Take Action! Oklahoma Teacher Forced to Resign For Teaching “Laramie Project”


Grandfield, Okla., public school teacher Debra Taylor was including The Laramie Project, a play about Matthew Shepard, a man murdered because he was gay, in a unit on the ways in which communities can justify hatred and intolerance.  Once Superintendent Ed Turlington learned that she was teaching material that addresses homosexuality, he demanded that she stop teaching the play.

After holding a mock funeral for the play for her students, Taylor was asked to resign.  She did so, worried that if she didn’t, she would be fired, and would be unable to work again in the state’s public school system.

Last night, the Superintendent accepted her resignation.  Advocates at SIECUS working with Taylor say she has received consistent support from her students and their parents.

"The level of support that Debra is receiving should give more than
enough cause to look at this case again and to question the Superintendent’s movements
here," says William Smith, Vice-President of SIECUS.  "But we need to be clear – it doesn’t
matter if there are a huge amount of parents in support of her or against her.  It’s the most American of things to speak out
and fight against injustice wherever we find it breeding, and it’s breeding in
this school."

Smith adds, "What happens when the next teacher tries to talk about
intolerance and hatred and murdering people for that, and they get harassed
and forced to resign?  This is bigger than just
what’s happening to Debra Taylor.  It’s about the perpetuation
of hatred and injustice in our society.  The same
sort of hatred and discrimination that led to Shepard’s death leads to this teacher’s
firing.  We can’t allow that to stand."

The SIECUS action alert follows:

Tell Superintendent Turlington: Teach Respect!  Reinstate Teacher Debra Taylor!

Advocates in Oklahoma, Texas, and surrounding states are strongly
encouraged to call or email in support.

TAKE ACTION NOW…call Superintendent Turlington at 580-479-5237 or send an email to eturlington@grandfield.k12.ok.us and tell him:

"Debra
Taylor did not deserve this kind of treatment. Young people need
dedicated teachers willing to confront issues of respect and acceptance
for people of all sexual orientations. She should be commended for
creating a safe space for all her students and should be reinstated
immediately."   

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To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    You need to get the whole story before printing something such as this. I’m a parent from Grandfield and I WOULD NOT want my child to read the filth of this script. She was told to stop and she continued with the “mock funeral” – give me a break! She disobeyed what she was told to do and had to resign because of it – end of story! Her and her family need to get a life – She was told to tone down the script and she didn’t – so she was told to stop all together and once again she didn’t. This didn’t come about because of “gay rights” like you’re making it out to be. They want you all to think this so she’ll look good. She was not a good teacher. Her classroom was uncontrollable. These students that are so upset liked her because they could drink pop, eat, pop popcorn, have their cell phones, ipods, get on myspace, cuss, etc – basically do whatever they wanted.

  • invalid-0

    I’m a parent from Grandfield and I WOULD NOT want my child to read the filth of this script.

    What part of The Laramie Project do you consider to be “filth?” Do you disagree with its message of combating homophobia, the very hatred that led to the murder of Matthew Shepherd in Laramie, WY?

    • http://www.teachersparadise.com/ invalid-0

      Guys, we need to give each other some slack by respecting each one’s opinions. Though academic freedom may not be an absolute construct, the teacher is still entitled to that to a certain extent when she aired the video in class.

  • invalid-0

    Generally I check out the facts of a situation through a variety of sources- before I make a judgment- but your vitriolic response tells me everything I need to know

  • invalid-0

    This same person — or at least the same content of this person’s comments — were placed on a comment board on another website and not only debunked, but additional causes for concern about the Superintendent’s behavior are made on that site…and additional hate-filled vitriol with near identical language to that seen here can also, sadly, be found. You can find those comments here:

    http://www.examiner.com/x-4158-Austin-Gay-Parenting-Examiner~y2009m3d6-Teacher-suspended-over-production-of-The-Laramie-Project

  • invalid-0

    I was raised in a small town and it isn’t surprising that this happened. I see kids in my former hometown ignorant and prejudiced and they don’t even know it. It scares me for my cousins kids who may never escape the closed mindedness of their community, parents and family. Wake up or forever keep your residents and kids uninformed about the real world and what they may encounter outside your small world. Freedom would be what they would find! Kudos to the teacher that had the intelligence and courage to talk to her students about hatred and the murder of innocent person for which there is no excuse. I hope she gets her job back, if she wants it, but hopefully she will move and teach somewhere where there is no CENSORSHIP and an individual’s personal rights are not limited.

