On the first day of school at Neosho Junior High School in Missouri, teacher John Wallis placed a rainbow flag in his classroom as a way to make sure LGBTQ students didn’t feel excluded. It was a harmless yet meaningful gesture. While the administration didn’t recommend it when he asked for permission, they didn’t say no either, so Wallis figured he was safe. He even said later that several students thanked him for doing that because they “wouldn’t know where else to go.”
Days later, administrators at the school demanded that he take down the flag for reasons that just scream right-wing religious propaganda.
… on Aug. 26, Wallis said, he was called into a meeting with administrators, who told him that a parent had called and expressed concern that Wallis “would potentially teach their child to be gay.”
How would a flag make a kid gay? I have no clue. You could go to a gay bar after taking part in a Pride Parade in San Francisco and it wouldn’t change your sexual orientation one iota. But when you’re indoctrinated with conservative bigotry, catching the gay is seen as a real threat while catching COVID is not.
The administration should’ve hung up on that parent. Or maybe told that person to enroll in kindergarten because it was apparent they never learned anything growing up… but instead, the officials sided with the bigot.
During the meeting Aug. 26, the administrators told him to remove the signs and the flag, which Wallis said one of the administrators compared to the Confederate flag.
“I was told that in the classroom I have to be middle-of-the-road on political issues, and I said: ‘That’s OK. This is not a political issue,’” Wallis said. “I said, ‘This is a human rights issue.’ And then I was told I have to be middle-of-the-road on human rights. There’s no middle road on human rights.”
Wallis is absolutely right. There aren’t two reasonable sides here. There’s a side that says children are welcome and accepted in the classroom… and another that wants LGBTQ kids to hate themselves. You would think educators would all be firmly in the first camp, but that’s not the case in this Missouri school.
Superintendent Jim Cummins later told Wallis that parents complained he was “pushing an agenda in the classroom,” which again, makes no sense. This was a flag. There’s no agenda. (What would the agenda even be? Respect each other?!) Cummins made Wallis sign a document saying he wouldn’t discuss LGBTQ issues in the classroom — which he wasn’t doing. Reading between the lines, though, Wallis chose to resign. He didn’t want to work in what he rightly called a “hostile work environment.”
Now that everything is officially over, I can share some news;
I am no longer a teacher with Neosho…
— John M. Wallis (He/Him) (@MrJWallis) September 5, 2021
He also noted in a tweet, “There is never a problem when a heterosexual teacher displays pictures of themselves and their spouses in a classroom, but I have a flag and all hell breaks loose.”
The saddest thing is that Wallis grew up in this community. Teaching there, despite the obvious problems in the city, was a way of giving back to the people who made him who he is today. But they found a way to kick him out for daring to let students know they were going to be respected. He’s now planning to move to St. Louis but he likely won’t be teaching again.
NBC News reports that Wallis has “filed a complaint with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights alleging that he faced employment discrimination due to his sexual orientation.”
Religion never comes up in NBC’s story, but it’s hard to imagine this whole scenario playing out without the influence of conservative Christianity and the hate it breeds. But thanks to anti-LGBTQ parents and administrators who refused to stand up for a teacher who actually cared, students at Neosho will be spending the school year knowing that being LGBTQ — and talking about it the same way straight kids talk about crushes, dating, and dances — will create problems for them.
What an awful thing to teach kids who are already struggling with so much.
(Image via Shutterstock)