The following is information regarding my current book project, Gay Teacher:  A Story about Love, Hate and Lessons Yet to be Learned.  I would appreciate your support via Kickstarter to assist with funding this important project!

Gerry Crane’s Story

Nineteen years ago two men, Gerry and Randy, exchanged vows of love and commitment on a fall Saturday in 1995 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The following Monday, Gerry returned to his job as a music teacher at Byron Center High School and discovered he had been outed by a student. During the weeks and months which followed, the once much loved and lauded teacher, was harassed, threatened, and ostracized by parents and other educators.

Parents pulled their children out of his classes. For eight months, Gerry was repeatedly called into the office to address false accusations.  Colleagues gave him the silent treatment. School officials mailed Focus on the Family’s anti-gay propaganda to parents in the school district. The school board issued a formal statement: “Homosexuals do not constitute proper role models as teachers.”

Many religious leaders and believers in the community cited the Bible to justify their condemnation of Gerry, others remained silent, and a small number of religious leaders formed a group, Concerned Clergy, to offer an opposing Biblical position and start a dialogue about faith and homosexuality in the community.

In spite of the fact that Gerry’s struggle as a gay teacher received national news coverage and there was some organized support for him, the harassment continued. At the end of the 1995-1996 school year Gerry was forced to resign. Six months later Gerry Crane died from a stress- related heart attack at age 32.

Many people were outraged with the way Gerry was treated by the school district, many parents and others in the community. Yet what would we say to Gerry if he returned today and learned that nineteen years later teachers are still losing their jobs for merely being gay; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teachers still do not have legal protections in most states; and LGBT students continue being bullied, some to the point where they are suicidal.

Along with telling Gerry’s story, my book includes discussion of the current climate for LGBT teachers and students and the change which remains to take place. Gerry’s story needs to be told.

Why am I writing this book?

Gerry’s story needs to be documented in part because it is a significant segment of LGBT and Michigan history.Gerry’s journey is representative of what hundreds of thousands of LGBT people have experienced in the past 50 years. Gerry’s story was covered on a regular basis by media in West Michigan as it was unfolding:  The Grand Rapids Press reported that it received more letters to the editor about Gerry’s case than any other issue it covered in its then 104-year history. Eventually the media coverage became national, including Time Magazine and the television program 20/20. My research includes the details, influences, perspectives and context which can only be unearthed by engaging in a more comprehensive investigation of the facts.

I also want to present Gerry’s story for LGBT educators and students. When the school board issued a formal statement that “homosexuals do not constitute proper role models as teachers” this declaration was directed at Gerry, but also felt by other LGBT teachers and LGBT students, at an age when many were starting to come to terms with their personal identity. The students who attended Gerry’s high school during this time witnessed some of the important adults in their lives and community direct anger and rage at one of their favorite teachers, at the same time they witnessed others reacting with love and a sense of justice. The effects of this experience on other members of the community will be discussed in this book. The book also discusses the current climate in which LGBT educators continue to work.

I want to chronicle Gerry’s experience because anti-LGBT discrimination and hate ended his career and cost him his life. A young, dedicated, passionate, talented music teacher and a man of exceptional character died at age 32 as a result of discrimination and hate. Gerry’s story deserves to be told.

In my book I also want to tell the story of a community that was greatly affected by this vicious, public, personal condemnation of Gerry. In particular I want to detail the story of religious responses to this situation. Many religious leaders and others in the community cited the Bible to justify their view that a gay person should not be able to work as a public school teacher. A large number of religious leaders and believers remained silent. As noted above, a small group of religious leaders formed a coalition, Concerned Clergy, to offer a differing Christian and Jewish view and initiate a dialogue within the community about faith and homosexuality.

Finally, I am motivated to write this book because I have a passion for history which I inherited from my father. I find history to be informative, inspirational, thought-provoking and in an odd way comforting. As aptly stated by George Orwell, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” Gerry’s story and the stories of others in the LGBT community must continue to be told.

How does a story about a gay teacher in the mid-1990’s relate to life in 2014?

The recent surge in the number of states which are legalizing same-sex marriage has led many people to conclude that LGBT-related discrimination is a phenomena which can only be seen in our nation’s collective rear view mirror. This is a misleading conclusion.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2013 National School Climate Survey examined the middle and high school experiences of LGBT youth nationally and found that:

-74% of LGBT students were verbally harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation

-36% of LGBT students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation

-17% were physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, injured with a weapon) in the past year because of their sexual orientation

-30% of LGBT students missed at least one day of school in the prior month as a result of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable because of the hostile LGBT climate at school

In 2013, The Advocate reported a study which revealed that lesbian and gay teachers are less likely to challenge LGBT-based bullying in schools because they feared for their jobs. The teachers’ fears are warranted:

-in 2013, gay elementary school principal Tom Klansnic was fired by the North Gresham Elementary School in Gresham, Oregon after he revealed that he was gay

-in 2013, the Hesperia Unified School District in California refused to renew lesbian teacher Julia Frost’s contract after she helped LGBT students speak out about harassment perpetrated by other teachers

-in 2012, high school principal Cynthia Davis was fired from the Paradise Valley Unified School District in Arizona after a “concerned community member” submitted a letter stating she suspected Davis was a lesbian and thus living a “questionable lifestyle”

-in 2009, lesbian high school teacher Brook Johnson was fired from the Corunna Public School District in Michigan for allowing the school’s Diversity Club to put up a display honoring LGBT History Month

These are just a few examples.

The trauma that Gerry suffered — and even his death — were not enough to generate support for the passage of a state law in Michigan prohibiting LGBT-based employment discrimination. In addition:

-19 years later, it is still legal to discriminate against an employee based on the person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation in 29 states and under federal law

-19 years later LGBT teachers are still losing their jobs based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression

-19 years later, LGBT students are being taught in anti-LGBT climates within school districts

It is my hope that my book will help garner attention to these facts and channel change for LGBT students and teachers.

One Response to “Gay Teacher - Sharing our History, Shaping our Future”

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