  • invalid-0

    She resigned……that tells me all I need to know!

  • invalid-0

    She resigned……that tells me all I need to know!

    She was “forced” to resign, because if she had been fired, she would not have been able to be re-hired within the school system.

  • invalid-0

    I teach a class like ethics and as a current event project my students have been following the story of the teacher who was suspended last week. One of my students went to Lawton to visit a relative and in the town paper was an article. The student emailed me the link to the paper. For anyone interested it is Lawton Constitution. And you can buy a copy on line for $0.60. It was worth the change.

    The comments by the superintendent are (to use his word) absurd. The reporter meet with the students on Friday and several students admitted that their anger was over Turlington ranting against homosexuality in front of the English class. When asked by the reporter if he (Turlington) had said anything to the students he said and I quote the paper–“If I hated gays, I wouldn’t tell kids.” This group of students are not “kids” they are teens and what else could he say? Admit he hates gays but only when he is talking to adults? He went on to say and I quote again–“I run the school, and I’m not going to allow obscenity, and that’s what it boils down to.”

    I sometimes think our superintendent is out of touch, but compared to this guy. He is a square guy.

  • invalid-0

    The issue isn’t homophobia. The issue is she (as an employee) was told to stop the play by the superintendent (her employer). She proceeded to stage a mock funeral (on a day she knew her employer would be away from the school), tantamount to a demonstration against her employer. Based on standard teaching contracts, that amounts to insubordination. That is the reason for the meeting at which she handed in her resignation. Her actions, not the contents of the play, were responsible for her losing her job. Having said all that, I’m deeply saddened by the way things turned out, but it doesn’t surprise me. I grew up in Grandfield and most of my family still lives there. The rumors going around town about the play were based out of fear and ignorance (both intolerance and the unknown contents of the play), coupled with the language of the play (which is rather harsh for a high school production that many people would take their entire family to–even in a “toned-down” version), that probably the reason the superintendent canceled it. As with any school district, there are a few powerful, connected people that can influence decisions. That is not limited to small towns.

  • invalid-0

    To the previous comment, have you actually read the Laramie Project? If the issue is on the harshness of the words than I guess we should not be reading such classic’s as the Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men in our schools systems, I guess you don’t allow the “children” to read them in Grandfield? I do agree that there is a time and a place/context for harsh words, but give me a break!

  • invalid-0

    “Her actions, not the contents of the play, were responsible for her losing her job.”

    You are contradicting yourself!

    “The issue is she (as an employee) was told to stop the play by the superintendent (her employer).”

    Therefore, she was told to stop the play because of its contents.

    With this sort of approach to the issue, you are essentially saying that the employer is always right. In that case, do you think employers are allowed to do whatever they want, be it harass or discriminate their employees? I don’t think so.

    • invalid-0

      “Therefore, she was told to stop the play because of its contents.” Therefore? She was told to stop the play by her employer. Period. If there was an issue about the contents, there are venues for recourse without staging a mock funeral.

  • http://peacearena.org invalid-0
  • invalid-0

    Several years ago, I took my then 10-year old and mother to see the Project at a nearby university. I was so glad that the play was empathetic to Laramie residents–not all of whom were anti-gay.
    …There were many residents who didn’t “agree with homosexuality” but certainly deplored Matthew’s death because of his homosexuality. They all didn’t blame his death on his “flaunting” his sexuality either.
    …”Harsh” would not even come close to a list of adjectives describing scenes or dialog in this complex and poignant play.
    …To my suprise the play was well attended considering that the surrounding area in which the play was performed consists of homogenous, small, working-class/farming towns, and the majority of people attending the play were not students. And the county in which it was performed voted for McCain over Obama.
    …I tend to think of my area as being one of those places to be if the world came to an end because I would have at least 10 more years to survive in the town’s time warp. But this place in Oklahoma seems to be that place instead.
    …We can help bring justice to it and the teacher by taking the action recommended.

  • invalid-0

    I don’t necessarily accept the all the facts as stated in this comment.
    …”Insubordination,” I think, is a synonym in this case for “nonconformity” in a place that won’t tolerate anything but conformity. That’s not to say there aren’t people even in that Oklahoma community who would not be offended by the Laramie Project. I’d bet dollars to donuts that there are a few. But they must be kept quiet or marginalized by the conformists. This is the nature of small towns. I live in one, so I know.
    …Fortunately it’s not as bad as this Oklahoma community, and I would never back down from asserting my opinion with those who think only their opinion matters. In fact, many respect assertiveness.

