Ethics Dunces: Beaverton, Oregon School District Administrators

This one is the easiest of calls.

Seth Stambaugh, a student teacher for the 4th and 5th grades at an elementary school in Beaverton, Oregon, was asked by one of the students if he was married. Stambaugh said he was not and, when the student asked why, replied that it would be illegal for him to get married in Oregon because he “would choose to marry another guy.” The student asked if that meant Stambaugh preferred to be with other men, and Stambaugh responded, “Yeah.”

As a result of this exchange, a parent complained, and Stambaugh was fired. There can be no justification for this. He was not advocating homosexuality, nor was he flaunting it. He was not behaving inappropriately, not engaging in conduct that undermined his value as a role model or effective teacher. He was not representing or endorsing illegal activity or dangerous activity. He told the truth, when asked, about his personal situation, and did not embellish it or go into more detail than would be appropriate for any teacher under the same circumstances. The complaining a parent is a bigot, passing on bigoted attitudes to the child. The school district leaders are cowardly and lack responsibility, fairness, respect and common sense.

It’s really as simple as that.

You can read the entire story here.

[Thanks to Joe Cronin, D.C. actor extraordinaire, for the tip.]

7 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: Beaverton, Oregon School District Administrators

  1. Though I have two school-aged children myself, I always get a chill when I hear the term “a parent complained,” because it’s often followed by some ridiculous complaint.

    And great move for the school district to show its students the power of one bigot over an entire school district.

  2. Stambaugh’s firing is a pebble thrown in the drowning pool. The ripples widen to include the gay students in his class, in the school, in the community, in the world that reads the story — the ones who have just lost a positive role model. They might not have known they had one before but now they do and they see what they have to look forward to.

    Without getting into the cruel and meaningless recent argument over statistics (are 30% of all teen suicides gay? or is it “just” 3% or something else because, as one research report put it “they don’t have sexual orientation on their death certificates”?) this is one more discouragement to finding the self-acceptance necessary to become a healthy grown-up. Adolescence and teenage are tough enough years for stabilizing emotions as it is; to have one’s questioning stymied, one’s ineradicable self-identification poisoned by seeing your own community turning on You-as-an-adult is an incitement to stop right there, to stop fighting, have an end to the bullying, an end to the fear of what might happen if you let IT be known or if They find out, an end to not being able to change who you are, an end to a future in which being honest about who you are will destroy you anyway . . . death looks like the only way out.

    I have been volunteering on a national crisis line for the past 14 years, for much of that time on an LGBT youth line, and coordinating with similar groups around the country … and right now I am having trouble keeping this simple and clear because this is not just another bone of bigotry for the chatters to pick over. What happened to this teacher is already — tonight — the reason for a significant rise in calls to the suicide hotlines. And, my friends, we do know that the ones who call are the small percentage — ooo, wait! he made an arithmetical error and that invalidates the conclusion that there should be much concern over gay teen suicide, right? Well, here are some statistics at, say, 1% of the population (even the most seriously gay-denying scientists can’t go below that level) … roughly, the population of the US is over 307 million, teenagers are over 47% of that, so about 144 million, and 1% of that is just, oh, a mere million and a half (those were 2009 figures so I rounded up) are at risk.

    The flip side of this story is that had Stambaugh continued in the job he was obviously doing well — the proof of that being the excellent way he handled the toughest question he’d ever get — it would have not only been a local lesson in ethical behavior but, for some for sure, in life-affirmation.

    If I were any kind of optimist, I would hope for a turnaround in the community . . . before the ripples spread to the surviving family and friends, and other towns and school boards follow Beaverton’s bad example.

    My apologies for the rant, Jack — I deliberately do not respond to your blogs regarding anti-queer activity (I agree with you about the overuse and misuse of the word homophobic, though it would be handier …) and I appreciate your evenhandedness in applying ethical judgments to a group that is usually exceptioned, but this subject is having a deleterious effect right in front of my ears, so I felt compelled to expand on the dunce-ness of it.

    • No apology necessary, since that was no rant; that was insight. The blog form ideally also works as pebbles thrown in the water, with wise and experienced commentators providing detail and force that the original poster couldn’t or didn’t muster. It seldom works that way (until a blog has a wide and diverse audience), but your comment is an example of the ideal (and there have been some others recently.) Thank you for the effort, and the enlightenment.

    • Good find Jack. Penn – Keep up the good fight.

      But here’s my rant…and it probably is a rant, and I apologize, but I hope everyone finds value in it.

      LGBT – Why no S?

      Where can straight people go to learn tolerance? To show their support for someone else’s cause? The reason this country is so partisan is because groups have decided to partition themselves so they can stand together… and apart.

      If the organization’s name didn’t suggest you had to be one to join, then maybe many college students who were straight would get involved and advance the cause. Maybe I’m wrong, but is it LGBT’s position to “Go It Alone”?

      How about a name like TOSO – Tolerance Of Sexual Orientation. That sounds inclusive of everyone.

      • Tim, I’d argue that there is short term justification for minority groups to create an exclusive advocacy group. The trick is knowing when to disband. The Congressional Black Caucus, in 2010, is indefensable.

        • Tim, there’s a group that might fill your bill — apart from the occasional “straights for gay rights” campus organizations that still pop up in hostile territory now and again — known as PFLAG. Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (having embraced the Bi,Trans and Q-for-Questioning subsets without further garbling their name) is an open-handed, open-minded bulwark of emotional support for anyone who needs it in hundreds of communities around the country, many of them quietly serving rural areas or small towns.

          But I’d like to go with Jack on thinking certain groups have passed their sell-by date. There were decades in the last century (ah, the banners of yesteryear!) when anyone could and did rally round for others’ minority causes — women, Black, labor, poor, etc. The 1967 and 1970 anti-war Marches on Washington come to mind. In spite of the finagled media coverage that severely undercounted and over-edited the crowds, the supporters came from every corner and level of society with a fair unity of mind. One of the last such events was the 1978 gay parade in San Francisco “out of the closets; into the streets” which attracted everyone in its vicinity, many to their surprise. The Briggs Amendment barring gay teachers was one of several rallying points. (The parades are much larger these days but the “others” are sidelined, mere spectators.)

          Following each of these come-one-come-all events, core organizations were born or separated out. Some lost their basic funding or charismatic leaders and faded away, others like WPA projects won their points and were cancelled, a few stuck it out and were finally rewarded by their team’s World Series victory, but for the most part, I think, they tended to become narrowly self-defined and exclusive. The longer they go on, the more specific the agenda — NOW is a good (bad?) example — until the original worthy cause has shrunk to that of a power-brokering few.

          Okay, enough waxing nostalgic. Let’s face it: we don’t have to go a-marching or suffer Robert’s Rules to get our opinions out there or meet other like-minded folks today. We on the Net, man. So why do I think we’re missing something?

  3. Those interested in the transformation from a single “black America” in the 1960’s to a multicultural black America today might take a look at DISINTEGRATION, a recent book by the Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson that makes exactly this point, and examines expanding cultural diversity in what used to be (more of) a monolithic group.

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