CHILLICOTHE, Ohio (WSYX) — At Huntington Local High School, students demonstrated for LGBTQ rights and in support of a gay teacher who lost his job.
Jay Bowman has been a teacher for thirty years and was most recently substituting in a Huntington classroom.
Bowman said several girls asked him about this rainbow-colored First Capital PRIDE bracelet he was wearing.
“If a kid has questions. If a kid wants honesty, I don’t think I should be forbidden from providing that,” said Bowman.
School Superintendent Peter Ruby would not answer ABC 6’s questions on camera. But the district sent a statement that said Bowman violated school policy:
"To our Huntington Local Schools students, staff and families, Huntington Local Schools is committed to maintaining a welcoming and inclusive community for our students, teachers and staff. Those values guide us, and our district does not discriminate in our hiring practices. It is important for you to know that our Board policies restrict staff from discussing with students certain subjects, including political, religious and personal beliefs. This past week, we received reports with specific concerns about possible violations of those policies by a substitute teacher in the district. After a brief investigation, we confirmed, by the substitute’s own admissions, that he violated board policies by speaking to students about political and religious topics, as well as distributing bracelets. As a result of his violation of board policies, the district decided his services as a substitute would no longer be utilized. While we recognize there are diverse points of view on this matter, this policy exists for the purpose of ensuring all students feel comfortable in the classroom. Our district has a continuing and firm commitment to support our LGBTQIA+ students, teachers and staff. We understand that a demonstration of support may be planned for Monday to raise awareness about LGBTQIA+ issues. Student-led expression is permitted so long as there is no disruption to the education of students. The district encourages compassion and respect for everyone in our school community. I welcome any organizer to contact me directly at email@example.com so that any demonstration of support is peaceful and orderly, and all students feel comfortable and welcome. Thank you for your continued support of our district as we work to ensure an environment of acceptance and belonging for all."
“I don’t try to recruit anyone,” Bowman said Monday. “The parents are responsible for the kids. The parents are the ones who need to teach their kids right and wrong.”
“I think the reaction to my violation when compared to other instances in the school where certain things are tolerated was unfair,” said Bowman. “Huntington Township is by in large a conservative area and human rights are not a foreign entity at all but it is outside the comfort level of a lot of people.”
“I know I have opened a can of worms. I know I started a discussion. I trust the members of this community know I did that with no ill intent,” Bowman said.
“We are saying that it is not okay to be out. It’s not okay to be gay or queer or LGBTQ. Or if you are out about there will be consequences,” Daniel Matthews, with First Capital PRIDE, said.
Bowman said in his teaching career, he has had nearly 40 former students and athletes come out. “Huntington is my home.it is where I got my first teaching job. It is everything to me. It just is. I love this community I love this school.”
“I was taught that God doesn’t make junk. I am not junk, I am Jay,” Bowman said.
The demonstration at the school stirred up controversy on both sides. Bowman said it shows he is not alone and neither are LGBTQ students. “Everybody’s voice should be heard. My catchphrase has become, there is room at the table for everyone and there is,” said Bowman.
Some community members said they want the school board to reconsider its policies. They plan to bring it up at the April 11th board meeting.