  • invalid-0

    I’ve never seen The Laramie Project so I’m just going to assume that it’s excellent. Even given that, this would hardly be the first time that a quality production has been banned for fear of offending someone. Huck Finn has been banned in multiple school districts for years because (among other things) the “n” word is used pretty constantly throughout it. In my state (Massachusetts) a school district was recently forced to cancel a production of West Side Story because someone decided it was racist. Therefore schools tend to shy away from anything controversial and it isn’t necessarily a case of homophobia. Let’s say this teacher wanted to do West Side Story and was told: “Sorry, some parents find the dialogue racist and we’ve decided its better to put on another performance”. Naturally, she’d be disappointed but she’s an adult and an employee of the school district. It’s her responsibility to handle the whole thing with some professionalism, not to involve her students in a mock funeral as if there is no possible valid reason the school district or parents could question her judgement. I wouldn’t want this woman serving as an example to my children. Her lesson plan might have been great but stamping her foot and making a scene like a child doesn’t do her students any good. After that, I’m not surprised she was fired.

    • invalid-0

      At least read USA TODAY before you applaud Ms Taylor’s firing and support censorship. Her behavior was most professional. She is the anecdote to the kind of intolerance that leads to Columbine massacres. Grandfield, Oklahoma wasted a precious resource in not supporting her and you should be surprised and ashamed they fired her.
      – Retired 30-yr teacher
      USA Today reports: “Taylor, 50, knew the project was controversial with strong language, but got her principal’s permission. A few weeks into it, the principal told her to stop production. After students protested, she held a 20-minute ceremony in a nearby park in which students wrote their thoughts and rolled them into helium balloons, then released them. The next day, Taylor says, Superintendent Ed Turlington canceled the class. After she complained to a school board member, Turlington put her on paid leave and recommended that she be fired. The school board approved her resignation Friday. Taylor says she was let go for complaining to the board member, but others say it was a result of the play’s subject: homophobia. ‘They don’t want something like this addressed in our community,’ says senior Matt Ebner, one of Taylor’s former students.”

      Said Taylor: “I didn’t ask [the students] to change their belief systems, but what I asked them was, ‘Can you be tolerant of those that are different from you?’ Many times the students came back and said, ‘I don’t like gays.’ I said: ‘I’m not asking you to like gays. But can you be tolerant?'”

  • invalid-0

    This teacher is exactly the kind of teacher I would want teaching my children. The “mock funeral” was merely a funeral scene in the play. A play, by nature, is a facsimile of reality. Therefore, all plays are “mock.” If part of the play is offensive, then we can call it “mock” so as to dismiss it and devalue it whereas other parts that don’t offend us can “seem real.”
    …And I would not take any “accounts” of what happened (e.g., the teachers’ stamping her foot) as true. I believe a previously made comment above cast doubt on these “rumors.”
    …Also, teachers are much more than mere employees who follow orders. In other words, they aren’t like hushed church attendees who carefully listen and try to obey their minister’s interpretation of what their god wants.
    …Allowing teachers’ latitude and academic freedom is disheartening to people who tend to want to make America a theocracy, make laws that stop other people from having equal rights, and then say that THEIR rights are being abridged when they can’t stop others’ from equal protection under the law.
    …Homosexuality is a fact of life as much as and no more “controversial” as heterosexuality. It’s the theocrats who deem it “conroversial.” Having heterosexual sons, I desparately want them to know that killing someone because of their sexual orientation is wrong and that even people who have a probably with someone’s homosexuality don’t necessarily believe that that person deserves to be murdered, in fact, most of them mourned Matthew. Those are excellent lessons to learn. How brave for this teacher to try to teach those valuable lessons.
    …And “shy” schools are probably those located in leafy suburbs or homogenous rural areas that don’t want to be exposed to a story like West Side Story, which is merely an updated version of Romeo and Juliet. Using the excuse of being afraid of appearing “racist” by a school performance of West Side Story is both an excuse and racist because West Side Story confronts racism head on.

