The Lauderdale County Board of Education in Florence, Ala. has decreed that Queer students, racial minority students, overweight students, or any students that do not meet the standards of normalcy of the local community are worth precisely “2 weeks suspension without pay.”
For the average teacher in Alabama this comes to roughly $2,655.
“Y’all can get pissed off at me or not. You can go tell the principal, you can call the superintendent and tell her. I don’t believe in queers, I don’t like queers. I don’t … I don’t hate them as a person but what they do is wrong, it’s an abomination against God. I don’t like being around queers.” – Bob Grisham, a teacher and coach in Rogersville, Ala.
Because of one courageous student, Grisham’s comments quickly went viral.
Grisham’s statements about Queers, his description of our First Lady Michelle Obama as “Fat butt Michelle Obama,” and his failure to correct a student who then called our First Lady a “big fat gorilla,” brought this small part of Alabama into the national spotlight, and Lauderdale County was poised to take a stand in support of students.
Unfortunately this community decided to uphold the status quo instead of showing concern and respect for children.
The Lauderdale County School’s motto is “Together … Excellence Through Education.” This is dishonest, disingenuous, and misleading to the community.
No student is able to achieve excellence when they are subjected to bullying or when leaders give validity to verbal and emotional assaults through failure to protect them with swift removal of bullies from their positions of authority and influence.
As a community, where do we go from here?
Are you only respected and valued if you are white, heterosexual, and within specified weight limits in Lauderdale County Alabama? Some people become angry when we call this what it is, racism, sexism, and homophobia. They quickly make excuses for the adult’s blatant exposure of his true colors.
Not once have I heard the first statement of concern for the students come from outside the LGBT community!
It is so easy to move on with our lives a few days after bigotry is no longer the leading story of the day. It’s easy to forget that our children sit in classrooms like those in Lauderdale County, Ala., every day.
They sit in fear. They hide their secret of same-sex attraction or gender identity differences. They feel shame because of their physical appearance. They listen and often believe the message that something is ‘wrong’ with them.
The true price of bigotry goes far beyond any dollar value. It is the very future and lives of our children. It is your future and my future.
This price is too high when even one child is hurt; it’s beyond what any civilized society can afford. Every moment that a child hurts, questions their worth, or contemplates suicide, every moment that people spend in hypocritical bigoted judgment of others instead of opening their hearts and minds to the true beauty of each individual is a moment spent bankrupting our moral society.
When will Freedom Riders ride again? When will Civil Rights marchers cross bridges not just to remember the past but to demand the future? When will we stop criticizing places like Alabama and instead invest our money and our time in support of people and agencies struggling to make a difference on the local level?
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Let us not forget our children — the millions that live homeless on our streets every night and the millions that sit in our public schools every day subjected to ignorance, bigotry, and hatred.
Every child is beautiful. Every child deserves our love and respect.
Queer youth in rural areas don’t have access to support that is available in many urban communities. They are often subjected to oppressive bigoted authority figures in their schools, churches, and throughout their communities. Our children in most rural communities don’t have advocates to support them in these situations.
Youth who are the victims of bullying and harassment frequently do not know they have legal options. In Alabama these students do have an organization whose mission is to advocate for the LGBT community — the GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services provides support to all ages, sexual orientations, and gender identities and works to raise awareness of the needs of the GLBTQ community.