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College GSA Invites Fired Gay Coach to Speak

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Nov 3, 2011
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A gay former coach for a high school water polo team who says he was fired for his status as a sexual minority got a friendly hand from the world of academics when a college Gay-Straight Alliance invited him to speak.

Assistant summer water polo coach Mitch Stein’s firing came about after a disgruntled parent complained about the punishment that another individual, swim coach Howard Hyde, handed out to team members who refused to comply with a requirement that they obtain medical approval to participate in the sport, reported Glendora Patch.com on Sept. 23.

The firing also came about after printouts of photos posted online arrived at the office of the school’s principal, Kathleen Wiard. The photos had been posted at MySpace and Facebook. One showed Stein jokingly posed with a corndog he was poised to bite into; another showed him posing with a group of men in drag, reported local newspaper the Whittier Daily News.

Stein filed a complaint against the school alleging anti-gay discrimination. School officials at Charter Oak High denied the allegation that his dismissal was due to his being gay.

"According to the complaint, the letter’s author called Stein ’unfit to coach’ and threatened to go to the school board if he was not fired immediately," the Whittier Daily News article reported.

Though Stein offered to delete the photos from his online pages, the principal refused to entertain an alternative to his firing. When Stein challenged the firing and asked whether a heterosexual man would lose his job if he posted a photo of himself together with scantily clad cheerleaders, he was told that cheerleaders in uniform were acceptable company in a photograph.

Attorney Brad Kane, representing Stein, told the media that the following day Stein was summoned to the office of Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Terry Stanfill, who made it a point to tell Stein that he was not being fired for being gay, but because he had made "offensive" photographs public.

"When someone tells you ’Oh, by the way, we’re not doing it because you’re gay,’ there’s some question," Kane told the Whittier Daily News. "It appears to be at this stage sexual-orientation-based discrimination."

District Superintendent Mike Hendricks said that Stein would not have been fired out of homophobia.

"I can say, and so can any other superintendent, that there are laws that protect--that ensure--that we do not discriminate against any individual," said Hendricks, who declined to specify just why Stein had been fired, citing privacy statutes.

But for Stein, the firing was not the end of the story. He addressed a student group at Citrus College on Nov. 2, reported Glendora Patch on Nov. 3.

"When I was growing up, we didn’t have the exposure that you have now," Stein said in his address. "When we had questions, or needed answers there was nowhere to go."

Stein said that he might have simply given up the fight when he was fired, except for a gay athlete on the water polo team who was struggling. The team member was having "a terrible time at the school" and had engaged in suicidal behavior on several occasions. That gave Stein a reason to fight.

"I said if I stay and fight, you’ll go to school," Stein recounted. His fight goes on, but the student has kept the bargain and has not dropped out, as many bullied gay youths do.

"It’s not just about passing laws, it’s about changing the social climate," Stein told the GSA at Citrus College. "This is what I promised that water polo player and this is what I’ll do."

"Stein emphasized the importance of establishing Gay-Straight Alliances on all campuses as a means of breaking down intolerance towards gays," the Glendora Patch article said.

Stein had acquitted himself flawlessly while serving as assistant water polo coach at Oak Charter High School, media reports said, and his dismissal provoked an outcry. Under Stein’s leadership, the team enjoyed a summer of unblemished victories and benefited from a grant that Stein secured from Kohls department store. His firing prompted a response online, with a Facebook page called "Wipe Out Homophobia on Facebook" being set up and a push for Stein’s rehiring crystallizing around the page.

Parents stepped up also, with many writing letters and making phone calls in support of the fired coach.

"He’s a good parent and a really nice guy," the president of the Aquatics booster club, Rod Munoz, told the media.

"What he was fired over was not offensive at all," a fellow coach, who declined to be identified, said. "He’s a terrific coach and a great organizer."

Kane also took the step of sending the district a letter in which he asked that Stein be hired back, but the district refused.

Stein is an alumnus of the school, which his daughter also attends. Stein told the media that when he was fired, his first thought was for his daughter.

Indeed, the young woman has been the target for homophobic bullying since her father’s firing. But, like father, like daughter: The young woman told the media that she has no intention of going to school anywhere else.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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