’s important.

  19. SteveS says

    People naturally want to group themselves with like-minded people. Also, they want to protect the speech they agree with, while suppressing speech they disagree with.That’s WHY the First Am. exists. To protect unpopular speech from what is known as the “tyranny of the majority”.As to the rest – you throw in 2nd Am. issues and the U.S.’s adherence to Geneva conventions on human rights. While those are important issues, they should be saved for another time, rather than complicating the current discussion.

  20. chicagodyke says

    i received 4 republican voter guides. i received 1 from dems. it was smaller and less detailed and funded by the candidate, and not the party. i received nothing from the dem party telling me the explicit detail of for whom and how to vote that i did 4 times from republicans. i live in a traditionally *democratic* stronghold, in MI, near where this took place. Citizens United has consequences, yo.

  21. chicagodyke says

    children don’t have full constitutional rights of adults while on school grounds. the courts have ruled this over and over, on a host of issues. a teacher may, so long as physical or psychological abuse does not occur, eject a student from the class for just about any reason that sounds ridiculous to free adults. “the law” very often does not apply to kids in a classroom.

  22. chicagodyke says

    i gotta say, i find it interesting that people on this blog are defending a kid’s right to wear a racist symbol. but the silence coming from people when teachers and administrators want to ban the wearing of “gang symbols” in urban schools? deafening.

  23. says

    The Courts have been pretty clear on this for decades – Full First Amendment speech protections do not apply in schools. No beer shirts, for example, no gang colors or symbols. All of those withstand the standard TPM restrictions analysis.

  24. Regina_Astrum says

    One thing that a lot of you missed is that the teacher pointed out that the confederate flag had been banned by school officials as a violation of their anti-discrimination policy and other students had already been told to stop wearing it or even have it on their cars in the school parking lot. I will say that I believe kids do have the right to free speech but there are anti-discrimination policies for a reason. Kids are not full adults and they don’t seem to understand that just because they can say it doesn’t mean you should. (Not that adults really get this either)I had one teacher have to address this issue when I was in High School. I am from an extremely rural community and pretty much every class A jerk who had a truck also flew that flag. Well this teacher was from the south originally and one day a girl came in wearing the flag on her t-shirt. The teacher calmly asked her what the flag meant to her and she just said it was a cultural icon of rebellion. The teacher acknowledged that the flag was now marketed as such but then proceeded to tell us what the flag meant to him. When he was in the Navy (late 60s-70s) and on leave in Carolina he and several of his crew mates were out drinking and carousing when they were pulled over by a cop with that flag on the antenna of the patrol car. The officer was at first just derogatory and muttering about gay sailors until he saw that two of the men in the car were black. He immediately called for backup before he would let the men out of the car and when backup did arrive all of the men involved were brutally beaten before being arrested for being drunk and disorderly and resisting arrest. That flag is not a symbol of any form of speech that is protected at a public school.

  25. Katy says

    Agreed. Dress codes exist in many schools, and there are rules banning particular types of clothing items for students, including bandanas, certain types of sports apparrel, anything that exposes a midriff or skirts that are too short…. etc. Since they are children in a public school, they have to play by the rules set by the district and their principal. Given that this town seems to have a serious racial issue, it seems reasonable to ask a student not to wear a symbol that can be used as racial intimidation (not that it always is, but it certainly can be).

  26. Steve says

    Agreed. And to put this into perspective for some of you, look into this community’s involvement with the KKK. There was an auction house in Howell that attracted national attention a few years back for selling Klan items.http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/…This is not a very tolerant community. I’m not saying everyone there is a racist; but how much of that mentality has been passed to these school officials? How can Howell escape this image when they have a major road named, I shit you not, Coon Lake Road?(Btw, I am Steve, NOT SteveS)

  27. says

    Wow… he was very eloquent.And to those people who think that the teacher’s suspension was fair and just, think back to your time in school and the reasons people were sent out of the classroom. Think about some of the reasons kids get punished at school… Now think about some of the things kids did with no consequences… As a person that was bullied in school the thing that I noticed kids get away with over and over again was bullying. Bullying isn’t always right in your face. It isn’t always being pushed in hallways. In fact, it is usually consists of much smaller, much more subtle and pervasive pieces than that. It is mostly small comments made to you, it is small comments made about you, it is comments that aren’t directed at you but that are made specifically about something they don’t like that you do, it is conversations that stop when you enter the room, it is looks you are given in the hallway, it is jibes. And those comments usually amount to “you were ‘made wrong’ in some way”. The effect they have is to alienate you and to make you believe either that maybe there is something wrong with you, or that people will always think that about you.Arguing that a student should be able to stand up in the middle of a classroom and say something that is the epitome of passive, indirect bullying, that something is “wrong” with someone who might be in that classroom, without any response from the teacher… that idea is abhorrent to me… the student wasn’t threatened with physical abuse, damage to his grades, or hell fire but he was asked to leave the classroom because, the classroom is NOT a forum for bullying or bigoted comments. If you allow it to become such a thing, it will… I’ve lived it I was bullied in front of the class in grade six trying to give a presentation, and while the teacher shushed them a couple times he did nothing else. Offered no support. Gave no other indication that what they were doing was not acceptable… nothing. And that hurt more than the bullies’ comments. And allowed the problem to get worse. (man was I glad to get out of elementary school)Just because it is important that people be allowed to express themselves, it is equally important that a safe environment be there for the children. And safe isn’t always about the physical body, emotional scars can be just as deep. ..Now think about what the teacher did when confronted with the student saying that a group of people’s way of feeling was “wrong” and shouldn’t be supported… he asked them to leave the classroom. He gave a message that it wasn’t appropriate for the classroom, and while it won’t stop something in the hallways, at least it isn’t giving anyone a free license in his class.

