Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Grandfield on the Newsstands: A Teachable Moment for Us All

About two weeks ago, PFLAG received a call about a situation in Oklahoma, where a Grandfield High School teacher had been suspended for teaching The Laramie Project, a 2002 play and film about the murder of Matthew Shepard. The teacher, Debra Taylor, was reportedly ordered to stop teaching the critically acclaimed work and later removed from her classroom, despite widespread support from parents and students.

The PFLAG National office immediately reached out to Oklahoma PFLAG members, who have been leaders on Safe Schools issues in the state, and engaged them in an effort to find out what, exactly, was happening in Grandfield.

Kay Holladay, of PFLAG's Norman, Oklahoma, chapter, immediately became our "eyes and ears" on the ground, and was joined by Kay Ham and Nancy McDonald, who were instrumental in helping us all understand the politics of the local community and the real story behind Debra Taylor, her class and The Laramie Project.

On Friday, the Grandfield school board convened - at 7am local time - to consider Taylor's case, and to deliberate about her future. Ahead of that meeting, PFLAG Norman submitted a statement, written in coordination with our communications team here at National, to communicate the importance of creating a school environment that respects diversity, both of opinion and people.

We took the opportunity to spread PFLAG's message of respect and understanding as the building blocks of a good education . . . and this morning, USA Today took notice, including the statement as part of its coverage of Taylor's subsequent resignation and the ongoing debate about Grandfield High School and The Laramie Project.

But our allies in Norman aren't resting, and the story isn't over. They have reached out to the school board and the superintendent, again, and requested a meeting to discuss the situation and the impact it may have on students and the community. PFLAG and our chapter has offered our services - and our expertise in training students and faculty on the issues facing LGBT people in a hostile environment - to the Grandfield school district. And we'll continue to work together to address the issues at the heart of the story in Grandfield - both behind the scenes and, if necessary, publicly, as we did with USA Today.

From our National office in Washington to our chapter in Norman, our goal, all along, has been to cultivate a safe and respectful school environment that teaches students to stand up for each other, and empowers their teachers and communities to stand against hatred, bullying and discrimination.

With the help of amazing leaders in the field - like Kay Holladay, Nancy McDonald and Kay Ham - we can ensure that Grandfield is a teachable moment about how to best teach our young people.

Suzanne Greenfield

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