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September 15th, 2011:

Don’t Believe Everything You Read – Verify It

Today, I saw a link to a story posted by FCKH8.com about a high school student in Tennessee who was at risk of being suspended for trying to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA).  FCKH8.com suggested that everyone call or email Principal Moser at the school to tell him not to suspend the student.

According to the story, Nathan Carroll wanted to start a GSA at high school and circulated a petition to get support.  When Carroll brought the petition to Principal Moser, the principal threatened to suspend him if he tried to create a GSA because the petition created a “disturbing the educational environment.”

My FCKH8 Shirt

Now, I love FCKH8.com. I support their mission. I love their videos and I have a FCKH8 t-shirt.  I’m glad FCKH8 publicizes stories about discrimination that occurs based on sexual orientation, but this time it looks like they didn’t do their homework before posting this story and encouraging everyone to complain to the school.

Thanks to FCKH8.com, I had Principal Moser’s phone number. So I called him. He was a very pleasant man.  According to Moser, Carroll created a petition to get student support for a GSA.  Many students supported the idea and others who were very opposed to the idea. The disagreement between the factions began to cause disruptions in classrooms that were interfering with the teachers’ ability to teach. The principle told the students on both sides that petitions would no longer be allowed in school because of the disruption they caused, and violating this directive could result in a suspension. Moser told me that he told Carroll about the process that all school clubs are required to go through in order to be created and that if students went through that process, then the school could have a GSA. I thanked Moser for his time, and I told him that I hoped the teachers used this situation as an opportunity to teach students how to appropriate communicate when there is a disagreement and people with strong beliefs on both sides.

I’m sure the real truth of this situation is a combination of the students’ and the principal’s perspective, but I looked at this situation much differently after I hung up the phone.  If Moser’s version is mostly accurate, he seems to have acted reasonably for the situation. The school isn’t against having a GSA; it just has to be done through the proper channels.

I went back to FCKH8.com’s Facebook page and posted a comment about my experience. Many others who left comments said that they had emailed the school. There were many posts that took the news story at face value, assumed that it was completely accurate, and called the principal homophobic and insensitive among other things. There were several dozen people who had reposted the original news story on their Facebook profiles.

There are enough bad situations involving discrimination based on sexual orientation in schools that we don’t need to look for problems where they don’t exist. Today’s experience taught me how important it is to verify information and to give the other side an opportunity to explain their perspective before posting comments or repeating information online. If you’re posting inaccurate information, you’re adding to an existing problem, and it’s that much harder to fix.

PS – If everything Principal Moser told me was a lie, please tell me.

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