He showed teens a film depicting suicide. He showed teens a film that specifically called out the Catholic Church for criticism. He didn’t give them warning or a chance to opt out, and didn’t have their parents’ permission to show the film.
He made some mistakes because he was deeply disturbed by the bullying and homophobic culture he was witnessing in his class of eighth graders.
As he sought to drive home the point, he cut some corners, and now that’s landed him in trouble.
Here’s why he was so stressed to impact the point of view of his kids: a recent social studies exercise had gone horrifically wrong. He had split the students into groups and told them that they were each a fictional colony. They were to develop their own Bill of Rights, and lay out the principles on which to build their societies.
He expected kindness and fairness.
What he got was homophobia.
At least one of the colonies declared it would ostracize LGBT people and reject them from their world. Leahy saw some deep, hurt reactions from other students, and that motivated him to want to change attitudes immediately.
So he showed them all the viral video film “Love Is All You Need” by Kim Rocco Shields.
In the film, the world is reversed. Heterosexuals are the ones who are bullied and persecuted. The film is no holds barred in its depiction of the damage of bullying.
“I didn’t want just a dorky little film, I wanted something that was important, something that was serious,” Leahy told the Witchita Eagle. “So that’s the one I came up with. I’m not saying what I did was very smart. It really wasn’t. But I’m a spur-of-the-moment kind of guy, and it seemed right at the time.”
They’re expected to take it.
Here’s my letter to him, and to the board:
Dear Mr. Leahy and members of the Conway Springs School Board,
Mr. Leahy, you must not resign.
Dear board members, you must not allow him to do so.
Whatever problem you think you’re fixing, this action is minuscule compared to the problem you’re creating.
You are letting the bullies win.
No, I don’t think the parents who want to approve graphic material before it’s shown to their kids are bullies. They’re due an apology, and a promise that you’ll never do such a thing again.
They aren’t the bullies Mr. Leahy was fighting, either.
He was going up against the principles of judgment, intolerance, ostracism and degradation.
He was addressing a disease that is evidenced in your population of kids.
While his choices weren’t very well thought out, the harm he’s trying to prevent is a much higher priority. Or should be, anyway.
I’m the gay dad of two seventh graders. The colony exercise that took place — in which a mob had declared they would reject their dad from the world — would have devastated and shamed them.
They would have suffered in silence, but the harm would go deep.
So too, was the harm felt by a number of your LGBT students. They, in various stages of self-awareness, are also likely hidden from you. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to protect them. In fact, you have an even greater responsibility to do so.
I’m sure you found the suicide of film’s lead character disturbing.
What’s more disturbing is that the spirit of who she represents is real, and in your population.
She’s my kid. She’s the LGBT kid. She’s every child that doesn’t fit the mob mentality “norm.”
By your inaction, and by condemning Mr. Leahy for trying to reach these kids and defend them, you’re asking these students to listen to their darker instincts. You’re inspiring them to hide, to self-harm, and even kill themselves.
Mr. Leahy, I don’t know what pressure you’re under to resign, but you must resist. What you did in showing the film at risk to your career was heroic.
Your job is incomplete however. Your community has diverted the topic from homophobia to parental notification procedures.
You need to right that course. The conversations need to be had, and rectification measures need to be taken… but the real lesson still needs to be learned.
If not, the film you screened won’t just be a conversation starter. It’ll be a prophesy. Your sacrifice will have been for nothing.
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