Ore. Student Teacher Pulled from Classroom After Coming Out

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Oct 19, 2010

A teacher in Oregon who was reassigned to a different school after coming out as gay to his students has found himself if the middle of a controversy.

23-year-old student teacher Seth Stambaugh was just starting his career as an educator at Sexton Mountain Elementary school in the town of Beaverton, Ore., a town seven miles west of Portland, when he was abruptly taken out of the school where he'd started after answering questions from one his fourth-grade students, reported local news station KGW on Oct. 18.

Stambaugh was sent to teach at a school in Portland, outside of the Beaverton school district. The student teacher's advisers at Lewis & Clark College were reportedly asked by the school district to pull Stambaugh out of Sexton Mountain Elementary and send him elsewhere.

"The student asked me if I was married," Stambaugh told the news station. "I responded, 'No.' He asked, 'Why?' I said it was illegal for me to get married. I said, 'It's because I want to marry a man.' "

Stambaugh was reassigned shortly after that Sept. 10 conversation, and was not told the reason--though he thinks he knows why. "I felt extremely hurt and discriminated against," Stambaugh told KGW. "Everyone in the school is free to talk about their marital status as long as they are heterosexual."

The head of the Beaverton Education Association, David Wilkinson, agreed. "As a heterosexual male, I can talk about my wife and our children," Wilkinson told the Portland Tribune. "Our GLBT members have been shown that they are not at liberty to discuss their personal lives in the same way."

Added Wilkinson, "I have been contacted by many teachers who are deeply concerned about their vulnerability in light of this incident... [which] has brought a bright light to the lack of clarity around what is allegedly age-appropriate or reasonable to discuss with students."

A statement from the Beaverton School District seemed to confirm that his disclosure to the student was the cause of Stambaugh's dismissal from Sexton Mountain Elementary. "We understand this action has resulted in the student teacher alleging discrimination," the school district's statement said. "The concerns were about professional judgment and age appropriateness. While the details of this issue remain confidential, the district's policy and practice is non-discrimination."

Student teachers are not employees of the school district, but rather are interns. As such, they are not protected by district non-discrimination policies or by state laws regarding discrimination in the workplace.

"I think that 4th graders know that gays exist," Stambaugh said. "They hear it on the playgrounds. To say this guy, meaning me, came out and should disappear sends a negative [message] to a gay child who could be questioning their own sexuality."

At least some parents agreed. "I don't think anybody should be fired for giving a well though-out articulate answer to a kids' question," said one father, Mike Speer. However, other parents seem to have had reservations about the fact that gays exist being acknowledged in a fourth-grade classroom; it was a parent's complaint that triggered Stambaugh's dismissal, media sources said.

The forthright reply to the student's query was only one of two complaints leveled at Stambaugh: the same parent lodged a complaint about the student teacher's "inappropriate" manner of dress, "which consisted of cardigan sweaters, neatly pressed slacks and bow ties," noted Oregon Live educator and guest columnist Marcia Klotz in an Oct. 17 op-ed. "We all know what kind of people dress like that," added Klotz.

"Are 9-year-olds mature enough to understand the issue of same-sex marriage?" Klotz, Portland State University assistant professor of English, wondered. "Maybe, maybe not. But if they are old enough to worry their parents about their exposure to the rather subtle fashion clues of a bow tie and cardigan, they must be quite savvy indeed."

Klotz went on to question whether lying to the student would have been morally preferable. "This might all seem rather silly if the stakes weren't so high,' she wrote. "Sexual shame kills, as the recent rash of lesbian and gay suicides across the country attests. Imagine a child in that class, one who may not have a name yet for certain stirrings he is dimly becoming aware of, which already shame and humiliate him. What might it mean for such a child, a few years down the road, to look back on that teacher, who was brave enough to answer honestly when the students put their curious question to him?

"And what does it mean when that very teacher is taken out of the class--for the crime of not being ashamed enough?" Klotz added.

That question may be behind the snowballing of the incident into a full-blown controversy that has rattled the school district. The district's superintendent, Jerry Colonna, has turned the controversy into a learning moment, reported Oregon Live on Oct. 14. Colonna took several days to speak with and listen to people from the GLBT community, community religious leaders, parents, and GLBTs working in the district's schools. His conclusion? "There is a need to repair relationships, rebuild trust, learn from the issue and listen."

