News (USA)

‘Gay? Fine by me’ t-shirts gain student support at Maine high school

BRUNSWICK, Maine — When a high school math teacher hung a t-shirt containing the message, “gay? fine by me” in her classroom, she was expecting it might elicit some reactions, but was surprised when dozens of students said they wanted a t-shirt like it of their own.

Bangor Daily News
Julia Brown (left) and McKell Barnes

McKell Barnes, a first year math teacher and softball coach at Brunswick High School said she has ordered 160 more of the bright yellow t-shirts, which she plans to sell at the school and on Facebook with profits going to the school’s gay-straight alliance, reported the Bangor Daily News.

On March 16, Barnes and the rest of the school’s faculty attended an in-school workshop on the topic of creating a safe and accepting school environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students. She was given the T-shirt at the end of the workshop, and with the agreement of the other teachers who use her classroom, decided to pin it to her wall. After the strong reaction from students, she posted her effort to sell the T-shirts on her Facebook page.

“At first I just sent it to my close friends and they encouraged me to spread the word,” she said. “Within a week, close to 600 people had joined [the Facebook page] and another 4,500 have been invited.”

LGBT rights has been a controversial subject in Maine recently. A same-sex marriage bill adopted by the Legislature in 2009, was repealed later that year in a hotly contested ballot initiative.

This year, the state’s voters will weigh in again on the subject of same-sex marriage on a citizen-initiated bill that would finally legalize same-sex marriage in Maine.

But Julia Brown, a senior and president of Brunswick’s gay-straight alliance, said there is “zero political agenda” involved in the t-shirt project, but that the school should “a comfortable place for LGBTQ youth.”

Pastor Bob Emrich of Plymouth, a well-known opponent of past gay marriage initiatives and chairman of “Protect Marriage Maine,” a group opposing the November ballot referendum, said he didn’t think public school is an appropriate venue for such a conversation.

“I think this is way out of line for a teacher to be advocating a particular lifestyle,” he said.

Brunswick High School Principal Donna Borowick said having workshops in favor of creating a welcoming environment for gay students are hosted by the school every few years.

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