Georgia Drama Teacher Dave Dixon Fired For Showing Students a Film On Gay Persecution

Like Michigan high school teacher Jim McDowell, Georgia drama teacher Dave Dixon was just trying to instill some tolerance among his students. So he screened a film about a man who was kidnapped and attacked for being gay, and after a brief suspension was just fired by the school board.

Officially Dixon, who has been teaching at Haralson County High School in Tallapoosa for four years, is in trouble over the curse words used in The Reckoning, a 2007 short film starring Dixon’s friend Bruce Hart and described by IMDB thusly: “An administrator of a (fictitious) Gay and Lesbian Center is abducted by two thugs with intent to harass and humiliate him. He is bound in a chair in a darkened warehouse. As they continue their taunting of the gay man their harassment escalates and quickly turns into a hate crime. This tale of gay bashing and murder turns the corner with a surprise macabre revenge twist as the film takes on the elements of a tgay themed Twilight Zone episode.’ Contains strong language and violence.” You can watch the whole thing here, where you’ll definitely hear lines about “anal” and “You fuck your man in the ass, don’t you?” So yes, it’s got some pretty graphic language. It’s also a film explicitly about a gay man violently attacked for being “proud,” so there are certainly some teachable elements in here.

Dixon screened the film for some of his acting students in October — and was slapped with a suspension shortly thereafter pending disciplinary action.

Last night, the school board voted to fire him.

It’s unclear how administrators found out about the film, but as is often the case, students tell their parents, and those parents take up the issue with administrators.

“During this time of so many kids hurting themselves over bullying, I thought it would be a good subject,” says Dixon to Talk About Equality. “I was wrong. I teach my students about the human condition in my theater classes, and to play a part means to understand the character. Through that understanding, I hope my students will become more tolerant of all types of people, regardless of background, race, orientation or behavior.”

Moreover, Dixon says he knows of three students he’s personally counseled out of taking their own lives — though Principal Charles Needham (pictured, bottom) says his school has “no more incidents of bullying than any other high school” and doesn’t know of any gay students. There is no gay-straight alliance at the school.

And now Dixon has lost his job for screening a film that includes language that students use all the time, and can be found in the movies other teachers have screened. Writes one parent, Amy Baker, in support of Dixon on a Facebook group: “This is a totally unfair verdict. Mr. Dixon has taught 3 of my children. He goes above and beyond any teacher in this county and teaches real life experiences. Do these people really think our children will never leave Haralson County and need life skills. They need to know whats going on in the world. There will not …be another teacher that is as devoted as Mr. Dixon and his whole family have been to our children. People will regret this. I am having my kids drop drama if Mr. Dixon is not back where he belongs!”

Not that Dixon is a stranger to controversy: After moving to the school district from Michigan, he took issue with the school’s custom of having new band camp members be “auctioned off” to upperclassmen and play their servants for the summer; the boosters weren’t happy with his interference.

This year, Dixon was to lead students in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

You can reach Principal Needham at 770-574-7647 or [email protected] Fortuitously, he published his contact info. (Dixon’s Facebook page is here.)

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  • blassr

    this principal is the epitome of what is wrong with our schools… he doesnt know of any gay students at his school… i really hate that kids have to grow up here. (ga). it was hell when i was young… it is hell now… i had to come back to be near my mom… i hate that i am counting the days til i can get the fuck out of the south again!

  • John C

    He couldn’t have been fired for showing a film with actual acting? Geez.

  • Jeremyrh2387

    Bruce is the shit! Also he is not happy about this.

  • gawatcher

    Be ready for a lot more of this shit. Vote Republican loose your rights, your job, your house, your life. God might not be a Democrat; but the devil is certainly a Republican.

  • Michael

    The language alone would have gotten him fired in virtually all school districts in America. He knows this.

  • JoeyO'H

    More homophobia from yet another school district and not suprisingly in the state of Georgia. Well, here I go with more emails and phone calls to yet another disgraceful school district and it’s higher ups. Pity on them for not being good Christian people.

    As one poster saide here- Vote Republican and your voting for the devil.

  • David in Houston

    The film is rated R, and has very adult themes. He should have gotten permission from the principal first. Then he should have handed out permission slips to the students before showing it. This is a high school not a college.

  • Silver

    Seems, given the context, that Mr. Dixon is the stereotypical “Yankee with a target on his back”. I’m impressed that he would move to rural Georgia in the first place, much less to start a theater program; and to speak out about local anachronisms, when that’s something that’s just “not done”, takes courage, or ignorance. I applaud this man for his bravery and his seeming aplomb, but I’d say that it’s apparent that the board has just been waiting for the right opportunity to get rid of this teacher whom they see as an interloper.

  • Leon

    Sorry, the language mentioned in the blog post is enough to get a teacher fired by itself. Pick your fights Queerty.

