Students protested in support of their teacher after he was told to sign a letter promising to hide his sexuality.
John Wallis had been hired by Neosho Junior High School in Neosho, Missouri, to teach speech and theatre in his first graduate role after finishing university.
The 22-year-old put up a sign saying “in this classroom everyone is welcome” and had a Pride flag on his bookshelf, which quickly received complaints from parents.
“A parent called last week to complain that I was going to teach their child to be gay,” Wallis wrote in a Twitter thread about his ordeal. “I was then instructed to take my flag and signs down.”
“In fact, the use of the Pride flag in my classroom was compared to hanging the Confederate flag in my classroom.”
When asked by a student why the flag was up, the teacher shared that he is gay.
“This led to three or more calls from parents accusing me of pushing my agenda in the classroom,” he explained.
According to a copy of the letter that was obtained by the Springfield News-Leader, it said: “Our classrooms cannot become a personal platform for pushing one’s personal agenda. Your position in the Neosho School District is to teach speech and drama classes. You were hired because we believe you were the best candidate to do such.
“However, if you are unable to present the curriculum in a manner that keeps your personal agenda on sexuality out of your narrative and the classroom discussions, we will ultimately terminate your employment.”
Wallis also had to agree to display “no references to sexuality or gender” in the classroom, avoid “discussions regarding human sexuality and/or sexual preference” and ensure that no assignments involve the aforementioned topics.
After refusing to sign the letter, Wallis handed in his resignation on 1 September – just weeks after the start of the school year.
The school confirmed that the letter was sent but stated it was meant to “document” a conversation with the teacher on 31 August.
In retaliation to what happened to Wallis, students and locals from the area rallied at the edge of the Missouri State University campus on 16 September.
After a short meeting on Thursday, we will walk over together to stand in solidarity with Mr. John Wallis. No one should have to choose between their job and who they are. pic.twitter.com/5mqQ1NhhFl
— MSU Generation Action (@MSUGenAction) September 15, 2021
“Pride flags belong in the classroom,” several placards said.
“We stand with John Wallis,” another student’s sign read.
“Support queer educators,” a third added.
Roughly two dozen people were at the protest, with the key message being that all schools should provide a welcoming and inclusive space for employees and students alike.
Abby Garrett, a university student who organised the rally, told the Springfield News-Leader: “They need to know there are people out there who accept them exactly how they are, that they are welcomed and supported.
“Having pride flags in classrooms is a great way to show this and to build LGBT-inclusive schools and to combat bullying.”
The anti-discrimination policy of the distrcit Neosho Junior High School is in has no mention of sexual orientation and gender identity and Missouri state does not explicitly ban LGBTQ+ discrimination.
Prior to the protest, Garrett explained: “The LGBT people of Missouri do not have rights in regards to housing and employment in Missouri. You can be fired and you can be evicted because of your sexuality.
“They have been trying to pass the LGBT anti-discrimination act since the year I was born, seriously, 1998.”
A complaint to the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has been filed by Wallis, who students were unable to reach to tell him about the rally.
“I’m very passionate about trying to make sure the queer community here in Springfield, especially the kids, are welcomed,” Jackie Ogden, who participated in the protest, said. “To hear about a teacher going out of his way, I wish I’d have had that.”
In response to Wallis sharing that the school asked him to sign a letter promising to hide his sexuality, the school district issued a statement that said: “As per all personnel matters, there is a limited amount of information that is allowed to be shared by the school district.
“In regards to inquiries regarding Mr. John Wallis, I can share that Mr. Wallis was hired on 8/13/21, and he submitted his resignation on September 1, 2021.”