FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Toby Jenkins
Oklahomans for Equality
Oklahoma School District Suppresses Free Speech
Tulsa, Okla – March 13, 2009 —
Oklahomans for Equality, PFLAG Tulsa, and Open Arms Youth Project have been monitoring a school controversy in Grandfield, Oklahoma where a teacher was recently suspended for teaching The Laramie Project, the play about the murder of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was killed in Wyoming.
Debra Taylor, who teaches the Ethics and Street Law class, was using pieces of the play to help her students examine how hatred and intolerance can be justified by attitudes within a community. Midway through the unit, Superintendent Ed Turlington told her to stop teaching the material. While attending an English class later in the day, the students complained about the unit being discontinued. The English teacher, the Superintendent’s wife had the Superintendent come and reprimand the class. Students report he used hateful speech saying how much he disliked gays and blaming them for AIDS.
A week later Debra Taylor, after being told to discontinue the unit held a mock funeral for the play to give her students closure and help them move on past the controversy. She was subsequently suspended. She has now accepted a resignation agreement, as she feared that she would otherwise be terminated. Her students are standing behind the play and their teacher.
PFLAG Tulsa chapter President Nancy McDonald says “It is a sad day for Oklahoma students when the academic freedom of a master teacher and her judgment is questioned on the use of an appropriate model to educate on ethics regarding hate crimes and social injustice. The response of the Superintendent of the Grandfield, Oklahoma School District is not in concert with the intent of the course description. This is an example of the need for educating adminstrators, teachers and citizens about hate crimes based on sexual orientation.”
Tim Gillean, President of the Board of Directors of Open Arms Youth Project, Tulsa’s Only GLBTQ youth center said “Schools are supposed to be a safe sanctuary for all Oklahoma students, apparently Grandfield needs a lot of work in this area”.
TAKE ACTION NOW: call Superintendent Turlington at 580-479-5237 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him to reinstate Debra Taylor.
TAKE ACTION NOW: Write the Grandfield School Board
Grandfield School Board
Attention: Jeff Coody, Matt Clemmer,
Ronnie Lindsey, Danny Palmer, & Ben Bryan
811 W. 4th
Grandfield, Oklahoma 73546
Tell them Debra Taylor did not deserve this kind of treatment. Young people need dedicated teachers willing to confront issues of respect, hate crimes, religious based violence, and acceptance for people of all sexual orientations. She should be commended for creating a safe space for her students to discuss issues of injustice and should be reinstated immediately.
TAKE ACTION NOW: Contact our State School Superintendent and register a complaint.
State Superintendent Sandy Garrett
State Department of Education
2500 North Lincoln Boulevard
Oklahoma City, OK 73105-4599
Phone: (405) 521-3301
Founded in 1980, Oklahomans for Equality (OkEq) is the state’s oldest and largest gay rights organization. Oklahomans for Equality seeks equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals and families through advocacy, education, programs, alliances, and the operation of the Dennis R. Neill Community Center
This letter was printed with prior written permission from Toby Jenkins, President,Oklahomans for Equality