  • unclemike

    @Leon: Actually, it’s not, Leon. Each school district has its own rules about what movies can be shown to students, and some districts have no rules set up at all.

    A school district I worked for a few years ago allowed R-rated movies to be shown to grades 11 and 12 without any permission (but since the movie in question was an un-rated short, I do think this teacher should have erred on the side of caution).

  • Fitz

    WAY too much for showing in a public school without explicit permission. Honestly, I would have advocated for discipline also.

  • Jaroslaw

    I think I’m living in the twilight zone. Probably 1/3 of high school kids have had sex and more than 10% have babies before graduating in the inner cities. But we can’t say “fu** in the A**?” in a movie? This is an incredible mental disconnect for me. Permission slips from parents? Duh, if the parents were educated and tolerant the movie wouldn’t need to be shown in the first place…..

    But instead of a fictitious story, how about a real one like Harvey Milk?

  • Michael

    The argument that high school kids routinely use foul language and have sex, is totally N/A. Plenty of kids would volunteer to engage in live sex on stage in the high school auditorium. Would this be OK? The teacher here, is a grown man who knows better.

  • Jamie

    Hey there,

    Thanks so much for sharing our story. Would you please be so kind as to share a link to your original source material? We conducted these interviews a few weeks ago and were kind of shocked with the replies we received and we’re grateful that you are sharing our work, but it would be great if you could link our site as your source.

    Thanks so much,

    Jamie McGonnigal
    talk about equality . com

  • Nathan

    This isn’t unreasonable, he knew the rules regarding movies with cursing at his school, but he threw them aside to show off his buddy’s movie.

  • Jaroslaw

    Michael – #14 – hearing the F word is so completely different than kids having live sex on stage I don’t even know why I’m replying to your post. It would be nice if children or adults would refrain from swearing; and that all of life was fair and pleasant; -that everyone had the right to marry and there were no need for police, prisons or groups like the United Nations.

    But we do live in an imperfect world – and YOU have gone off the deep end of it. THE QUESTION is whether the teacher did something wrong enough to get fired and lose his source of income. NOT kids volunteering to screw in front of an audience. It seems completely applicable to ask a reasonable question – do the majority of todays kids (whether you like it or not is irrelevant) hear the F word? Do they know about different kinds of sex? If they do, then what the teacher exposed them too was innocuous. I mean, this is high school, not kindergarten or grade school. GET IT?

    #16 Nathan – since every school has different rules, how do you know the teacher violated “the rules?”

  • Joe

    I used to teach high school, and I always made sure I got permission before showing an “R” rated film. The teacher should have known that… HOWEVER, I think getting fired for it is way over the top. His harsh discipline, plus the principal’s reaction of there not being any gay kids at his school points to the homophobia present in this case.

  • Anon HCH Grad

    I really wish more people would try to hear the entire story before they judge everyone in this. Mr. Needham is a great principal and a great man. He genuinely cares about his students and there is no way he would fire someone over teaching tolerance. Just because he said he doesn’t PERSONALLY know of any gay students in the school, does not make him a homophobe. His students’ sexuality isn’t really his business, and unless an issue arises about it, or someone comes up to him and says “Hey, Mr. Needham! I’m gay!”, there’s no reason for him to know. Sexuality isn’t something you can see.

    There is more to this story than that highly inappropriate film clip. Mr. Dixon often stirred up controversy, or was at the center of it. If I remember correctly, he’d been in trouble for showing his class inappropriate material before (an uncensored script). This clip was the last straw and would have been even if the clip weren’t about homosexuality. Mr. Dixon is no innocent victim; he’s someone who should be a role model and yet continually exhibits poor judgment.

    The issue with the clip is NOT whether or not high school students hear that kind of language every day. Regardless of whether students hear the words f*** and a**, it is inappropriate for a teacher to expose them to that kind of material. Obviously someone was offended, or at least shocked, because someone must have reported the incident.

    I’m not trying to say that Mr. Dixon is a bad person, or that he hasn’t made a positive difference to some people. But maybe he should have been smart enough to toe the line when he was already in hot water or maybe he should have been smart enough to PREVIEW the freaking clip.

    In short– Leave Mr. Needham alone. This is in no way his fault.

  • Jamie McG

    I’m sorry, but having spoken to Mr. Needham at length, he is quite clearly ignorant to the issues of his LGBT students.

    When I asked him how he would react if a teen came out to him as LGBT, he replied that he’d send them to a group for disabled kids. This is unacceptable. I’m not trying to villify him, but he needs to be educated on the issues his students are facing on a daily basis.

    Mr. Dixon has helped numerous kids avoid suicide – not just by his own words, but by the words of kids from the high school commenting on my own blog and in personal emails to me. When I asked Mr. Needham about the issue of bullying and teen suicide, he brushed it off as being “no more than any other high school deals with.” He needs to focus on these kids who are going through it right now and apologizing for/defending him will not help educate him on the issues these kids are facing.

