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Gay student speaks out at school board meeting to defend suspended teacher

Monday, November 15, 2010
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A high school economics teacher in Howell, Mich., suspended after ejecting two students from his class after the students said they believed that gays and lesbians are immoral, has garnered considerable support from the local community, and from one student in particular.

Graeme Taylor

In honor of anti-bullying day during the national Ally Week last month, Howell High School teacher Jay McDowell wore a purple shirt to show his solidarity with struggling gay teens following news reports of teen suicides nationwide.

McDowell, reportedly ejected the students over a heated debate over the difference between Confederate symbols and gay rights symbols, prompted in part because one student was wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle.

The conversation that followed ended with McDowell kicking two students out of his classroom they said they refuse to accept their gay peers.

In a packed, standing room only meeting last week, parents, students, and community members who live in the area told the school board that they wanted McDowell’s suspension lifted and his pay restored.

Jay McDowell

Fourteen-year-old Graeme Taylor, an openly gay student, came to McDowell’s defense with an impassioned plea, in which he quoted the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He did an amazing thing. He did something that’s inspired a lot of people,” Taylor told the school board. “And whenever — ever — I have a teacher stand up for me like that, they change in my eyes. I support Jay McDowell, and I hope you do too.”

Taylor also reminded board members that their community was once home to a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, Robert Miles, a notorious white supremacist organization.

McDowell, who was suspended for two days — one with pay, one without — said he suspended the students for being disruptive, not for their viewpoints.

He has filed a grievance to have the discipline overturned.

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