This Teacher Read a Gay Fairy Tale to Third Graders—Then Resigned Under Pressure
Earlier this year, Omar Currie, a third-grade teacher in North Carolina, noticed one of his male students being teased by a group of boys. “They were saying, ‘Hey, girl, throw me the ball! Hey, woman, come over here,’ ” Currie, 25, recalled in an interview with TakePart. Some of the boys called his student “gay.”
Currie quickly identified the incident as a case of bullying. To teach the kids a lesson, he gathered his Efland-Cheeks Elementary School students in a classroom and began to read King and King—a children’s fairy tale depicting two princes who marry.
Soon, however, Currie resigned.
Currie’s story is the latest flash point in the debate over how young people should be taught about bullying and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. Eight states prohibit or restrict the discussion of LGBT issues in public schools. Alabama requires teachers to say “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.” In South Carolina, instruction “may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships”—unless the topic is sexually transmitted diseases. Arizona public school districts cannot include study that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle.” North Carolina does not have such a policy.
Currie had long dreamed of a teaching career. In high school, he noticed that many black students weren’t enrolled in honors or Advanced Placement classes. So he studied education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a goal of developing high-performing students—especially people of color. Eventually, he moved to the rural community of Efland, a racially diverse city of barely 700 people. He was hired as a teacher at Efland-Cheeks Elementary School. Currie says that during his job interview, he disclosed to school administrators that he was gay. “Anyone who has a conversation with me for more than five minutes is going to have a pretty good idea that I am gay,” he recalls saying. “So when a family comes and has an issue with that, I want to know, how are you going to deal with it?”
Currie says the administrators who interviewed him—who are no longer with the district—said they’d fully support him.
He says he was introduced to King and King in college. One day last spring, he borrowed the book from the office of an assistant principal at the school. The book had apparently been approved by a school committee. (School officials did not return a call seeking comment.)
The students initially reacted well to the book and a subsequent conversation about alleged bullying. That evening, however, Currie received a call from a school administrator saying a parent had complained about the book. The next day, Currie says, administrators told him that he should have followed the school’s “controversial topics” policy, which requires teachers to inform parents about plans to read material related to LGBT issues. Under that policy, parents may choose to have their children leave the classroom when such issues are discussed.
Currie says he took issue with that directive because some of the children in his class live in families led by same-sex couples. “I thought it was very dangerous for us to be naming families that are in our schools as controversial,” he told TakePart.
Soon, there was a public meeting to discuss the book. One parent said Currie was pushing a gay agenda. The man pulled his child out of school in protest. The Efland-Cheeks principal, Kiley Brown, sent Currie a letter about the alleged student bullying. The letter read, in part: “Though the behavior was concerning and warranted attention, we determined, based on the information you provided, that the behaviors you described did not rise to the level of harassment and bullying” under the school’s policy.
Earlier this month, Currie resigned, saying he believed school officials did not support him.
Currie doesn’t regret reading the book to his students. He’s looking for another teaching job. “I hope that in the next job I take, I feel more comfortable and more prepared to deal with issues around bullying that take place in my classroom,” he says. He wants teachers in Efland to “feel safe and feel like they understand the policy and the plan for dealing with these issues in the classroom.”