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

Emily Douglas

An Oklahoma public school teacher was forced to resign for teaching The Laramie Project, a play about Matthew Shepard, a man who was murdered because he was gay.

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."

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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."   

Roundup: Driehaus Sues for “Lack of Livelihood”

Robin Marty

The Ohio Congressman, after losing his reelection bid, is suing anti-choice groups for his "loss of livelihood."

He may have lost his reelection bid, but Ohio Democratic Representative Steve Driehaus isn’t done fighting.  Now, he’s suing anti-choice action groups for “loss of livelihood” for lying about him in campaign attack ads.

Via The Hill:

Driehaus (D-Ohio), who lost his reelection bid last month, announced Friday that he was suing the group for knowingly misleading voters about his position on public funding for abortion. The SBA List asserted that the reform law provided for taxpayer funding of abortion.

During the campaign, Driehaus had issued a complaint with Ohio’s election board against the SBA List to prevent the group from posting billboards that claimed the one-term congressman voted in favor of public abortion funding by supporting the reform law. However, the billboards never went up, and Driehaus dropped the complaint.

Susan B. Anthony Group has responded to his suit via press release:

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“Counter to his claims, the voters of Ohio’s First District are the ones that cost Steve Driehaus his livelihood. Congressman Steve Driehaus’ problem is not that the Susan B. Anthony List allegedly lied about his vote for taxpayer-funded abortion in the health care bill. It’s that he caved when it counted, took the wrong vote, and paid the price on Election Day.
 
Now he wants exclusive rights to describing that vote to his constituents and, in a democracy, that just isn’t possible. All major pro-life organizations along with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who speak on behalf of the Catholic Church, came to the same conclusion: that the health care bill Congressman Driehaus voted for allows taxpayer funding of abortion.
 
Despite his best efforts to criminalize the SBA List’s free speech, Driehaus’ constituents heard the truth about his pro-abortion vote and have already determined whose description of that vote is true. The SBA List will continue to defend that truth and the right to criticize our elected officials.”

The usual conservative groups are rallying together to state that even if SBA’s claims weren’t entirely true, they were…well, true enough.

Was the SBA’s criticism of abortion funding in ObamaCare “untrue?”  You may recall the infamous moment in the health-care debate when supposedly “pro-life” congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI) cashed out his insistence on firm language against such funding.  The few paper-thin restrictions on abortion funding in the massive ObamaCare law are all tied to the Hyde Amendment, which must be re-authorized yearly, and could be repealed by executive order.  No Hyde-related restrictions are applied to the billions in funding directed to “community health centers,” many of which happen to be owned by Planned Parenthood.  High-risk insurance pools created by ObamaCare in Pennsylvania and New Mexico were caught red-handed funding abortions, to the great consternation of congressman John Boehner… who was the House minority leader at the time, but has since received a promotion to Speaker.

At the very least, the Susan B. Anthony List’s assertion is debatable.  A strong case could be made that insisting ObamaCare would not fund abortions is more like an outright lie.

Still, Driehaus isn’t backing down.

“A lie is a lie,” Driehaus’ lawyers wrote in his federal defamation lawsuit. “The First Amendment is not and never has been an invitation to concoct falsehoods aimed at depriving a person of his livelihood.”

Mini Roundup: As if they don’t already have enough problems, gay teens are apparently being punished more than straight teens, either by police or other authority.

December 6, 2010

NYT Calls For Withdrawal of Funding from Uganda if “Gay Hate Bill” Moves Forward

Jodi Jacobson

A NYT Editorial calls on the US to withdraw international development funds from the government of Uganda if it passes legislation that would, among other things, impose the death sentence for homosexual behavior. I agree.

This morning, a New York Times Editorial joins calls by many in the human rights community for the US to withdraw international development funds from the government of Uganda if it passes legislation that would, among other things, impose the death sentence for homosexual behavior and make family, community members, clergy and others "accessories of crime" if they do not "report" homosexual behavior.

The United States
and others, writes the Times, "need to make clear to the Ugandan government that such
barbarism is intolerable and will make it an international pariah."

Stigma, discrimination, and violence against lesbian, gay and transgender persons is part of a much broader set of social marginalization in Uganda.

As the Times notes:

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Corruption and repression — including violence against women and children and abuse of prisoners — are rife in Uganda. According to
The Times’s Jeffrey Gettleman, officially sanctioned homophobia is
particularly acute. Gay Ugandans are tormented with beatings,
blackmail, death threats and what has been described as “correctional
rape.”

While in many settings discrimination is often heavily veiled by socially acceptable language and dissembling, in Uganda hatred for homosexual persons is blatant even among government officials. 

“Homosexuals can forget about
human rights,” James Nsaba Buturo, who holds the cynically titled
position of minister of ethics and integrity, said recently.

[R]ight now, concludes the Times:

the American government, and others, should make clear to
Uganda that if this legislation becomes law, it will lose millions of
dollars in foreign aid and be shunned globally.

I have to agree. 

Some in the global AIDS community have argued that withdrawing funding from Uganda will endanger those people suffering from AIDS-related illnesses who have gained access to anti-retroviral therapies as a result of US funding, and that withdrawing such aid will put their lives at risk by reducing funding for essential medicines. 

But the reality is much more complex–and the leverage the United States holds much greater than usually portrayed. 

For one thing, the US provides direct bilateral assistance to the government of Yoweri Museveni in many areas, including HIV and AIDS programs, food programs, and military assistance, among other streams of funding.  Moreover, the US provides a great deal of its assistance both through international technical agencies and through non-governmental organizations on the ground in the country, through grants and agreements that originate from the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The U.S. could in fact channel more aid–for ARVs and for other health programs–more directly through international agencies and NGOs than through direct bilateral assistance to the Musevenis, untold amounts of which have in any case been used by both President Museveni and by his wife Janet Museveni to fund the growth of the very fundamentalist movements in Uganda now responsible for the legislation in question.  Janet Museveni, for example, has used U.S. funding for prevention of HIV infections among women and girls to launch "virginity campaigns," and hold "virgin parades" in the streets of Uganda.  Much of what we send to Uganda as bilateral assistance is long overdue for review in any case.  

Moreover, the sheer amount of aid from the US going directly to the Musevenis has helped support not only rabid anti-homosexual activity, but other forms of discrimination, denial of essential health services for women, intimidation of political opponents, questionable election practices, and more generally a government that is, as the Times points out, prone to massive corruption and repression.  Those who spoke out against the government, like my colleague Beatrice Were, were intimidated, harrassed, and threatened with death.

Money talks.  It was loud enough during the Bush Administration for Museveni to rewrite the history of his own once-successful HIV and AIDS campaign from its comprehensive approach to HIV prevention in the nineties to one that portrayed Uganda as a poster child for abstinence-only programs, a shift made solely to promote the agenda of evangelical christian groups in the US and in Uganda, resulting in an increase in HIV infections in a country once lauded around the world for its success in stemming the spread of HIV. For this, Uganda was rewarded with hundreds of millions of dollars of funding from Bush under PEPFAR.  

If this Obama Administration is serious about change, then witholding money for the Musevenis unless this bill is shelved, and re-directing funding such that essential health services are delivered through more accountable international agencies is one place to start.