I'm sure readers will remember David Davis, the principal at Ponce de Leon High School in Florida whom the courts said led a "relentless crusade" against gay students at the school and "embarked on what can only be characterized as a witch hunt."
Davis harassed Heather Gillman, as well as other LGBT students and allies, when Gillman told him she was being taunted for being a lesbian. Davis' response was to tell her "homosexuality is wrong", outed her to her parents and ordered her to "stay away from children". He then suspended some of her friends who expressed their outrage by wearing gay pride T-shirts and buttons at school, as well as asked dozens of students whether they were gay or associated with gay students. Gillman stood up for herself, contacted the ACLU, sued the school, and won.
You would think that after the stinging rebuke from the court, Davis would be a pariah- branded as the bigot he is- and Gillman would be lauded for being a brave young woman. You'd be wrong. In fact, the opposite has happened- Davis has become a local hero and Gillman has been ostracized.
Much more after the jump...
Following the court's ruling and rebuke, Davis was not fired. He was "demoted" from principal to teacher. That's right- Davis is teaching the same students he harassed and degraded.
It also seems the town is behind him. In a horrible article on MSNBC, with the headline "Principal's outing of gay student roils Fla. Town: Many in conservative Panhandle community wonder what man did wrong," the fallout from the case becomes clear:
...Many in this conservative Panhandle community still wonder what, exactly, Davis did wrong.
"We are a small, rural district in the Bible Belt with strong Christian beliefs and feel like homosexuality is wrong," said Steve Griffin, Holmes County's school superintendent, who keeps a Bible on his desk and framed Scriptures on his office walls.
Many in the community support Davis and feel outsiders are forcing their beliefs on them. Griffin, who kicked Davis out of the principal's office but allowed him to continue teaching at the school, said high schoolers here aren't exposed to the same things as kids in Atlanta or Chicago.
"I don't think we are that different from a lot of districts, at least in the Panhandle, that have beliefs that maybe are different from societal changes," Griffin said.
That's right, Davis didn't do anything wrong according to the town and the School Superintendent. There's more:
Others flatly hail Davis as a hero.
"David Davis is a fine man and good principal, and we are a gentle, peaceful, Christian, family-oriented community," said Bill Griffin, 73 and a lifelong Ponce de Leon resident who is no relation to the district superintendent. "We aren't out to tar and feather anyone."
Aren't out to "tar and feather" anyone? Maybe they should tell that to Heather Gillman and her family, who have been continually harassed in the small community:
A Wal-Mart worker yelled at her, accusing her of trying to "bankrupt" the school district, which was ordered to pay $325,000 in ACLU attorney fees. One of her friends has refused to talk to her because the lawsuit conflicted with the woman's religious beliefs.
Once again we have seen the devastating effect of ingrained homophobia in our culture. A man who harasses students is seen as a folk hero and still allowed to "shape young minds" in the classroom, while a young woman who stood up for herself and the rights of others is harassed by an entire town.
If Davis had gone on a witch hunt against any other minority or group of kids, he would have been kicked out of the school system for good. Yet because it was against LGBT students, he is slapped on the wrist and will continue to spread his hate. More LGBTQ students will fall under his "tutelage", damaging them for years to come as he continues his bigoted crusade- a crusade supported by the town and school administration.
I hope students continue to stand up for themselves. We need more young heroes for our community like Heather Gillman. We also need to make sure we stay after the court cases and fights to support young people who stand up in hostile areas. We have to work to change the minds and hearts of communities like Florida's panhandle- otherwise the victories we win may create more hostility and harassment that these brave young warriors who fight for our rights have to face alone.
(Crossposted from Bilerico-Florida)