You may recall that last week my story reached national and international news as a teacher who resigned from his school district in Neosho, Missouri, because of discriminatory practices by the administration. After putting up two signs that said, “In this classroom everyone is welcome” and an LGBTQ+ pride flag on the bookshelf, school officials told me to take them down. Then they asked me to sign a letter saying I would not discuss my sexual orientation — in other words, that I would hide who I am.
It has been a rocky few weeks dealing with the events at my district and the reaction to the sharing of my story on social media. I want to address a few things with my supporters, the haters, and, of course, the district I left.
When my story took off, I was initially worried about the response I would receive. However, there have been surprising numbers of supportive parents, students, teachers and regular members of the Neosho community who have encouraged me and shared messages of solidarity. In some of my darkest moments, I have looked back at these to see the love that has been sent my way. Thank you to the many people who have reached out across all my social media platforms to voice support and encouragement.
Yet, with every story like this, there is also bound to be some detractors, and I would like to address them too. I woke up the day after my story was posted in various news sources, and I was not at all prepared for the vitriol and hateful bile that would be projected at me. While I figured there would be some clear dissent, I was not prepared for the people who would accuse me of the most disgusting things and call me (among many other terms) depraved, sick, and mentally unwell.
To those of you who chose to lash out at me with hate, I want you to know that I forgive you. While I am not a member of an organized religion, I consider myself to be very spiritual. The God I know teaches me to love and accept people, even those who do wrong and speak in the manner you did to me. Please know that I am praying for you. I can only hope that you will see that I am a normal human being, capable of everything you are and deserving of every right you are even though I love differently.
Finally, to my district. Never did I imagine this would be the way things would end with the Neosho School District. I spent my entire life attending the various schools in the district and graduated from there in 2017. Since my junior year of high school, I had vowed to return and teach in the community that I had grown to love. Sure, we have our strong disagreements on a variety of issues, but I didn’t think a classroom of acceptance for all students would become the issue that would lead to my departure.
I was glad to see the district respond to criticisms last week in a press release, and I accept their legal definition of the term “sex” in their policies. However, this does not justify the letter I had to sign to hide who I am, and it certainly does not justify a policy being made specific for a gay teacher as opposed to the whole district. Straight instructors certainly aren’t barred from discussing their husbands or wives. This treatment has left an emotional and mental scar on me, and I encourage Neosho and all other districts to seriously think about the phrase “All means all” as it pertains to supporting students in public education.
Ultimately, my story is unfortunate but not unique. People all over the state of Missouri and the world face bigotry and discrimination every single day. It highlights the necessity for legislation such as MONA, the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act on the state level and the Equality Act on the federal level. I can only hope that my story encourages others to share their experiences and that it leads to systemic changes everywhere. Thank you to everyone who has been following my story and journey. May you all find peace in these divisive and tumultuous times.
John Wallis is a former teacher at Neosho Junior High School.