A teacher from Missouri was told to take down his Pride flag in the classroom and not discuss topics regarding sexual identity at school.
John M Wallis, 22, who taught speech, theater, and world mythology, said he hung a rainbow Pride flag in his classroom at Neosho Junior High School on the first day of school to create a welcoming environment for all students — and he said students noticed.
“At the beginning of the school year, I had two signs above my whiteboards that read “In this classroom everyone is welcome” and an LGBTQ+ pride flag on my bookshelf,” Wallis said. “I had, on the first day, about five students that came up to me and thanked me.”
“They said thank you for having the flag up. I wouldn’t know where else to go,” he added.
“This was an attempt to make my classroom more open and welcoming for all of my students, and nothing was ever taught about the flag because it stood there as a reflection of my classroom as a safe space for my LGBTQIA+ students,” Wallis tweeted.
Two days later, John said, he was called into a meeting with administrators, who told him that a parent had called and expressed concern that he “would potentially teach their child to be gay.”
In the Twitter thread, John explained how parents complained about the flag and accused him of pushing his own personal political agenda in the classroom.
During the meeting, the administrators told him to remove the signs and the flag, which John said one of the administrators compared to the Confederate flag.
“I was told that in the classroom I have to be middle-of-the-road on political issues,” he tweeted. “And I said: “That’s OK. This is not a political issue.”
“I said, this is a human rights issue, and then I was told I have to be middle-of-the-road on human rights,” he added. “There’s no middle road on human rights.”
When students asked why the flag and sign were removed, he told them he was asked to take them down and that the flag did not represent what he would teach in his classes.
“But I followed it up by saying if you have a problem with the flag representing me, or students who identify as LGBTQ+, then you can probably find a different class,” Wallis said.
He said that it prompted more complaints from parents.
“I was then asked to sign a letter that stated I would not discuss human sexuality or my own personal sexuality in the classroom and could have no displays or coursework on those subjects,” Wallis said.
The teacher said that he refused to sign the letter and resigned on September 1, a few weeks after the school year started.
The letter, shared with NBC News, said that if John was “unable to present the curriculum in a manner that keeps your personal agenda on sexuality out of your narrative and the classroom discussions, we will ultimately terminate your employment.”
“To clarify this further, there will be no references to sexuality or gender displayed in your classroom, your instruction and classroom conversations will stay clear of discussions regarding human sexuality and/or sexual preference, and any research or assignments given should not require a topic related to the above,” it added.
School District Superintendent Jim Cummins said in a statement to the Springfield News-Leader: “As per all personnel matters, there is a limited amount of information that is allowed to be shared by the school district.”
John has filed a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, and a federal complaint may be his only recourse.
The school district’s anti-discrimination policy does not include sexual orientation and gender identity, and the state of Missouri doesn’t ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
“It appears that there is a different set of rules if you are an LGBTQ+ educator, Neosho has no mention of gender identity or sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy, and that is disconcerting enough,” Wallis tweeted.
John who said he grew up as a closeted teen in Neosho, said the letter broke his heart, adding that “the term “sexual preference” was used, which showed me that the district and people in the Neosho clearly believe that it’s still a choice to be who I am.”
Missouri Representative Crystal Quade said that Wallis’s story highlights the need to pass the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Democrats have filed the bill every year since 1998 but it has not passed.