LGBT media regularly cite the number of states where one can be fired “for being gay.” Many have long argued the risk is minimal, as the LGBTQ Caucus confirmed in a recent tweet: “Majority of Americans oppose laws allowing businesses #LicenseToDiscriminate against #LGBTQ people #SmallBusinessWeek”
Yet a great majority of businesses, including 89 percent of Fortune 500 companies, self-police against anti-LGBT discrimination. In 2017, 2,016 LGBT discrimination cases were resolved by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with 83 percent found to either have had no legitimate basis or closed for lack of evidence. The oldest and largest LGBT legal firm, Lambda Legal, currently has six active discrimination cases and the EEOC reports only 4.3 percent of reported anti-LGBT discrimination claims were found to have “reasonable cause.”
Is there a legitimate concern over this possibility? Reported cases of anti-LGBT discrimination tend to involve teachers. These stories get a great deal of attention because teachers are sympathetic figures. Unfortunately, the LGBT media isn’t always straightforward in their reporting of these kinds of incidents, making an objective evaluation difficult. Lost in the chaos and emotion are situations in which the Right may consider a completely different position if provided accurate information.
Unless the organization is specifically religious, the teachers discussed here did not lose their jobs. For comparison, about 42 percent of women report experiencing workplace discrimination and 59 percent report experiencing unwanted sexual advances at work. Are we fixating too closely on an issue that may be little more than an inevitable outlier to the normal experience of most LGBT Americans?
Let’s consider some recent examples of stories in which the LGBT media narrative did not match the facts available, thus contributing to a false narrative that harms constructive dialogue.
School Renews Contract With Teacher Despite Complaints
In early March the Human Rights Campaign tweeted a story of an openly gay elementary school teacher who had been suspended, stating, “Horrendous: 2016 MISD Teacher of the Year allegedly suspended in the fall for asking Texas school officials to include #LGBTQ identity in non-discrimination policies.”
The teacher, Stacy Bailey, had been advocating for the school’s anti-discrimination policy to include multiple areas of LGBT identity. She also began reaching out to other schools to see if they offered gay-straight alliances for students. She was scheduled to meet the school board regarding her concern when, as the local news reported, the following day she received a letter “notifying her that the district was placing her on administrative leave with pay ‘until an investigation is completed.’”
But that was not the whole story. A BuzzFeed article titled “Texas Teacher Suspended For Being Gay Still Doesn’t Know When She Will Be Back In A Classroom” discusses more details of the events prior to her suspension. Bailey, an elementary art teacher, had discussed her sexual orientation with her students and showed them a picture of her fiancé.
The school described this as part of an “ongoing discussion” about her sexual orientation, the sexuality of artists, and their relationships with other gay artists. Several parents expressed concerns about what they considered age-inappropriate discussion and the teacher was temporarily suspended with pay while the school conducted an investigation.
The school engaged in multiple conversations with Bailey about the nature of her conversations and many parents’ preferences. Bailey “refused to follow administration’s directions regarding age-appropriate conversations with students.” The district said its decision was not connected to her efforts promoting the non-discrimination policy, which was designed to be “all-inclusive.”
The core of the concern was around parents’ right to determine what topics their children are exposed to. Bailey’s contract with the school had already been renewed when BuzzFeed published its story. So not only was Bailey not “fired for being gay,” it’s unclear whether she was put under review for being gay or for spending too much time discussing sexual topics with other people’s children.
Supportive Employer Just Wanted Him to Show Up
In a more extreme story, a gay teacher in Kansas reportedly was forced to resign from his job and move out of state due to anti-gay harassment and threats. As reported by several LGBT news sites, Michael Hill came out on National Coming Out day in October last year. He reported receiving anonymous threats and posted images of several typed letters that included abusive and threatening language.
The Advocate reported the letters included “Queers will burn and so will you” and “We don’t want fags in our schools.” Hill stated he was harassed in his classroom, where he taught drama and art, and even had his tire punctured with a screwdriver and a gay slur written in the dust on his windshield.
All of this was reported to the police, who conducted a full investigation but could not find anything to pursue. As a result, he became exceedingly paranoid, was afraid to leave his apartment, and took seven weeks of unpaid medical leave. The school explained he would need to return to his classroom, or he would have to resign. He chose to resign and move to Palm Springs, California.
The superintendent of the school expressed sorrow that Hill felt he had to leave and stated he was a valuable addition to the school. Since the story broke in mid-April, no updates or further information has been reported.
School Puts Its Full Support Behind Teacher
From the other side of the spectrum, a story from Chicago provides a look into the sensitivity surrounding both sides of the discussion. In this case, an elementary school music teacher received flowers from his husband on Valentine’s Day, and his first-grade students asked him about it.
He told them the flowers came from his husband, and several of the students responded with mocking tones or saying “ew.” The teacher decided it was a good time to discuss tolerance and diversity in families, and a parent expressed concern afterwards to the principal. The principal conveyed the parent’s concerns and asked the teacher to “stick to the curriculum” in the classroom.
For this, teachers unions planned a protest rally at the next school board meeting. The Illinois Education Association sent a press release to all faculty and staff, asking them to support the teacher. The school stated he was never in danger of losing his job and has not been formally reprimanded over the incident.
This Teacher Broke Her Agreement
Finally, a Miami first grade teacher was reportedly fired from her job at a Catholic school after she married her fiancé. A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami, Mary Ross Agosta, stated the teacher was fired because, “[S]he broke the contract she signed when she began teaching at a Catholic school.” The teaching contract has a morality clause.
The teacher posted pictures of her wedding to her social media accounts, which sparked the controversy. The school indicated the posting of the pictures associated with her work at the school on a public forum was the violation, rather than the marriage itself. Many parents and students advocated for the teacher, stating her work spoke for itself and she was highly valued in the community.
In all of the above cases, LGBT and other media seem to fail to present all the facts to the audience. Often one must sift through several reports to piece together the information. But lost in the conversation is where the line falls between the religious freedom of a Catholic institution to determine private or public morality of its teachers and a beloved teacher sharing photos of her same-sex wedding on her personal social media. This is a debatable line that should belong to the people involved to determine.
Is it reasonable for a parent to be upset that a teacher revealed he has a husband on Valentine’s Day while receiving a gift of flowers? Would an anti-discrimination law affect this situation, or simply fuel the out-of-proportion outrage expressed by the townhall rally? If the teacher instead had revealed he was Christian and answered a few questions regarding his personal faith, would the response from all parties involved be the same?
It is easy to understand why conservatives hesitate to expand LGBT protection measures given that we see high-profile examples exploiting emotions without providing accurate information. Rather than positioning each individual as a victim of anti-LGBT hatred, each situation should be looked at as its own scenario with its own context. As long as the LGBT media continues exaggerating these situations or reporting on unsubstantiated claims, they cannot be trusted to determine discrimination policy.