Students from the state of Missouri gather in support of the former Neosho teacher
A group of mostly college students gathered on the edge of the Missouri State University campus Thursday evening to assist a Neosho teacher who was ordered to remove a flag of pride from his classroom.
They held signs and waved flags of pride for John M. Wallis, who resigned in protest on September 1 after refusing to sign a letter swearing, among other things, not to show any evidence of gender or sexuality in his classroom .
Wallis said school officials compared the pride flag to “hanging the Confederate flag in my classroom”.
About two dozen people gathered on the corner of National Avenue and Grand Street Thursday to support Wallis and other LGBTQ educators.
They said all public schools, large and small, should be welcoming and inclusive places for all staff and students.
“You need to know that there are people out there who will accept you for who you are, welcome and support,” said Abby Garrett, a senior music education teacher at MSU who organized the event. “Having flags of pride in classrooms is a great way to show this and build LGBT inclusive schools and fight bullying.”
Jackie Ogden, who attended the rally, said she wished she had more teachers like Wallis who would accept.
“I’m very passionate about making the queer community here in Springfield, especially the children, welcome,” said Ogden. “To hear a teacher go out of their way, I wish I had.”
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Participants in the rally urged the passage of the Missouri Multiannual Anti-Discrimination Act (MONA) to amend the state’s human rights law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Avery Richardson, who has a degree in general business, said she was really upset about what happened to Wallis.
“I hope that if anything comes out of this case, it will provide some protection for queer workers in Missouri.”
Richardson, like others at the rally, said they were not surprised to see a teacher asked to remove a pride flag.
“It was like a normal day in Missouri,” said Richardson. “But I was surprised it generated reactions.”
There has been strong opposition to MONA from lawmakers and corporations, arguing that the proposed expansion will give the public too much control over employers’ decisions and leave businesses vulnerable to lawsuits.
Over the years it has also been argued that current protection based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, disability, or marital status is broad enough.
“Missouri LGBT people have no rights to housing or employment in Missouri. They may be fired and evicted for their sexual charisma,” Garrett said before the rally. “You have been trying to pass the LGBT Anti-Discrimination Act since I was born in 1998.”
Wallis filed a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Civil Rights Bureau. In it, he noted a parent’s complaint about the flag of pride claiming it would “teach their child to be gay”.
Garrett, who couldn’t reach Wallis to tell him about the rally, said the pride flag was for representation and respect, not for conversion.
“There are LGBT children in every public school. A pride flag in the classroom is one way to show that you support them. They need to know that they can grow up and be happy, ”Garrett said. “Many reasons why teenage gays unfortunately take their own lives are because they don’t see a future for themselves in which they are happy and accepted and can love who they are and who they are.”
She added, “You need role models (show them) that things get better.”
Lou Hood, a 2019 graduate of Kickapoo High School, said the situation with the Neosho teacher was sad. “Unfortunately, this is common.”
Hood, 20, who is taking a year off college, said action is needed.
“I just want LGBT teachers and students to be accepted and accepted in the school community,” she said.
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Rebecca Harris, a PhD student in creative writing, grew up in Ava and attended the rally in support of Valais and LGBTQ students.
“I’m part of the community and I just think it’s wrong to exclude different people,” she said.
Harris said she wanted students to have the kind of experience they had in the state of Missouri, noting that it was “the most inclusive campus” and people were open to listening to other people’s stories.
“I just want to see support for different people and people who feel welcome and don’t have to hide who they are,” she said.
Claudette Riley is the News Leader’s education reporter. Email news tips to [email protected]