In February, Spring High School in Texas told student George “Tony” Zamazal that she would not be allowed to wear a dress to prom, even though she feels more comfortable dressing as a woman and identifying with female pronouns. The ACLU intervened on her behalf, and now the school has relented, explaining that Tony could wear a dress so long as she complied with the prom’s dress code as it’s enforced for all female students.
The senior is ecstatic:
TONY: All I wanted was to get to wear a dress to prom, because I wouldn’t have felt comfortable at all showing up in a tux. I’m so grateful that my school has agreed to let me be myself on such an important night.
Respecting people’s identities does not have any major consequence except allowing them to feel safe and authentic.
Whether or not to have a straights-only prom has embroiled Indiana’ Northeast School corporation in a national controversy, particularly because of the comments made by special education teacher Diana Medley. Not only does she believe being gay is a choice influenced by “life circumstances,” but she doesn’t even believe gay people have any sort of purpose in life. Last week, Northeast Superintendent Mark A. Baker defended Medley’s right to free speech, apparently offering no concern about the potential harm to students by such comments. Given the controversy has not died down, it seems Medley has now been placed on administrative leave and the school has also increased security measures, according to a new statement from Baker:
As many of you know and appreciate, our school corporation is continuing to manage as responsibly and respectfully as possible the fallout from comments made by an employee as she attended a meeting outside of school or a school activity.
We have conveyed our disappointment and our disagreement with these statements and have emphasized her comments do not reflect our schools’ views or opinions.
The administration and one school employee in particular at North Central Jr/Sr High School have received aggressive email messages. We are turning over to law enforcement all such communications. Further, and as a precaution, the Indiana State Police and the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department have deemed it necessary to station an officer at our high school. Additionally, these law enforcement agencies, while they are here, are familiarizing themselves with our buildings, as is part of their regular training.
For that, we are grateful for their support of our school and our students. This matter has created some heartbreaking differences in opinion. Please know we are always going to put the safety of our students and faculty first and any disruption of our educational process will be managed quickly.
In response to our concerns for the safety and security of everyone in our buildings, we have placed the employee at the center of this concern on administrative leave.
It’s unfortunate that safety has become a concern at the school, but it’s also disappointing that the school has not taken any responsibility for the impact of Medley’s comments on students. From this statement, it seems Medley’s suspension is only for her own safety and not to protect students from her very negative message of rejection. Though the district is to be commended for distancing itself from her remarks, it’s not clear that administrators have taken any steps to improve (or even assess) the climate for LGBT students.
Stacy Dawson found out he could not bring his boyfriend because of a single line in the school handbook stating, “high school students will be permitted to invite one guest, girls invite boys and boys invite girls.”
“I’m doing this for anyone to bring anyone they want to prom,” Dawson told LGBTQ Nation before the ban was reversed. “I hope that my school and the school board members understand it’s a wrong policy. [...] It isn’t fair that a school can randomly disregard students’ rights because it doesn’t agree with who you want to take to prom.”
Just one day after the Southern Poverty Law Center threatened a lawsuit on Dawson’s behalf, the school quickly removed its ban.
SPLC’s letter to Scott County Central High makes the strong case for the ban was unconstitutional. The letter cites Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, where the Supreme Court determined students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gates.” And a second federal case in Mississippi, McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, decided a student expressing “her identity through attending prom with a same-sex date” was “the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment.”
However, the fight against same-sex discrimination at proms carries on elsewhere, as an anti-gay Indiana group faces major backlash for proposing a gay-free prom.
When news broke that a group was trying to create a gays-free prom at Sullivan High School in Indiana, special education teacher Diana Medley’s anti-gay comments quickly became viral on the Internet. In addition to saying that homosexuality is a choice, she went so far as to say that gay people have no purpose in life. A Change.org petition with over 15,000 signatures is calling for disciplinary action, Dan Savage has called for her to be outright fired, other Indiana teachers are countering her message, and thanks to reddit, even the principal from Billy Madisonhas chimed in. It seems, though, that the school is not taking any action.
Superintendent Mark A. Baker released a statement Tuesday distancing the Northeast School Corporation from her position but defending her free speech:
I would like to clearly state the Northeast School Corporation has never denied any student the right to attend prom or any other Northeast School Corporation sponsored event due to their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Furthermore, the Northeast School Corporation has never denied any student access to any events sponsored by Northeast School Corporation. This includes sports, plays, musicals and any other extra-curricular activities.
In regards to the story that WTWO aired on February 10, 2013, the Northeast School Corporation employee that was interviewed was expressing her First Amendment rights. The views expressed are not the views of the Northeast School Corporation and/or the Board of Education.
These comments were expressed during a Sunday community meeting at a local church and at no time was she representing the Northeast School Corporation. The teacher was participating in a meeting with her local church congregation.
Of course Medley has the right to her fraudulent, offensive beliefs, but she also has an obligation to the safety and well-being of students that she supervises. As a special ed teacher, she is likely working with students who are already vulnerable to bullying because of their physical, mental, or learning disabilities. By publicly stating that an entire group of students don’t have a purpose in life, she compromises her trust as an educator. At the very least, remediation to help her understand the obvious harm inherent in her position should be required, if not further disciplinary action.
It’s still a bit early for prom season, but students, parents, and faculty at Sullivan High School in Indiana are already calling for a prom that bans gays from attending. Students believe that a “good prom” would be one where homosexuality is not allowed because “we don’t think it’s right nor should it be accepted.”
In addition to the basic homophobia at root in this story, what is quickly becoming a second story is the media’s attempt to cover up or tone down that anti-gay animus. Unsurprisingly, an invite-only Facebook group where proponents were publicly discussing the gay-free prom has disappeared, but not before plenty of screenshots were captured of the comments being made there. But even WTWO, the NBC affiliate that reported this story Sunday night, made numerous edits to the story since its first publication. For example, at one point, the video was removed from the story and the lede sentence (as was read by the anchor) was changed to soften its tone:
OLD: A team of Valley high schools and parents petition to ban gays from their prom.
NEW: A team of Valley high schoolers and parents rally for a traditional prom that bans gays.
Later Sunday evening, the odious testimony of special education teacher Diana Medley was significantly cut in a way that made her sound less anti-gay, though it has since been restored. Here were her comments to WTWO reporter Paige Preusse about how she believes nobody is born gay, as featured in the original news report that aired:
MEDLEY: I believe it was a choice that she made. I don’t believe that they were born that way. I think that life circumstances made them choose that. I think God made everybody equal.
PREUSSE: When a gay person, you know — do you consider them, maybe, that they have some sort of purpose in life?
MEDLEY: I don’t. I personally don’t, I’m sorry. I don’t understand it. A gay student, or adult, or person is going to come up and make some change unless they realize it was a choice and I’m choosing God.
The newly edited video featured with the article actually includes more comments from Medley than originally aired, but her comments about gays not having a purpose in life are not included in the printed version. Watch a clip of the original broadcast, which includes the anchor’s original lede — now cut from the posted video to reflect the change in the article:
It’s unclear what the fate of the prom is at this point, and school administrators have yet to weigh in. According to a Sullivan senior who contacted blogger Alvin McEwen, the proposed gay-free “traditional prom” would be a separate event not supported by the school, and not supported by all students. Two separate Facebookpages have been started calling for an inclusive prom, and a Change.org petition has been started calling for Medley to be disciplined for her offensive remarks suggesting gay people don’t have a purpose in life.