US: Apology for Tacoma teacher 42 years after he was fired for being gay

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A gay teacher in Tacoma, Washington, has received an official apology, forty two years after he was fired for his sexuality.

Former social studies teacher Jim Gaylord, now 76, was fired in 1972 following twelve years of service after school authorities questioned him on his sexuality, and he decided to come out as gay.

Gaylord first faced rumours that he was gay after being approached for help by a student struggling over his own same-sex attractions. Gaylord notes that he did not reveal his own sexual orientation at the time.

However, when asked soon afterwards by the school’s vice principal if such rumours were true, Gaylord came out. He was dismissed before the end of the term.

The dismissal read in part: “The specific probable cause for your discharge is that you have admitted occupying a public status that is incompatible with the conduct required of teachers in this district. Specifically, that you have admitted being a publicly known homosexual.”

With the support of his teacher’s union, Gaylord appealed the decision, and his case eventually reached the Washington state Supreme Court, but was unsuccessful. He never returned to teaching.

“They went on to decide that I was probably a sex criminal because I hadn’t denied I was sex criminal,” Gaylord said. “Even though it wasn’t even alleged I was a sex criminal in the lower courts.”

“I always tried to keep my private life private,” Gaylord said, but added: “I had to give up my privacy to get my job back.”

He describes this period of his life as “hell”, but refused to meekly accept his dismissal: “I had always stressed civil rights, civil liberties and equality before the law and standing up for one’s rights in my classes.”

“I would do it all over again,” he said. “There were a lot of people who thought it was a losing battle. But it still advanced the cause for equal rights.”

Yesterday, Tacoma School District issued him an apology, as part of an event held by the Oasis Youth Center to celebrate LGBT students.

Kurt Miller, president of the Tacoma Public Schools Board of Directors, said in the apology: “A person’s sexual orientation is not a matter of morality or immorality.

“We cannot make up for the mistakes of an unfortunate past, but we can at least acknowledge them.”

He added: “The 1972 decision was written within the guidelines at time, but it does not reflect the values and morals of the district now. I offer a sincere apology. Jim Gaylord, thank you for continuing to teach us.”

Speaking about the apology, Gaylord said: “It’s a kind of a closure. I got over [being fired] years ago, but this does complete the process.”

He was particularly pleased that the apology came during an event celebrating the Oasis Youth Center. “That made it special,” he said. “I volunteer for them and donate money, so it means a lot.”

In June, the Tacoma school board passed a non-discrimination policy dealing with gender identity and sexual orientation to protect LGBT students.

Last week in Tacoma, a gay couple claimed that they were ejected from a taxi cab after sharing a quick kiss.