Lessons of Hate in the Bible Belt

RH Reality Check has a video about the teacher in Oklahoma who was forced to resign for teaching her students about the Laramie Project.

h/t to Max!
Transcript after the jump (extra h/t to asthenia!)

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.

Join the Conversation

  • SassySexpert

    Is there anything we can do? Petition etc. This is outrageous.

  • Sehnsucht

    There should be a transcript posted for this. :D

  • whatever2

    Any transcripts?

  • Clix

    Is this school somehow non-union?!

  • mametmeter

    The Unions aren’t quite as strong is certain places, especially the South and most Midwestern states. Joining unions is not compulsory there, and while they exist, their strength is not what it is in the Northeast, for example.

  • baycyd

    As a former Okie, let me just say that the kids in this class will learn more about what they are NOT allowed to do in OK than if this brave, wonderful teacher had been allowed to do her job. The kids that spoke out learned the most important lesson — censorship like this is wrong. Kudos to the teacher.. the real deal. It’s teachers like you — in OK — who made me a citizen of the world.

  • anitasaber

    I was comforted by the fact that the community people and students were in favor of reading the play. When the clip first introduced the city as a small Bible belt town, I was afraid that I’d be hearing about how the whole town was against the teaching of it. As wrong as the principal acted, at least it was only one person (that we heard from anyway) who was against it, with so many others for it.

  • Lisa

    It’s incredibly sad when even a message of bare-minimum tolerance is considered too accepting.

  • mametmeter

    Really, though, it’s a shame the Superintendent doesn’t seem to care about stimulating good thought and debate in his district’s students. The Laramie Project really makes a great piece for an Ethics class, and has the potential to create some good dialogue. I read several books in school whose language could be considered more “obscene” than The Laramie Project (which I had the pleasure of directing as my Senior Thesis project in college). It’s really a play about much more than Matthew Shepard. It’s about how we relate to and treat others, and what is moral, just, and acceptable. Ethics are at its heart.

  • sarah

    I wish I could agree, but there is a lot of editing that goes into this. They specifically only showed the ones who were for the project. We can only imagine how many people they interviewed that were against it.

  • martydd

    I went to college in Laramie, before Matthew was killed. Laramie is a wonderful place, and it saddens me that it will forever be known for what happened to Matthew. What happened in Laramie could happen anywhere. Students should be encouraged to learn this.

  • pluralist

    I’m an Oklahoman, and stuff like this has made me really hate that about 99% of the time. I would like to say that I think stuff like this is pretty atypical of Oklahoma – atleast the part I grew up in (OKC metro area/suburbs). Yet I’m SO glad that there’s a video of an articulate Oklahoman out there, people seem to think we’re all redneck cowboys or something.

  • asthenia

    I’ve written an transcript. Whats the best way to post it?

  • asthenia

    I’ve written a transcript. What’s the best way to post it?

  • dormouse

    Debbie Taylor is so calm and well-spoken.
    The video is concise, but some more interviews would have been nice. The superintendent can’t be the only homophobe in the small town against the play.

  • Vanessa

    Send it to me at vanessa@feministing.com, and I’ll post it. Thanks!

  • asthenia

    I agree, they only provided actual interviews with people that believe the play should’ve been studied. It would’ve been nice to include more opinions, especially from the students.
    On the other hand, I liked how honest those two women were, offering the apologetic “well I know plenty of gay people” while at the same time expressing they’re true feelings about the subject. It rubbed me a little bit the wrong way, just because I get sick of that line.. but they didn’t seem pushy or defensive, they were kind of just stating facts. I hontestly expected the older woman to offer a closed-minded interview and be a very conservative, stereotypical Southern older person. That’s what I get for assuming and passing judgment. Lesson learned.

  • Liza

    Debra Taylor was not a drama teacher and therefore should not have been using the stage during class time
    That is such B.S. I have had so many English/lit classes where we read plays. And for many of those we split up and read parts or went to see them or something. Because, shockingly, that helps you understand and appreciate the material.
    And language? More B.S. Who wants to talk about Equus? Because I read that in AP Lit in high school. And we read out loud and watched the movie (I bet if it were today and we had the money we’d go see it on stage). One of my friends got to tell the teacher to fuck off because he was reading as Allen and the teacher was reading as the therapist. We all giggled at it, but it was in the play. And, by the way, that was pretty much my favorite class of all 4 years.

