Hunter: Grandfield, Oklahoma. Population: 1100. The high school her has only 100 students. Total. As you might expect, it’s conservative in its politics. After all, this is the Bible Belt. But what happened in the high school recently still surprised some people in the town.
Hunter: The superintendant said there were some obscenities in the play.
Woman on left: What do they hear out in the world? What do they hear on the playground?
Woman on right: It’s all kinds of crap. Excuse me, what do they hear on television?!
Woman on left: Yeah, ain’t that the truth?
Hunter: What these two women were talking about was the forced resignation of Debbie Taylor, a teacher at the local high school who included a play about the murder of a gay Wyoming college student in her ethics class.
Debbie: What we were always looking at was there’s so many different sides to every story. Every side has to be heard You may not agree with it, you may not like it. But you still have to open at least to listening to each person’s point of view.
Hunter: The Laramie Project had been approved by the principal for use in Miss Taylor’s class.
Debbie: He was fully briefed on everything about the project. He said it didn’t matter; Mr.
Turlington wanted the project pulled because of the subject matter. I said you haven’t even read the script, he hasn’t even read the script. He took the script with him he walked over there. He came back 20 minutes later and said it’s still (couldn’t understand). I asked if I was being written up, he said, “no.” He said, “this was a mistake I want you to take this.” And he handed me a handout of books that they should read. He said, “they will sit there and read. It’ll be a library class.” I said, “a library class?”
Hunter: So what did the kids do? What was the reaction in the class?
Matt (student): They were pretty pissed…
Debbie: The format we had used had been completely shut down, completely censored.
Hunter: Superintendent Ed Turlington did not wish to appear on camera but he did agree to speak with me one on one when I came to Grandfield high. First, he told me Debra Taylor was not a drama teacher and therefore should not have been using the stage during class time. He also implied that this whole situation had been blown way out of proportion and said quote “I think there’s a bit of a martyr thing going on here.”
Debbie: I didn’t entertain the idea that that was going to be controversial. Perhaps I was being naïve. Obviously I was.
Matt(student): The language that we’ve read out loud in English class and in works of literature was just as harsh as in the Laramie Project.
Martin (student): I asked him, “why was it canceled?” and the principal said that people in the community were not comfortable with the issue of gay.
Debbie: You don’t have to teach about gay persons or gay lifestyles in this popula–in my teen’s generation. I don’t believe that’s necessary. I mean, they have friends, they have family members with gay lifestyles.
Hunter: Superintendent Turlington went on to say that some literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird had been deemed appropriate despite obscenities, which include the word “n****er” because that was quote “the language of the day.” He objected to the obscenities in Laramie Project he said because those words were not in the dictionary. But he assured me that he did not object to the plays themes of intolerance of homosexuality.
Josh (student): He came in there and he said he wanted to clarify why it was shut down and right off the start he said he hated queers and that they were the cause of AIDS. He was also putting in some information about the bible and how it was a sin to commit any homosexual acts or anything like that.
Hunter: But some people in the town weren’t as upset as the superintendent.
Guy with shades: “I don’t think there should be a problem with it. If the parents and teachers had a problem with it, they shouldn’t have let their kids do it. But there isn’t a reason the other kids shouldn’t participate in it.
Woman with ponytail: I agree I mean, we don’t live in the 50s anymore.
Woman on left: I think we should teach kids to treat people. I know lesbians, I’ve known homosexuals and they’re human beings. No I don’t like what they do, but I would never—
Woman on right: I play ball with girls at Wichita and I was like the only straight person but I treated them with respect and they treated me with respect.
Hunter: Nevertheless the school board got involved, letters to the editor were written. And Debbie Taylor was forced to resign.
Debbie: I would like to believe that this is an isolated incident, truthfully. If it was not, we need to speak out in greater numbers. Because, what I and my students have experienced in this past month shouldn’t happen in 2009. I am still humbled that people outside Oklahoma find this to be an interesting story. We thank you for support. In many ways, you are our courtroom, you are our policemen . the more you look at this issue and the more you advocate back to Mr. Turlington and the school board and say you feel there’s an injustice here the more protected I will feel for my students. I know as long as they’re in the eye of the media they have a watchdog, someone to watch over them cuz I can’t be there.
Lessons of Hate in the Bible Belt
By Vanessa | Published: April 24, 2009
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