  • invalid-0

    Well, I never thought of my town, four miles outside Boston as backward and rural but maybe compared to some neighborhoods it would be. So forget West Side Story. Let’s say the subject is: The Gospel According to Luke, The teachings of Confucious, The Flat Earth Society, The Wiccan Way, The American Communist Party, PETA, The Hemlock Society, Hezbollah, Opus Dei, American Athiests, The International UFO Society, Parents Against Vaccination or Concerned Women for America. There are literally millions of teachers in the U.S. You could doubtless find some who belong to or suscribe to any of the beliefs cited above. You’ve said “Teachers are more than mere employees who follow orders”. Are you really sure you want to give all teachers THAT much leeway? You also said you have sons. Should they have to listen to me lecture on my past lives just because I’ve convinced a teacher I’m sharing something worthwhile? Should the school administration just have to get over themselves and let her teach? Who are you to say your child needs to focus on math? Only the parent.

  • invalid-0

    Let’s stick to what’s happened in Oklahoma. I loved that the teacher selected a creative way (the mock funeral) to respond to the school’s reversing its position about allowing her class to perform selected scenes of The Laramie Project. The mock funeral also provided closure for those students who were looking forward to the project—particularly those students who protested the cancellation of the project.
    …Very most likely we would not be discussing this incident if the authoritarian superintendent hadn’t reacted with revenge by firing the teacher. The teacher has paid a high price, but I’m hoping a better opportunity will be made available to her. In my mind and in the mind of many people, the broom-up-his-rear superintendent has made this about authoritarianism and intolerance. He’s petty, vindictive, and a poor representative of Christianity (assuming he identifies himself as a Christian).
    …Regarding all the subjects listed in the previous comment to this one, as long as the teacher explains and secures permission from her/his supervisor before wading into “controversial” waters, then those subjects would be fine with me. Remember that the Oklahoma teacher was NOT trying to change the personal opinions of the students toward homosexuality. She was trying to ask them if they could be tolerant of those that are different from them—a very American value. S
    …Ms. Debray Taylor, the teacher, is my shero.

  • invalid-0

    Universenme you write: “Regarding all the comments listed in the previous comment to this one, as long as the teacher explains and secures permission from her/his supervisor before wading into “controversial” waters, then those subjects would be fine with me.” What if permission is denied? Will you still be this accommodating when your kid comes home to tell you about the mock funeral he participated in when his class wasn’t allowed to hear a lecture from the N.R.A or watch “The Silent Scream”? Maybe you would, but I think a lot of parents would be pretty alarmed.

  • invalid-0

    Let’s bring this back, for the last time, to the subject at hand, i.e., the Oklahoma teacher.
    …Permission to perform selected scenes of the Laramie Project was given; then it was taken away. The mock funeral was a way to help protesting students. It was more about giving voice to their frustrations–a way of decompressing their disappointment. At least that’s the way many people see it. Authoritarians see this as “insubordination.”
    …If a teacher was given permission to have a lecture from the NRA or a viewing of “The Silent Scream” and then that permission was taken away, I would have no problem with a teacher having a mock funeral for kids who would protest against the taking away of permission to hear the lecture or view the film.
    …I could go on about indignities and inequitities that I believe were perpetuated against my children in the public school system, but this is not the place for that discussion.
    …If you must present your hypothetical situtations, then please make them comparable to the topic at hand. It’s not as though you don’t have tons of other outlets to talk about what you believe are indignities or inequities perpetrated against people with your worldview.

    • invalid-0

      sorry….who are people with my worldview?

  • invalid-0

    People who want to tell how they are denied access to public school children with their messages from the NRA or whatever other conservative groups. In other words, people with a conservative worldview.
    …By the way, progressives like I have been denied access as well. And what I wanted to present to school children had a direct relationship to their education and had absolutely no political point of view. I’m just not going to elaborate on that here where the subject is … well, I’m not going to beat that point to death any more.

  • invalid-0

    Cmarie, I feel as though that MY contribution has become narcissistic and futilistic at this point. I’ll look for your response, but I’m moving on. This is not my opinion of your contribution–just mine. See you somewhere else on this website.

  • invalid-0

    In regard to your first response; I never said I was a conservative, only that if you open the floodgates and let every teacher feature anything they want, you’re going to get the whole flood, not just the few drops you like. In regard to the second, here’s the response you asked for: You don’t know me. You didn’t even know I’m not conservative. So you couldn’t possibly know if I have a world view, what it would be or what kind of people would share it.

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