SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- At a press conference called by the Utah Human Rights Coalition (UHRC), the formation of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Teachers' Alliance (GLSTA) was announced and a local high school teacher came out as a gay man. Both are precedent setting actions in Utah.
Doug Wortham, who heads the new teachers' group, said, "It's important to remember that public schools need to be places that are safe for all of our young people explained its mission. GLSTA strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected, regardless of sexual orientation. We believe that such an atmosphere engenders a positive sense of self, which is the basis of educational achievement and personal growth.
"Since homophobia undermines a healthy school climate, we work to educate teachers, students, and the public at large about the damaging effects these forces have on youth and adults alike.
"We recognize that forces such as racism and sexism have similarly adverse impacts on communities, and we support schools in seeking to redress all such inequities. GLSTA seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes in creating a more vibrant and diverse community. We welcome as members any individual, regardless of sexual orientation or occupation, who is committed to seeing this philosophy realized. "
Clayton K. Vetter has been a teacher in the Granite School District for 12 years. He is currently the Debate coach at Skyline High School where he has coached an undefeated team for the past four years. He has received numerous awards and recognition for his teaching and coaching skills.
When asked why he decided to publicly announce his sexual orientation, Vetter replied, "I teach. That is what I do. I try to instill in my students the belief that one person can make a difference, that to have integrity, you must stand up for what you believe in, and that above all, you must believe in yourself and be true to yourself.
"To not stand up now, when there are so many misconceptions and questions concerning gay issues would go against everything I have tried to teach. This is why I feel I have to come forward. There is too much hope in the world not to come forward. I owe it to my profession and to my students."
The fact that the teachers have made this announcement on the heels of the controversy surrounding the efforts by students to form gay/straight alliances is no accident, according to Wortham. He said that the teachers were inspired by the students and found the courage to come forward with pride.
"I think that what we are witnessing is a turning point in Utah's history. Many here have tried to hold on to a certain image of Utah which excluded whole segments of our population. Now, however, the 'strangers in our midst' are strangers no more. As more and more people come forward who don't fit the Utah norm, we will begin to progress as a people," said Charlene Orchard, co-chair of the Utah Human Rights Coalition. "Perhaps our elected representatives thought we would crawl back into the closet when they called us immoral beasts and threatened our jobs. They were wrong. We will not go back."