October 20, 2010 was officially designated national “Spirit Day” by the organization in charge of designating official days to be observed throughout the land, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
The observance was prompted in part by the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate published a video of him having same sex sex.
So, of course, many students at the Howell, Michigan High School wore purple to show their opposition to school yard bullying at least, or especially, when the person being bullied is homosexual.
So did the Economics teacher, one Jay McDowell, who also happens to be the head of the local teachers union.
Enter a member of the class, allegedly a young lady, wearing a belt buckle designed as a replica of the Confederate flag. Mr. McDowell, asked her to remove it, which she did.
Whereupon one David Glowacki, taking the clue from the teacher that the study of economics would be delayed until political and social issues were thoroughly explored, inquired as to why the belt buckle was to be sequestered when there were so many other visible, purple indicia of opinion in the classroom.
True to the liberal creed of selective censorship, Mr. McDowell proceeded to lecture Glowacki and his classmates on the difference between symbolic speech which is acceptable, i.e. support for gay rights, and symbolic speech which was unacceptable, i.e. sympathy for the defeated and discredited Confederate States of America.
The difference, Mr. McDowell explained to his young charges was that gay rights symbols were supportive of something decent folks ought to be in favor of, while the Confederate flag was symbolic of something decent folks ought to be opposed to.
Unconvinced, Mr. Glowacki revealed that he was not in favor of gays and that in fact his religious persuasion included a belief that homosexual liaisons were sinful.
Taken aback by such impudent disavowal of secular humanistic orthodoxy, Mr. McDowell took the only course of action which would assure that no further such heresy would sully the ears of his economics students.
He invited Mr. Glowacki to take a walk. Get out of the room. Disappear. Which is what Glowacki did.
Not to be overlooked, another student spoke up and asked if, in view of his similar opinion, he might also be permitted to adjourn to the corridor. Be gone, said McDowell.
The two exiles ended up getting minor disciplinary demerits.
End of story? Not hardly.
Enter the higher ups of academic administration. The school board promptly suspended Mr. McDowell for one day with and one day without pay. His crime: punishing a student who disagreed with him.
The leader of the teacher’s union was not about to accept such a sentence without a fight. He informed the school board that unless they withdrew the punishment, he would take his case to the media and the public uproar would bring the board to its knees.
In the tradition of all school boards, they listened and then voted no.
And so the issue was joined. At the next board meeting Mr. McDowell was favored by the support of a new, unlikely champion; a 14 year old gay lad from another school district, one Graeme Taylor, who made an impassioned presentation excoriating the curse of schoolyard bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, questioning and sexually ambivalent students during which he revealed that he himself had seriously considered suicide at the age of nine.
It was heart rendering human drama that instantly filtered to the breaking news department at MSNBC.
Taylor’s speech was immortalized on video and promptly displayed on the Internet where 13,000 people saw it before the Livingston County Press and Argus got it pulled to protect their copyright.
Mr. McDowell’s predictions came to pass. Bags of mail, megabites of email, phone calls and blogs from around the country came forward to bolster his appeal, encourage him to litigate and generally debunk the reactionary school officials as nothing but a bevy of small town Republican bigots and homophobes.
I looked long and hard to find out what the American Civil Liberties Union had to say about the affair.
It seemed to me that Mr. Glowacki had a first amendment right not only to believe what he believes about homosexuality, but to express his beliefs publicly without being punished or bullied by the authorities.
The most I could find was a footnote that someone from the ACLU had suggested that the whole thing was a teachable moment and it might have been a better opportunity to teach if the students had been allowed to stay in the classroom.
With such courageous defenders of our first amendment rights at the ready, what have any of us to worry about?
And anyway, isn’t it reassuring to realize that in these difficult economic times, our children are learning so much about the economy?