As Daily Kos continues to cover, the heinous, hateful “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida is dangerous for LGBTQ+ students, plus those who are questioning and allies. Queer youth already face structural and systemic barriers and obstacles when it comes to mental health, in addition to being at higher risk for becoming homeless, leaving high school without a diploma, and facing verbal and physical harassment and abuse.
That’s bad enough as it is, but an under-discussed element of the law (and copycats popping up around the nation) is the way it targets public school teachers, coaches, and other staff. Do LGBTQ+ teachers essentially need to go back into the closet? Whose identity is “inappropriate” and whose isn’t? (We know the answer to that one.) How do teachers know the line between being supportive and being “too” supportive?
One example comes to us from Kentucky, where music teacher Tyler Clay Morgan wrote a message of support for LGBTQ+ students on the classroom board on March 30, according to local outlet WB on 9. After outcry, he has since resigned from his job and says he has received threats of violence over it.
The message read: “YOU ARE FREE TO BE YOURSELF WITH ME YOU MATTER!” in rainbow colors. A trans pride flag and pride flag were also included. Morgan, who taught at West Irvine Intermediate School, which serves third through fifth grades, confirmed he did write the message on the whiteboard, according to local outlet WKYT.
Sadly, we don’t know what conversation ensued in the classroom, but according to Estill County Superintendent Jeff Saylor, the conversation went “far beyond the music curriculum.”
In a longer statement, Saylor wrote in part that while teachers “of course” sometimes veer from lessons plans, the conversations in Morgan’s classroom allegedly exceeded those norms. “It is my job to make sure that parents are not surprised by these types of situations,” he wrote.
Sounds a lot like the parental rights discussions are spooking administrators already, huh?
Not all people have taken an issue with what happened, though. Local outlet LEX 18 spoke to a parent who asked to be anonymous and said they appreciate the teacher’s effort to provide a “safe space” for “ANY student to be themselves.”
Henry Sparks, a former student at the high school, told the outlet that having a teacher like Morgan could have been life-changing for him when he was a student, as he recalled hearing homophobic slurs from a young age.
“He was literally trying to make a safe atmosphere for these kids to be themselves and learn,” Sparks told the outlet. “Which is something I was not able to do.” He added that he didn’t feel he had a safe space to learn as a youth.
As a gay person myself, I relate to this: I wasn’t “out” entirely in high school (if I even had a concept of what that looked like), but I cannot imagine how reassuring it would have been to have a teacher in my life who explicitly, openly, warmly supported LGBTQ+ people and that I didn’t have to guess or worry about how people “really” felt. Of course, I was (and am) privileged in many ways: I’m white, cisgender, and able-bodied, for example. For LGBTQ+ people who live with multiple marginalized identities, having a supportive adult in their life might make an even bigger impact.
“I still firmly believe more work needs to be done in Kentucky,” Morgan wrote in a Facebook post about his resignation. “Especially in Eastern Kentucky, to ensure that more resources are provided to make sure all students feel safe, secure, and seen.”
In addition to Morgan’s situation, we have to remember the young children who are losing a teacher. For youth who were drawn to Morgan’s message of inclusion, watching them leave the classroom so soon after might be traumatizing or anxiety-inducing, as it could send a message that support and acceptance are going to get them in trouble in some way. Again, this ultimately suggests to young people that they should stay in the closet, and that’s an enormous (and unfair) emotional burden.
Again, we don’t know what was said in the classroom, but from what we know, the board’s message seems appropriate, loving, and, dare I say, educational. It’s almost like conservatives are hoping young people won’t learn acceptance or inclusion and will be all the easier to manipulate into conservatism as adults.
Again, talk about grooming, huh?
You can catch brief local video coverage below.
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