  • feminanimal

    I’m going to cry thinking about this, but one of my most amazing teachers in high school was our lesbian acting teacher at a very rigorous school for the arts. When a local college produced the Laramie Project she had to stand in front of us and say that there was a play being produced in town and it was called the Laramie project but because the subject matter had to do with a gay man, she was not allowed to encourage us to see it, or tell us anything else about it other than that. It was a difficult, humbling moment when we were reminded that our school wasn’t the artsy, liberal haven we liked to think it was, and that even there people like my awesome teacher were being discriminated against. More than anything, kids educations suffer when biggots are making the ruled.

  • llhaesa

    One never gets used to these prejudicial transgressions, no matter how many we experience or witness.
    That someone would lose their employment for attempting to build a closer community boggles my mind. That others can believe spirituality is the clarion call to think ill of others astounds. Spirituality is such a wholly different thing for me.
    This person wasn’t fired for being gay, she was fired for being a vicarious ally, and well, what that suggests is they will apparently venomously go after those inclined to build bridges.
    Yet our children see through this – or many do. They see through the baggage previous generations tote around and toss at one another.
    I’m a gay woman. I am not perfect, actually far distant from any such ability to claim. I am human, I do care, and the greater community of which I am a part is a good one. We do not deserve to be viewed in such a manner.

  • notexactlybutch

    As yet another person who lived in OK, I think this sort of action is all to familar; anyone remember when the OK legislature was going to force public libraries to put homosexually-themed books in a special roped-off section, or when an OK state legislator (Sally Kern) said gays are more of a threat than terrorists? I lived for a time in suburban OKC, and it was at least as intolerant–two women who lived together (as “friends,” not even openly lesbian) were forced to move out of one neighborhood for fear of their well-being.
    Intolerance, even hatred, is definitely out there. I no longer live in OK, but in a pretty accepting city. I never again want to live in a place where I can’t hold my partner’s hand without fearing for our safety.
    Unfortunately, this story doesn’t surprise me. It only makes me hurt for the GLBTQ who live in Grandfield or OK who have heard this story. Hopefully they will receive positive messages elsewhere and will be able to overcome the local intolerance.
    Perhaps we can write letters to the editor of the Daily Oklahoman (www.newsok.com, the main OK newspaper), and Big Pasture News (www.bigpasturenews.com, Grandfield’s weekly). Any other suggestions?

  • educatedvagabond

    I wrote a letter to the editor for the Tulsa World about this. I’m originally from Oklahoma was so ashamed of my state when I read about it. But there was an overwhelming backlash response to my letter – so I don’t think I’m welcome back in Oklahoma anytime soon.

  • Electrickoolaid

    I don’t think Oklahomans are redneck cowboys; Oklahoma makes me think of Woody Guthrie!

  • EC

    Sadly, OK is not the only place stuff like this happens.
    I know a teacher who was forced to not teach the Laramie Project here in Vermont. That’s right— VERMONT, the state that just legalized gay marriage through the legislature, over a governors veto. Lest you think times have changed this happened in 2008 (or maybe it was fall 2007).

  • ShawnaRBAtteberry

    Thank you for Debbie Taylor! For once, I’m not cringing because Inhofe has once again opened his mouth. I’m she’s taking a stand and letting people know what happened, and that not everyone in the town is like the superintendent.

  • ShawnaRBAtteberry

    Thank you for Debbie Taylor! For once, I’m not cringing because Inhofe has once again opened his mouth. I’m glad she’s taking a stand and letting people know what happened, and that not everyone in the town is like the superintendent.

  • whatever2


  • marsj

    Here’s a website that has info about taking action.
    I’ve cut and pasted the relevant stuff right here:
    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.”

  • Toni

    The video isn’t working for me right now, I’ll try again later. I was in Oklahoma City last month and this story was on the local news. According to them, she wasn’t forced to resign. She resigned because her contract was about run out and she believed they wouldn’t renew it. They may have been wrong though.