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Wash. School Apologizes to Teacher Fired 42 Years Ago Over Sexuality

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Monday Jul 14, 2014
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The members of the Tacoma School board in Washington state issued a formal apology Sunday to a former high school teacher who was fired 42-years ago because he is gay, Seattle's ABC-affiliate station KIRO-TV reports.

Jim Gaylord was a social studies teacher at Wilson High School for 12 years but was fired in 1972 when school administrators learned he was gay. He said the few years after his firing was a "very unpleasant" experience, but he managed to get through the tough times thanks to family and friends.

Gaylord tried to sue the district - he had received excellent reviews prior to his firing - but nevertheless lost. The Washington State Supreme Court upheld a court ruling against him. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case.

After Gaylord was let go, he became a librarian.

KIRO-TV obtained the 1975 court ruling, which includes testimony from the school's administrators at the time Gaylord was fired. John Beer, Wilson High's assistant principal at the time Gaylord was teaching, told the court, "I don't believe a homosexual meets the standards, the professional standards, the community standards, that we would expect of a classroom teacher."

The district 's board president, Kurt Miller, told KIRO-TV, "that was another time."

"I offer a sincere apology to Mr. Jim Gaylord. Jim, thank you for continuing to teach us," Miller said at a fundraiser Sunday night.

When Gaylord was asked if he thought 42 years was a long time for school officials to apologize for his firing, he said, "Well, I tell you I never gave a great deal of thought to getting an apology, so this comes as a very pleasant surprise."

"I always emphasized to my students the importance of civil liberties and pursuing them. I could hardly not do what I had always told them they should do," he added.

The apology started with Michelle Barroga, a youth council member, who interviewed Gaylord for a June project. After realizing Gaylord was still hurt by the incident, she asked if anyone ever said "sorry" to him. Seth Kirby, the board's executive director, asked Miller if an apology would be possible.

"I said, I'll look into it. And yes, we can. And we will," Miller said.

In his Sunday speech, Miller added: "We cannot make up for the mistakes of an unfortunate past, but we can at least acknowledge them and let those affected know that regret doesn't end when the old guard moves on."

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