  28. thx1183 says

    Free speech isn’t one of them. The SCOTUS ruled in 1969 that schools can’t restrict political speech as long as it’s not disruptive. The issue then was kids wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam war. He was wrong to order the removal of the belt buckle – and I’m not one of those idiots who thinks the Confederate flag isn’t a racist symbol.

  29. thx1183 says

    Court after court throughout the US has upheld the right of school systems to ban clothing, symbols or anything else the school believes is disrupting to the educational process.

    Only if it’s actually disruptive. See Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Schools.

  30. Inkhat says

    I have to disagree. I grew up 20 minutes outside of Howell. It has a reputation, sure, and the super-child is right. The Klan is pretty strong there, but claiming that these folks are clueless rednecks is, weirdly, both giving them too much and too little credit. Both Howell and Brighton, where I grew up, are bedroom communities for Ann Arbor and Lansing. They are full of highly educated people in huge houses. If you’ve ever driven through Howell you’ll see fancy restaurants, cafes, and nice stores. An internet cafe. Antique stores and book stores. The fact is that, calling these people rednecks is easy. Blaming their shortsightedness and bigotry on lack of education and opportunity is too, but it’s not true. It’s a nice town with evil people.

  31. TGIAA says

    Hmm. The article I read said the kid with the buckle walked into the classroom and made a loud, anti-gay verbal statement too.And bugger you Americans and your constitution. I’m sure the people who drafted it meant it to be used sensibly, with discretion. Where I live there is a distinction between a person’s right to ‘free speech’ and everyone else’s right not be publicly vilified.The ‘canned’ email response i got from the school superintendant after signing an online petition on the subject made me want to be physically ill.

  32. loreleion says

    We do have protections against libel & slander here, but the burden of proof is always on the accuser, as it should be. And they certainly did not intend the constitution to be used with discretion. They were pretty clear that the government derives all its authority from it. Protection of free speech, press, and religion are essential and constant, but don’t protect you when harrassing or bullying, particularly in a place like a scbool.

  33. Joe says

    Great speech but the specific incident should not be ignored. The latest school statement [http://whmi.com/news/article/1…] troubles me. It suggests the teacher added more heat than light after the fact. Trying to play legal tightrope about banning a belt buckle on this blog is a tad ridiculous to me. Aren’t we free speech here? And, if you are going to kick out a student who says “I don’t like gays,” when that is just a reflection of the majority sentiment of many communities, how does that promote dialogue? If the person said “faggot” or something, the teacher would not have been reprimanded. The person also wasn’t saying it to a person. The student was voicing a p.o.v. If the teacher wanted to end the conversation, as is his right, that too would be find. Kicking the kid out of the room should not be the way.The teacher might not warrant a one day suspension, but he was wrong. That is how I see it from my vantage point.http://www.google.com/hostedne

  34. Joe says

    Let me add something else in the article:”I want to force adults to look at what situation we’ve created,” he said. “I would really like us to be more aggressive in our policing of harassing and bullying.”Fine. That’s great. Again, how does kicking students out of your classroom for voicing their honest beliefs do that? It will encourage more dissent and blowback. It is counterproductive. So, tone down the self-righteousness.

  35. Eliminator55 says

    Common Sense leads anyone to the logical conclusion that this figure isn’t even close to being true. I partly support the students anti bullying image. However, that same student should come out in defense of students’ right to wear rebel flag apparel. That’s a basic tenet of free speech. I’m sure had the student been wearing some leftist propaganda that it would have been allowed. Liberals need to realize that freedom of speech is not a one way street and that political correctness is eating away at Americans 1st amendment rights. Also, Graham will be on Ellen in the next few days. Ellen should definitely stand firm and ask about the untrue “6 million” figure. I’m sure she’s too flimsy to do so though. If not here, someone speaking with Graham in the multitude of interviews and appearances that he’ll surely undergo should come out strong and ask about that figure. Using blatantly false information to support a cause if extremely wrong and hypocritical. if he meant to state a different figure and inadvertently said six million, that should be corrected, although he more than likely completely intended to lie and state 6 million. I just don’t understand why he gets a pass on this.

  36. BrianSchaan says

    I found a similar article at http://www.queerty.com/shock-h… and there was something that stood out: fewer than half of the students of the class provided statements that McDowell behaved inappropriately. This could go either way: either they’re lying because they support the “first amendment” argument, or the remainder of the students support McDowell’s intentions and therefore did not want to see him reprimanded. As for threatening a media frenzy, it seems quite possible that reasonable comments were taken out of context. Regardless of what did actually happen, Taylor is one of the most amazing people (young, old, or otherwise) I’ve ever heard, and I completely support his defending someone who was trying to protect his rights.

  37. BrianSchaan says

    I totally agree with your ideas on the constitution. Societies evolve, and laws need to evolve with them.

  38. Der Cat says

    Because he’s 14 and misqoutted up a statistic in a likely nerve wracking speech in an envorment that could have been hostile?  Maybe he’ll correct it? Could have meant to say attempts?  I mean for fuck’s sake’s he’s fourteen and making a public speech, cut the kid some slack.

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