Added Colonna, "As we have talked to individuals involved in this, especially those who are sexual minorities, we have found that there are many incidents in which they feel the district has not responded to their needs so they feel safe and respected. This is also true of students."

Next: "Double Standards" and "Lines in the Sand"


  • nikko, 2010-10-19 16:47:48

    I’m sorry but why do you feel the need to come out to ELEMENTARY school kids? high schoolers and maybe even middle schoolers I would understand but little kids don’t even know what gay, or straight is.

  • , 2010-10-19 16:56:04

    so would rather lie than being an honest human being? Regardless of what people say, being a bigot against gay people is still a very acceptable behavior. Don’t make fun of anyone racially, fat, skinny, short or tall, but it’s still ok to make fun of gay people. Oh and by the way...I’ve been teaching for 19yrs.

  • andy, 2010-10-19 20:33:41

    Many years ago, I was asked by my 5 year old niece why I wasn’t married. I told her that I was - to my husband (who she knew since birth). I explained that most times, boys like girls, just like her mommy likes her daddy and my parents like each other. I also told her that some boys like boys and some girls like girls. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what most people do. I like boys, so I have a husband. She looked at me, said OK, and got it immediately. She’s now 16. She’s pro-gay, and she still gets it. What’s so wrong with putting the issue in terms of love? Kids get it.

  • nick, 2010-10-19 22:08:09

    It is an issue that most certainly needs to be addressed early. In the elementary school where I work, a child ran up to me about a month ago and started telling me all about his family...How his one mommy helped him with this and his OTHER mommy helped him with that. I’m an adult and understood....but what’s going to happen when he shares that information with all the other first graders in the class? There are most definitely units on the family, mother’s and father’s day projects, etc, etc in first grade. Are we going to request such students to remain silent because their families are not "age-appropriate" for the other children in the class? Are we going to change THEIR classes...or do we become rational and deal with the issue honestly and appropriately?

  • Jeff T. in Houston, 2010-10-20 00:33:55

    Niki, you poor naive child. I started teaching Elem school in 1980. that was 30 years ago. Children of that age already know what "gay" means.They know then, and they most certainly know now. Unfortunately most of them are also carrying their parent’s views on the subject. Kids don’t discriminate naturally. They have to learn that particular gem. Our schools would not have made it through some of the rougher years without the help of their gay staff. It’s sorta like being a hair stylist. It’s in our blood! I’m joking about that, you absolutely wouldn’t want me cutting your hair!

  • Jeff T. in Houston, 2010-10-20 00:36:25

    OOOps... they "knew then". I’m also anal about grammatical errors! it drives me crazy when I make them. and Niki, forgive the condescending tone, I just feel like you are way, way off base.

  • , 2010-10-20 01:34:33

    It is so easy to be prejudice, and to teach intolerance! Oh they should be shielded from it all! Do you think children don’t hear the news on TV? Arm your children with knowledge, gay people exist. If your religion says people shouldn’t be gay explain why, but remember being gay is not a choice! There’s ample amount of evidence to show that being gay is not a choice. So be careful, because that child you are indoctrinating into the "your’re going to hell for being gay scene" might be your own, gay child. Many parents who’s offspring are either dead or have left for parts unknown have lamented their harsh anti-gay stance, when it cost them their son or daughter.

  • , 2010-10-20 06:43:30

    Niki...The man was asked a question and he answered it...honestly. Are you REALLY advocating that teachers (or anyone for that matter) should lie? Or is it that he should only lie about things that you don’t believe should be discussed? You don’t see the inherit discrimination in this matter? It’s OK for straight teachers to answer questions about their lives but not for gay people to do the same? Why? If that’s the case, it’s the child’s question that prompted this whole matter so perhaps we should tell children to stop asking questions in school? That makes perfect sense using your logic right? And now dressing well is a uniquely ’gay’ trait??? Really? Most men that work in my office then are gay...who knew! Seriously, why should gay teacher, or lawyer or doctor, etc, etc, etc be ashamed? I’m tired of being told I should be ashamed of myself by over important bigots who believe they have the right to dictate how everyone else should act and think. The man told the truth, if that truth is uncomfortable then change the law and let the man marry the man he loves.

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