J. Daniel Young
A recent emergency meeting at the Ben Hill County Board of Education is a stark reminder that homophobia is alive and well in South Georgia.
I learned of Dawn Clements from my sister-in-law and niece in recent years. My niece had Ms. Clements in both middle school and high school as a principal. Ms. Clements helped my niece during some rough times at both schools and was a shining example of what a school leader should do: advocate for their students.
You cannot be in a town this small without hearing gossip everywhere you go. But a hair salon is the center of the gossip universe, and I may not repeat that gossip, but I will listen to it. I’d heard over the years that Ms. Clements was gay, but being gay myself, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Sure, people say stuff about me behind my back and some folks joke with me to my face. I rarely give attention to anyone’s madness and didn’t listen to anything much about the principal.
For nearly a year, Ms. Clements has been the interim superintendent at the Ben Hill County school system. By all accounts, she has been an outstanding leader.
When I heard about a letter that had surfaced, from a local pastor looking to have her removed from consideration as the permanent superintendent because she is gay, I was LIVID!
Can someone please answer for me how it is that straight people are any better at leading children?J. Daniel Young
Within hours of the Facebook posts and all the online silliness, an emergency meeting of the Board of Education was called. Along with my niece, I planned to make my voice heard at the meeting.
My niece drove us to the board meeting the next day after lunch. People were handing out stickers as we walked up to the building and asked if we’d like one. I had to make sure it wasn’t one that made disparaging comments about Ms. Clements. The ladies handing them out were very understanding and they were there to support her. I proudly placed on one on my chest, as did my niece and we made our way into the building.
The hallway was standing room only.
We’d arrived early, about half an hour or so, but we were still backed up to the door and the hearing room was at the other end of the hallway. We chatted with people and most folk I saw had on the supporting stickers.
After being there for about half an hour, the people closest to the hearing room started chanting, “I support Dawn!” The chant continued as the board members made their way down the hall, passed us, to another room where they could discuss the issue in private.
Many people stood around talking about the issue and how much they supported Ms. Clements. I heard story after story of how she did so much for her students.
After almost two hours, my niece announced that she needed to go grab a bite to eat and to use the restroom. At this point, I was game to leave too.
As we pulled out and passed in front of the building, they were calling people back into the building. I asked my niece if she wanted to turn around and stay, she said she really needed to go. I was good with it either way.
Later, as we stood around my sister-in-law’s hair salon, people started telling us about how they watched the live feed and that one board member stepped down from his chairmanship position. The board had unanimously rejected Ms. Clements’ resignation and voted for her to be the permanent superintendent.
According to reports, there were over 700 people at the board meeting. I was glad that I was there to show my support, despite not knowing this woman. I could only imagine the stress these events caused the lady.
Let’s get back to the issue at hand. The fact that this letter (seen below and cropped to remove the writer’s personal information) was written in 2023 shows how far we still have to go as a society.
I understand that people may not like gay folks, but to actively write a letter to have this woman removed from her job?! That is what distresses me.
Currently, there are no explicit Federal job protections for gays and lesbians in the U.S. But in 2020, the Supreme Court provided protections for LGBTQIA+ workers under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Still, any of us could be fired for that reason. Hell, in Georgia you can be fired for any reason. The process to work through the courts can be lengthy and expensive.
Also, there are so many states who have introduced anti-gay legislation. Look at Florida for instance.
The problem I have with this situation is that the pastor wanted to call into question this woman’s ability to lead “innocent children.” Can someone please answer for me how it is that straight people are any better at leading children? (Don’t get me started on the whole “groomer” bullshit.)
Is it any wonder why people have lost their respect for the church when pastors use their pulpit and position to rail against gay people? Isn’t there enough divisiveness in the world right now? Why pick this fight now? Ms. Clements has been in a leadership position for years and in the school system for over a decade.
It doesn’t make sense. Still, I won’t get on my soapbox today about the other ills of the U.S., but I will say that this concerns me. Because if he can stir this up for her, imagine how difficult it would be for those of us who don’t necessarily have the support of many around us.
Those of us in the community cannot rest thinking this won’t happen to us. It can. There may not be a bunch of people who read this but those of you who do, know that we are not yet safe from discrimination.
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