'Gay gay gay gay gay!' Emails detail outrage over cancellation of LGBTQ-themed play in Indiana
Some emails contained vitriolic screeds. Others expressed concern for gay teachers. One offered a plaintive plea from a high school student bewildered by the conduct of adults.
Taken together, emails obtained by Raw Story help tell the inside story of what would this week become a national news event — the resurrection of an LGBTQ-themed play, "Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood," following its cancellation by a public high school in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The students, with outside financial and logistical support, put on the play anyway as an independent production after a months-long saga involving Carroll High School, principal Cleve Million and district superintendent Wayne Barker.
“I'm guessing you are a True Florida Man and this is all about Don't say Gay....well Wayne GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY !!!” one email said. “Your main role is to educate our kids, well … you've done your job to educate them in YOUR HOMOPHOBIA! Signed, straight married white dude.”
Another wrote that Northwest Allen County Schools “used to be a place any teacher would desire to work. It's very sad that it's come to this point. Please STOP catering to these parents and students with their ultra right wing agenda. They will never stop complaining and trying to force their agenda on our schools until you stand up and say NO. We are a PUBLIC school. Show your teachers you support them!”
Raw Story obtained the emails through the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. The district lightly redacted some of the emails and cited exceptions in public records law to withhold others. Raw Story redacted emailers' personal contact information.
The issues discussed in the emails attracted the attention of media from the Washington Post to Playbill, which publishes programs for Broadway and Off Broadway shows and covers the industry. It also elicited an inquiry from the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Barker, who also received emailssupporting the school’s actions, answered most critics by offering to meet with them and explaining that the cancellation was Million’s decision — and that he supported it.
“It became apparent to Mr. Million that this was becoming a divisive issue for students who were interested in participating in the play,” Barker wrote. “For those reasons, it was cancelled.”
At least one emailer wouldn’t accept that explanation.
“You certainly understand that, given the comments of (school) board members, it’s hard to view this as anything other than a reaction to queer content in this play,” he said.
Another emailer took a particularly harsh tone, writing to Barker, “I am simply ashamed of the cowardice demonstrated by you and the rest of the school board in cowing to the fascist thugs who use religion to justify policy at a secular institution. You have no right to call yourself a man, stand up for freedom of speech or resign, as cowards have no place in the education of our youth.”
An emailer to Million and school board members asked them for empathy.
“Please put yourselves in the shoes of a young person who is targeted by this kind of hate in their very own community,” it said, “by parents who claim to be caring, Christian adults, and by classmates who openly call them faggots and other slurs, tell them they should just do the world a favor and kill themselves, etc.”
Million responded that he had met with “many” LGBTQ+ students who reached out to him.
“They have been good, positive, and constructive conversations,” Million wrote. “Many of our conversations have centered around support not only for the LGBTQ+ students but all students and what that could look like. As I continue to have these conversations with students, I am gaining their insight at how we can support and protect them.”
A teacher in the Fort Wayne district, which is in Indiana’s second-largest city, wrote to Barker that his colleagues “fear that this will open the door and invite more bigotry aimed beyond just the students.”
“When a colleague approaches you and tearfully asks, ‘What will happen when a parent complains about my orientation?’ it is easy to feel apprehensive about the climate in the district,” the email said. “Unfortunately, there are those in this community who will see the cancelation of the play as a win for their beliefs, be they political, religious, or otherwise, and they will feel emboldened to push even more in the future.”
Another emailer feared educational quality could suffer if the district is seen as bigoted.
“If our teachers continue to have to deal with being called groomers, being told they are indoctrinating their students and pushing their personal beliefs on them, they will leave,” it said. “With all of the new anti-LGBTQIA bills being passed, they will now have to worry about outing their students to parents, dealing with students who no longer trust them as teachers, and constantly worrying about saying something to offend a student or parent.”
One student’s email showed maturity well beyond many teenagers’ years.
“Parents care more about students’ identity, ethnicity, race, and political views than any student at Carroll,” the student wrote. “Honestly, Carroll students do a really good job at representing equality and not caring about people’s identity. Although seeing adults act the way they do just makes me question the people that are supposed to be building my future and my peers’ future. It’s scary seeing adults treat kids this way.”
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