  • Anon HCH Grad

    Sir, I tried writing you a full reply, but it wasn’t always civil about Mr. Dixon, so just allow me to say this: There’s no need to apologize for Mr. Needham because he hasn’t done anything wrong. Mr. Needham is also willing to talk to students who are suicidal, which someone commented on your blog. I’m sorry, but Mr. Dixon is not a martyr, and I’m honestly getting sick of seeing people from places like Pennsylvania, who have no idea what’s going on, insulting Mr. Needham specifically. Being unaware of issues does not make someone a bad guy, and if it were brought up to him in a civil manner by a student, I am sure that Mr. Needham would handle it professionally.

  • Jamie McG

    Anon HCH Grad: Mr. Needham may be willing to talk to students who are suicidal, but clearly none of these kids feel comfortable enough to go to him about it. They did feel comfortable going to Mr. Dixon. Now, thanks to ignorant Yankee-hating (which you made clear is an issue with your comment about “people from places like Pennsylvania,”), that outlet for kids is now gone.

    I never said Mr. Needham is a bad guy – I said he is ignorant. Ignorance can be cured with a little education. He’s out of touch with his students and their needs. I’m sure it’s all well and good to say if something like suicide were “brought up in a civil manner” that he’d handle it professionally, but guess what? These are high school kids – and when one is suicidal, there is very little about being “civil.” These kids need someone who will reach out to them, not an administrator who thinks everything is fine and refers gay kids to support groups for kids with “disabilities.”

    He’s not a bad person, and I never said he was. But he clearly needs an education on the needs of his students.

  • Rufus

    LOL, this is funny stuff!

  • Rufus

    When going to the site containing the video, you will get this:
    The following video contains material that is inappropriate for audiences under the age of 17.

    If you are 17 or older, please login or register to view this video.
    LOL! Pretty obvious that not only that school believes you need to be of a certain age to view it but also the website!

  • Anon HCH Grad

    @Jamie McG: My “people from places like Pennsylvania” comment was not Yankee-hating. It was simply referring to the fact that these people are very, very removed from the situation and have no idea what’s really going. Pennsylvania was just the place I remembered (the comment said something like “Hearing about this in Pennsylvania. That principal needs [threat], the [insult].”). If I’d remembered seeing a comment like that from Puerto Rico, or Louisiana, or Missouri first, then I would have said “people from places like Puerto Rico/Louisiana/Missouri”. Being a Yankee-hater would be a bit hypocritical of me, because I’m half-Yankee.

    As for being “brought up in a civil manner,” I wasn’t being very clear and I apologize. I wasn’t talking about suicide. I was thinking more along the lines of someone like a student bringing up the need for a GSA. (For the record, the Partner’s Club is the catch-all club at HCH. When I couldn’t find a club my freshman year, that’s where everyone sent me. Most Partner’s Club members aren’t disabled; they work with the disabled kids and help organize the Special Olympics.)

    I’m just going to say this now, to everyone in general (not just you, Mr. McG), because I’ve had enough: I know Mr. Needham; he is not a homophobe. I went to this high school; it is not a massively homophobic place (I won’t pretend there aren’t any homophobic people, because that would be ridiculous). Mr. Dixon has made multiple mistakes and rather than cop to that, he decided to put a spin on it and pretend he’s being fired over being pro-tolerance. That’s a ridiculous claim, because I had several teachers in high school who made it plain that there was nothing wrong with being gay.

    If you think that Mr. Needham’s remarks show a need for greater understanding of the LGBT communtity and feel the need to petition the HC school system to make some sort of tolerance workshop mandatory for the adminstrators, I would understand that. If you feel the need to write the Haralson County school system and demand they start a Gay-Straight Alliance or some other kind of LGBT club, I would understand that, too. But please, PLEASE stop trying to make David Dixon into a martyr. He just isn’t.

  • Sierra Bartlett

    That is such a bunch of crap. NO gay students?? Really? There are gay students EVERYWHERE!!! They’re just afraid to come out because of….bullying. He’s so naive…

  • alfalfa

    Its a little funny because a teacher at my school tried to stop us from watching Blues Brothers at Music camp, which seems a little more light hearted than the film your talking about.
    Mind you, the principal is speaking a whole load of BS. I mean, does he really go around asking who the students are screwing? I’m pretty sure I know what the responses would be.

  • GAwoman

    A drama teacher looking for drama. He came to save us all from our ignorance. He may be a good guy with good intentions, but everything he did was rash and without consideration of the culture he moved into. He didn’t have to pretend to be someone he was not, but social and cultural grace would have helped. Who the hell shows a movie on such a hot topic in rural GA without previewing it? Just one of many “f’ups” by him. I honestly think he intentionally pushed the limits—he knew he was on his way out- might as well go out with a headlining bang.

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