Here we go again, dealing with a scenario that pits a school against a teacher who wants to teach students about something gay. In Grandfield, Okla. (about two hours southwest of Oklahoma City), a high school teacher was reportedly fired for having students produce their own short films about Matthew Shepard, after watching The Laramie Project. And even though Grandfield High School’s Debra Taylor got permission from the principal to conduct the project, it all blew up in her face.
The episode began in January, when Debra Taylor showed students at Grandfield High School The Laramie Project, a 2002 film based on the play of the same name, about the murder of Matthew Shepard. The students soon decided to film selected scenes themselves for an in-class project.
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.
And now gay rights organizations are on the case.
The Norman, Okla., chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) urged administrators to allow The Laramie Project as a way “to create a culture where everyone is welcomed, embraced and valued.”
John Moyer, an attorney representing the district, says Taylor was dismissed not because she wanted to put on a play or because of the subject matter. “If someone is saying that adverse employment action is being taken against Ms. Taylor because of homosexuality, they’re wrong.”