When Teachers Can’t Teach

Homophobia is a term we are all familiar with. Disapproval of homosexuality and of gay people is not evenly distributed throughout society, but is largely dependent on age, ethnicity, geographic location, race, sex, social class, education level, partisan identification and religious status. In the UK, HIV/AIDS charity AVERT reports that religious views, lack of homosexual feelings or experiences, and lack of interaction with gay people are strongly associated with such views.

The fear of and negative attitudes towards homosexuals has been traced to Ancient Greece, but the term homophobia was only coined in the 1960s by George Weinberg, a Manhattan psychologist. The word was coined from a blend of (1) the word homosexual and (2) phobia from the Greek Phóbos, meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”. While Weinberg is credited as the first person to have used the term in speech, it first appeared in print in an article written for the May 23, 1969, edition of the American pornographic magazine Screw, where the word was used to refer to heterosexual men’s fear that others might think they are gay.

With the increasing acceptance of gays and the change of laws in the United States, including the repeal of the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” law and the federal courts ruling that same-sex marriage is now legal, you would think that we were advancing towards acceptance of the LGBT community. Yet there are still hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who abhor or fear gays and transgender persons. Stories of hate crimes are in the news all the time. And Heaven forbid that you express publicly on Facebook or other social media your support of LGBT rights—you’ll be “flamed” by trolls until you feel like a pig at a luau.

What does all of this have to do with a teacher being able to teach? A news item showed up in my Facebook feed today about a Kansas school teacher, Tom Leahy, being asked to resign because he chose to use a short film to teach his class of 13-14 year old 8th graders a lesson about tolerance.

Mr. Leahy teaches social studies at Conway Springs Middle School in the tiny Kansas town, which is predominantly Catholic. It wasn’t that he showed the film that got him into trouble with parents and the school board, but the film that he chose to use. The short, titled “Love Is All You Need?” is a hugely popular, heart-rending, anti-bullying clip, with more than 12 million views on YouTube, that holds a mirror to homophobia by inviting people to imagine a world where homosexuality is the norm and straight people are ‘othered’ like gay people are now.

The teacher decided to play the video after a number of students expressed what he felt were shocking anti-gay views in a class discussion. Mr. Leahy told the Wichita Eagle that “I didn’t want just a dorky little film…I wanted something that was important, something that was serious. So that’s the one I came up with. I’m not saying what I did was very smart. It really wasn’t – but I’m a spur-of-the-moment kind of guy, and it seemed right at the time.”

Personally, I don’t fault Mr. Leahy for his choice of lesson material. However, afterwards the school was barraged by complaints from parents who were unhappy with the subject and tone of the clip. Mr. Leahy was put on leave last month, but now says he’s been told not to return (of course the school board declined to comment).

The film [below] features scenes of Church-instituted heterophobia, which some parents objected to, while others attacked the portrayal of suicide. I hope that when you view this short film that you will remain open to its important message about bullying, as well as tolerance.


8 thoughts on “When Teachers Can’t Teach

  1. Hi,
    I know Tessa, Jacqueline, and of course Danny. I know we met on his site. You liked a comment I made there, so I wanted to come introduce myself and thank you for clicking “like”.
    Your headline intrigued me since I am a teacher. I agree with you. There are those that shouldn’t be teaching but due to the tenure system no one can change that unless they commit heinous crimes.
    Nice to meet you.


      • Hi,
        I teach medieval times history to seventh graders, and I teach your book design to seventh and eighth graders.
        Danny is Danny Ray from dream big dream often. He had a meet and greet, and I met you there.


        • Oh, I didn’t realize his name was Danny. I haven’t had much time to get really acquainted with his blog yet.

          Boy, school has changed even more than I thought since my school days! Medieval times history for seventh graders!? Sounds more like a college course (they both do), but then kids are smarter now at that age than we were. You must work in a large and well-funded school district.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a difficult time believing the views expressed by the parents in Kansas still exist. I believe we all should be allowed to be wholly ourselves without fear of expressing our identity. That does not mean we should police each others lives. We all are in search of companionship in our lives, whether one identifies as homosexual, heterosexual, or anywhere on the spectrum is of no importance. If we all spent more time peacefully recognizing our shared humanity, love instead of hatred would rule our world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I spent 6 verrryyy long years in Kansas for my job. Trust me, these attitudes and views do exist there. I always said the nicest people I met there were the ones who weren’t born and raised there. It’s at the upper edge of the Bible belt. It frustrates me to no end to hear people call themselves Christians and then take such attitudes.


  3. This is a complete disgrace of justice. I hope those students learn that intolerance doesn’t stop at their peers; it goes all the way up the chain to their parents and administrators, and it takes everyone working together to end it with a little love, open-mindedness, and acceptance.


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