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Remarks By Kevin Jennings, Executive Director, Gay, Lesbian And Straight Education Network Concerning The Wendy Weaver Lawsuit:

"I was a high school history teacher for ten years and, as they say, "You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can't take the classroom out of the teacher." So please indulge me as I engage in a little history lesson.

The history I am reminded of today is that of a woman who took a stand for her Constitutional rights in a place and time when doing so could cost you everything -- even your life. The place was Montgomery, Alabama, and the time was 1954. In 1954, a woman named Rosa Parks was asked to give up her seat on a bus because of the color of her skin. She was not the first to face this demand --thousands upon thousands of African-Americans had lived for decades with the humiliation of being expected to give their Constitutional rights simply because of the bigotry of others. They did so because the cost of saying No was too high. But on that day in 1954 Rosa Parks did say No -- No to the idea that her freedom should be constrained by the bigotry of others, No to the idea that she was not entitled to Constitutional protections because she was black, and No to the fear that had enslaved her community for so long. By saying No, she changed the course of our nation's history, and helped bring segregation to an end.

Today in Salt Lake City, Utah, we stand with an outstanding teacher -- Wendy Weaver -- who has been asked give up her freedom of speech and her livelihood because of the bigotry of others. She has been told by the school authorities in Spanish Fork that her two decades of outstanding service to her students don't matter, that her right to freedom of speech is irrelevant, that she must lie and dissemble and be silent because others do not believe she has any Constitutional rights -- because she is a lesbian. In response, she has given a simple answer: No.

Like the African-Americans of Rosa Parks' day, lesbians and gay men of the Nineties -- especially those of us who work in schools -- have often had to put up with unconstitutional restrictions on our rights of free speech because of fear -- fear that we would lose their jobs, fear that we and our families would suffer, fear that we would be punished for doing the most basic thing -- telling the truth about our lives. This has always been the unwritten contract between our employers and us: if you keep your mouth shut, maybe we'll let you have a job. If you sacrifice your Constitutional rights, we'll let you earn enough money to have a place to live and to feed your families. If you accept second-class citizenship, we won't hurt you.

What's happened to Wendy isn't new -- thousands of lesbians and gays live by these rules every day. But the school authorities in Spanish Fork, Utah had the temerity to put these rules in writing and demand that Wendy sign away her Constitutional rights if she wished to keep her job. And she has said -- No.

I believe today will mark a turning point in our history, and that the name Wendy Weaver may someday be mentioned in the same breath as that of Rosa Parks. Just as Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, Wendy Weaver has refused to give up her seat, a seat at the table of our Constitution and the rights it promises to all Americans. Wendy has put the question squarely before the courts, the people of Utah, and indeed the entire citizenry of the United States, that question being: Should any American have to sacrifice their Constitutional rights in order to have a job? Wendy has given her answer: No. I am confident that the courts, the people of Utah, and my fellow Americans will agree with Wendy. After all, that's what the Founding Fathers would have had us do. That is the lesson of our history.

Class dismissed."

NOTE: GLSEN Utah member Wendy Weaver is an 17 year teaching veteran who is raising seven children with her partner in rural Utah. On July 22, 1997, officials of the Nebo School District sent Ms. Weaver a memo warning her "not to make comments, announcements or statements to students, staff members or parents of students regarding your homosexual orientation or lifestyle..." or, if asked, "you shall tell them that the subject is private and personal and inappropriate to discuss with them." Finally, the officials wrote, "this memo is to place you on notice of the expectation the school district has for you and may jeopardize your job and be cause for termination." With the encouragement of GLSEN Utah members, Ms. Weaver filed suit with the ACLU stating that school officials violated her rights to free speech, privacy and equal protection guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.


©1997 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.