A gay substitute teacher in Ohio claims he was fired for handing out Pride bracelets to some interested students.
Jay Bowman, a teacher for 30 years, was substituting for the Huntington Local School District, located outside Chillicothe, in southern Ohio. He said several female students asked him about a rainbow-colored bracelet he was wearing.
Bowman says he answered honestly, telling them the bracelet was one made by the First Capital PRIDE Coalition, a pro-LGBTQ organization in Chillicothe, as well as the significance of the rainbow bracelet.
“If a kid has questions, if a kid wants honesty, I don’t think I should be forbidden from providing that,” Bowman said in an interview with Columbus-area NBC affiliate WSYX.
But district officials found Bowman’s actions unacceptable, claiming that he violated district policies restricting staff from discussing “political, religious and personal beliefs” with students.
“Huntington Local Schools is committed to maintaining a welcoming and inclusive community for our students, teachers and staff. Those values guide us, and our district does not discriminate in our hiring practices,” the district said in a statement.
“It is important for you to know that our Board policies restrict staff from discussing with students certain subjects, including political, religious and personal beliefs. This past week, we received reports with specific concerns about possible violations of those policies by a substitute teacher in the district.
“After a brief investigation, we confirmed, by the substitute’s own admissions, that he violated board policies by speaking to students about political and religious topics, as well as distributing bracelets.
“As a result of his violation of board policies, the district decided his services as a substitute would no longer be utilized. While we recognize there are diverse points of view on this matter, this policy exists for the purpose of ensuring all students feel comfortable in the classroom.”
First Capital PRIDE condemned the district’s actions, arguing that it sends a message that it is not okay for LGBTQ employees to be out, and that those who are will face consequences.
Bowman said that during his teaching career, he has had nearly 40 former students and athletes come out to him. But he also rejects the notion that he had undue influence over his students, noting that parents are the ones responsible for teaching them personal values or beliefs.
“I don’t try to recruit anyone,” Bowman said. “The parents are responsible for the kids. The parents are the ones who need to teach their kids right and wrong. I think the reaction to my violation, when compared to other instances in the school where certain things are tolerated, was unfair. Huntington Township is, by and large, a conservative area and human rights are not a foreign entity at all, but it is outside the comfort level of a lot of people.”
Some community members say they want the school board to reconsider its policies, and want to bring the issue up at the next board meeting on April 11. Bowman says he’s cheered by shows of support from community members who have spoken out on his behalf.
“Everybody’s voice should be heard,” Bowman said. “My catchphrase has become ‘There is room at the table for everyone,’ and there is.”
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