A Kentucky middle school chorus teacher came out as bisexual on Instagram in the spring of last year. A month later, he lost his job. Now he’s bringing a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Montgomery County Board of Education.
The teacher, Nicholas Breiner, who taught at McNabb Middle School, said he came out on Instagram because he wanted to support students in the LGBTQ community who he knew had been suicidal. On May 3, he filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Kentucky.
“I felt that they needed to know there was someone in the room that understood and supported them, regardless of who they were. As terrifying as it was to admit, I had to value someone else’s well-being over my own privacy,” his Instagram read, according to the Lexington Herald Leader.
Breiner told the Lexington Herald Leader that he had “personally intervened on several suicide cases” and that the “vast majority of the attempts were from LGBTQ students.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, LGB high school students consider suicide at almost three times the rate of straight students and are almost five times more likely to attempt suicide.
Three days after his social media post, Breiner was told to meet with Deputy Superintendent Rick Culross, who questioned him about his sexual orientation, according to the complaint. After the meeting, Breiner says he experienced “disparate terms of the condition of his employment, including but not limited to being called into unscheduled meetings, accused of violating policy not associated with the plaintiff, harassing phone calls during class and unfavorable evaluation.”
A month later, Breiner had been “pink slipped.” The middle school principal told Breiner that the reason behind not renewing his contract was budget constraints. In June 2017, he learned that a straight woman was teaching in his previous position.
Last June, Montgomery County Superintendent Matthew Thompson told the Lexington Herald Leader that the decision not to renew his contract was not connected to his coming out as bisexual.
Parents and students who were angry about the decision protested in front of the county courthouse that same month.
“We all really feel that it comes down to his sexuality, and that’s a load of crap. He’s a great educator. There were several parents who showed up with their kids. Several past students,” one parent, Megan Johnson, told the Lexington Herald Leader.
In addition to this lawsuit, Breiner filed a similar suit against the board of education in Montgomery Circuit Court.
The case is similar to the story of a Texas elementary school art teacher’s suspension. The art teacher, Stacy Bailey, who won two Teacher of the Year awards at the school, was placed on leave in September of last year after at least one parent complained that the teacher mentioned her sexual orientation. Bailey’s lawyer said the teacher simply mentioned her wife. The Dallas Morning News reported that parents and teachers were determined to find out more information about why she was no longer in the classroom.
In March, the school district said she refused “to follow administration’s directions regarding age-appropriate conversations with students.” The district added that “parents have the right to control the conversation with their children, especially as it relates to religion, politics, sex/sexual orientation, etc.”
The school district recently voted to renew her contract, but she received notice that she was being reassigned to a local high school rather than the elementary school she taught at for a decade, according to BuzzFeed. This week, she filed a federal lawsuit against the district for discrimination.
And there have been other recent cases of schools reacting similarly to LGBTQ teachers and teachers discussing issues affecting LGBTQ students in class. Last year, Jocelyn Morffi, a Catholic school teacher, was fired after marrying her partner. A New York teacher was suspended after parents complained about handouts on sexuality and gender.
Martha Harvey, president and CEO of the Pride Center of the Capital Region, told the Post Star that transgender students are “coming out younger and younger” and that the education the teacher provided in the handouts is necessary.
“If you love your kids, you want them to have the most information possible,” she told the Post Star. “If a parent has a problem with this presentation, that’s the parent’s problem. This program saves lives.”