SHAWNEE In a shocking reversal, the Oklahoma state school board has overturned a policy protecting gay students from discrimination from teachers.
Representative Kevin Calvey of Del City, OK., released a press statement this week taking credit for requesting this change from the school board and thanking various conservative religious organizations for their assistance. . Carrying out Representative Calvey’s request was state schools superintendent Sandy Garrett, who pressed for passage of the change without public hearing.
The previous Oklahoma school board policy stated that teachers could not “deny benefits to any student” or “grant any advantage to any student” based on sexual orientation. The new policy reads, “the teacher shall comply with all federal and state anti-discrimination laws.”
Federal and state laws do not protect students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a Tulsa World article, Calvey justified his discrimination by citing the recent Equality Ride action at Oral Roberts University in which nine riders and community members were arrested for trespassing. He suggested that this policy reversal would “protect” students from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activist groups meeting on public elementary and secondary school grounds.
Oral Roberts University is a private religious college and would not be affected by school board rules governing student-teacher interaction in public elementary and secondary schools. The anti-discrimination policy also only refers to teacher interaction with students and would not affect the federally protected rights of students to form gay-straight alliances or other organizations dealing with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“This change in policy by the Oklahoma school board has nothing to do with our actions in Oklahoma,” said Jacob Reitan, co-director of the Soulforce Equality Ride. “This is a cowardly act of election-year pandering from Representative Calvey and Superintendent Garrett.”
“This is a prime example of why we are here,” Reitan continued. “For state officials to use the First Amendment expressions of dissent by Equality Riders at a private religious university to withdraw protections from public schoolchildren shows the level of fear that exists about discussing the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.”
“These officials are afraid because their churches and ministers have made them afraid,” Reitan said. “Religious leaders have misused their authority to tell their followers that lesbian and gay people are sick, sinful and a threat to their children. It is time to bring this kind of religion-based discrimination to an end.”
Laura Belmonte, of Tulsa Oklahomans for Human Rights said, “given the fact that the Oklahoma public education system consistently ranks among the nations’ poorest, we think superintendent Garrett should be more concerned with preparing our children for college and productive careers than misusing her powers to disregard the diversity of Oklahoma.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 8, 2006.