Imagine the outcry if a Muslim teacher said this in his Alabama classroom: “You can go tell the principal, call the superintendent and tell her. I don’t believe in Christians. I don’t like Christians, I don’t hate them as a person, but what they do is wrong and an abomination against God.” Or what if a teacher went on a similar rant against special ed kids?
The pitchforks would be out and the torches lit. That guy would be out of a job faster than Terry Jones can say “burn the Koran.”
But if the teacher in question is merely a homophobic bigot – with a dash of misogyny thrown in for good measure – well, things move at a more measured pace.
School district officials are investigating allegations that a Lauderdale County High School teacher made slurs in the presence of students regarding first lady Michelle Obama and gays. Superintendent Jennifer Gray confirmed the investigation concerns the school’s head football coach, Bob Grisham, who also teaches driver’s education and psychology.
The investigation includes a 1-minute, 24-second audiotape of Grisham asking who knows who is behind the 600-calorie school lunch.
“Fat butt Michelle Obama,” he said. “Look at her. She looks like she weighs 185 or 190. She’s overweight.”
Male voices interject comments during the discussion, at one point referring to Michelle Obama as a “fat gorilla.”
Later in the tape, Grisham referred to the U.S. as going in the “wrong direction” and tells the students they can “get pissed off at me or not. You can go tell the principal, call the superintendent and tell her. I don’t believe in queers. I don’t like queers, I don’t hate them as a person, but what they do is wrong and an abomination against God.” The tape was reportedly recorded by a student Monday and took place on school campus during the school day.
Certainly, every man in the United States has a right to make an ass of himself. But everyone else has the right to weigh in when he does it in public – particularly in front of students in a public school. And every teacher in the United States has a right to his/her own religious beliefs, but the right to proselytize stops at the public school door.
The teacher/student relationship is hierarchical by its very nature. Teachers are authority figures and (ideally) role models for students. Note in the recording how the students pick up the “fat butt” comment and run with it all the way to “gorilla.
Furthermore GLBT students – and kids that other students “think” might be gay – already suffer enough from bullying and ugly language from their fellow students. How much worse is it for these kids when the teachers lead the mob? Although the Huntsville City Schools may think that a teacher “preaching against homosexuality is inappropriate, but it's not bullying,” the kids involved in the incidents tend to hold a different opinion.
Remember that this guy isn't just “any” teacher: he's the head football coach who led his team to the quarterfinals last year. I attended Alabama public schools and I know that there's no bigger “bigshot” in an Alabama high school than a winning football coach. What Grisham says matters because his comments serve as a nice little instructional guide for intolerance. His little rant against “queers” being an “abomination against God” is a permission slip to bully GLBT kids.
No action has been taken against Grisham by the district’s administration or the school board. He was not at school Wednesday, and Gray said he has family obligations that were expected to keep him out of school the rest of the week.
The school Superintendent says “It’s an unfortunate situation, and we hope to clear this up as soon as possible.”