School Board in Michigan Retracts its Decision to Remove Gay History Month Display

Corunna, MI 

Controversy has been stirring in Corunna, MI concerning a gay history month project displayed by the Corunna High School Diversity Club. In October, the Corunna Board of Education voted to remove the display, yet changed its mind several days later.[1]

The display, which featured nine photographs of public figures who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), was originally brought into question by a parent who filed a complaint with the board.  At a meeting following the complaint, the board, which had not yet seen the display, decided 5–2 to remove the project from its display case in the high school hallways for the remaining 10 days of October.[2] The school board felt that “the display case may confuse other kids” and that “high school kids can be very impressionable so [gay awareness] might be better dealt with in [human sexuality] classes.”[3] After its decision, the board planned to forward the issue on to the District Health Advisory Committee, comprised of teachers, parents, students, and clergy, to further review the issue. Before the issue made its way to the committee, however, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) contacted the board and informed its members that they had violated the club's First Amendment rights. After seeking legal consult, the President of the Corunna Board of Education stated that “[the board] violated the First Amendment rights of the students and the Diversity Club” and “limited their expression.”[4] With this, the board expressed its plan to meet and rescind the decision to take down the display.  
 
At the second meeting on the topic, the board was able to hear from the student members of the Diversity Club who defended their rights to learn about diversity as well as from residents who supported the display. One gay parent told of growing up with such intense discrimination that he attempted suicide three times. He argued that groups like the Diversity Club were necessary to make sure young people wouldn’t have to deal with issues he did.[5] Not all comments were supportive though. One former student testified that the school is only for subjects like math, science, or social studies and that “This doesn’t belong in the school district.”[6] 
 
After 30 minutes of public comment the board voted 6–1 to retract the earlier decision and allow the display.   The vote was praised by a First Amendment scholar at nearby Michigan State University College of Law: “The school board should be commended for recognizing that it violated the Free Speech Clause and for taking action to rectify the situation. One can respect the views of the concerned parents in this case, without suggesting that they have the right to censor speech of students that they disagree with,” he said.[7]
 


[1] Todd A. Heywood, “Shiawassee county School District to Rescind Decision to Remove Gay History Month Display,” The Michigan Messenger, 28 October 2009, accessed 29 October 2009, <http://michiganmessenger.com/28947/shiawassee-county-school-district-to-rescind-decision-to-remove-gay-history-month-display>.
[2] Sean Ely, “Corunna School Board Rescinds Ban on Gay-Lesbian Display at High School,” Argus Press, 3 November 2009, accessed 3 November 2009, <www.argus-press.com/articles/2009/11/03/news/news2.txt>.
[3] Sean Ely, “Corunna School Board Removes Display on Homosexuality,” Argus Press, 26 October 2009, accessed 29 October 2009, <www.argus-press.com/articles/2009/10/26/news/news9.txt>.
[4] Heywood, “Shiawassee county School District to Rescind Decision to Remove Gay History Month Display.”
[5] Sean Ely, “Corunna School Board Rescinds Ban on Gay-Lesbian Display at High School.”
[6] Ibid.
[7] Heywood, “Shiawassee county School District to Rescind Decision to Remove Gay History Month Display.”

 

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