This post comes from Rhonda Thomason, Welcoming Schools' Southern Regional Consultant
In just 90 seconds, Bob Grisham - a Rogersville, AL high school coach and psychology teacher - revealed hostility toward Michelle Obama. The hostility was expressed with hateful words based on body-size, sexual orientation, and race. While calling queers an abomination on God, Grisham led a classroom conversation that included calling Michelle Obama a “big fat gorilla,” and stating that our country is going “straight to hell.”
I learned about the 2012 Coach of the Year’s rant to his class last Thursday as a member representing Welcoming Schools at an AL Safe Schools Coalition team meeting in Birmingham. The ASSC engages volunteers - some driving for hours and dedicating countless days - developing and providing professional learning for educators about legal and ethical responsibilities for all youth including LGBTQ students.
For years, ASSC has advocated anti-bullying policies and educator-training resources that include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. For years, political roadblocks have prevented passage of comprehensive anti-bullying policies and continue to give a nod of approval for educators like Grisham to spew hatred and bigotry.
I was struck by the contrast of ASSC’s steadfast commitment to helping all students and the tremendous damage that an educator can reap on students in just 90 seconds.
A 2012 Human Rights Campaign Foundation youth survey reflects tremendous disparities between straight teenagers and LGBT-identified youth. When asked to describe their most important problem, straight teens articulated the usual challenges of grades and college and finances. On the other hand, LGBT teens’ worries were directly related to their identity as LGBT including non-accepting families and bullying. In the report, 92 percent say they hear negative messages about being LGBT – 60 percent say those messages come from elected leaders.
Insisting that educators and leaders examine the impact of their own bias on the mission of serving and empowering achievement for all children is essential. Providing safe and caring schools is a vital cornerstone for success - on and off the field.
Update 2/5: The Lauderdale County School Board voted Monday night to suspend Grisham for ten days and ordered four days of sensitivity training.