Iowa students protest in support of teacher they say was put on leave for coming out as bisexual

Iowa students protest in support of teacher they say was put on leave for coming out as bisexual

As the school year begins, parents have a fair number of concerns about COVID-19, safety precautions, and their children getting a safe and equitable education. Teachers and fellow staff also have extremely valid concerns about safety and job security amid the pandemic. As Daily Kos has covered, the pandemic is far from the top priority for a concerning number of folks. What else has parents upset? Apparently, the existence of openly LGBTQ+ teachers.

Daily Kos covered the California volleyball coach who said he was forced to resign because of his sexuality, as well as the high school teacher who was put on leave after joking about pledging allegiance to the Pride flag. More recently, a seventh-grade English teacher in Winterset, Iowa, had been placed on administrative leave on Aug. 31 after he included a Pride flag in a presentation to introduce himself to his students. However, the school district says the issue actually rested in a personality quiz he assigned to students. On Saturday, the teacher resigned, citing his mental health.

What started all of this, according to the students? Students viewed the Powerpoint presentation, asked about the Pride flag, and Kaufmann answered honestly that he is bisexual. From there, he was allegedly put on leave. And both middle and high school students walked out of school on Tuesday in support of their teacher.

What is the school saying? In a statement to Teen Vogue, Winterset Community School District Superintendent Justin Gross explained that the district became “aware of concerns” related to the content of a “personality survey” shared with students and placed Kaufmann on leave while they investigated. In the news coverage shared in the video below, a parent shows the personality test she says was given by Kauffman to students, in which they’re asked about how they’d feel loved in their ideal relationship. An option includes “initiates sexual intimacy,” which is undoubtedly inappropriate to give to seventh-graders.  

However, students weren’t buying this explanation and weren’t afraid to express their belief that the school’s decision is actually about the teacher’s coming out.

In speaking to the Des Moines Register, Savannah Charlet, a former student of Kaufmann, said the district’s choice to put Kauffman on leave exemplifies how “homophobic” the town is and harms the school’s reputation. Charlet describes the decision as “proving that kids cannot come out without punishment.”

“They’re like, ‘this is a safe place for all, this is a safe place for all,’ but as soon as a teacher comes out, they want to put him on administrative leave,” Lily Smith, one of the students who participated in the protest, told local outlet KCCI.

“If in fact it is determined that an educator was discussing their sexual orientation with their students,” Bonnie Haugen, parent of a sixth-grader, told the outlet. “This group of concerned parents—we feel like that is inappropriate, and we would not like our children subjected to that.” 

Mind you, teachers (and frankly, people in most professions) discuss their sexuality all of the time. People in heterosexual-presenting marriages often have photos from their wedding on their desk, pictures from family vacations, births, or holidays. When talking about what people did over a holiday break or even a regular weekend, folks often share about their activities and (whether thinking about it or not) signal to their orientation via pronouns, names, or labels like “husband” or “partner.” 

It’s only when people signal queerness, apparently, that some parents have an issue.

In the end? Kauffman resigned on Saturday, telling the Des Moines Register that he was not leaving in place of being fired. Kauffman told the outlet the district had reassured him that termination was not actually on the table. Still, he wanted to resign to “protect my own mental health and well-being,” as well as ensure students would not be distracted from their work in the classroom. He described the public backlash as an “enormous burden.”

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