Pattye Benson

Community Matters


Combatting anti-gay bullying and celebrating diversity and acceptance — Will a drag queen story hour at Tredyffrin Library help?

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month and Friday, June 28th marks the fiftieth anniversary of what many believe was the major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement.

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, which led to spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBT) community that lasted for days. The Stonewall riots sparked an entire civil rights movement, and the reason to celebrate Pride Month in June.

Fifty years later, anti-gay bullying is still prevalent in schools and workplaces, and anti-LGBT sentiment continues to be combated across the world. With the celebration of Pride Month, many organizations continue to search for ways to teach tolerance, including our public libraries. Libraries strive to promote openness, acceptance and the opportunity to educate children about people who are different from them.

In celebration of Pride Month, and as a way to encourage diversity and inclusion, a new twist on the traditional story hour is coming to Tredyffrin Library on Friday at 10:30 AM when it hosts a ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ (DQSH).

Libraries are not only about books. They are continually transforming to meet community needs and provide new platforms, programs, and services. A drag queen story time event at a public library might not be for everyone however the program is staunchly supported by the American Library Association.

The nonprofit group DQSH is described online as “drag queens reading stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores” with a stated mission to “capture the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and give kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queen role models.” The nonprofit has 35 chapters in the United States and five overseas. The Washington Post reports that Drag Queen Story Hour “aims to teach children gender diversity and acceptance.”

The guest drag queen storyteller at Tredyffrin Library on Friday is Matthew Maisano (aka Balena Canto, right) whose Facebook page describes as an “operatic/classical baritone, singing-actor, entertainer, & drag queen!” Further research indicates Maisano has a BA in Music from Temple and a Masters degree in Musical, Vocal Performance from Cleveland Institute of Music. With many musical and acting performances to his credit, Maisano performed over the weekend as part of the Rose Tree Park Summer Concert series. (Click here for an excerpt).

Whether or not you support a drag queen reading to toddlers at our local library is a personal choice. However, I think we can all agree that the world needs to be more accepting and open to new and different ideas – and that diversity, self-expression and inclusion is to be applauded.

Intimidation and Bullying Claims by Conestoga High School teacher – Official Complaint Filed with US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

This week in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, school board director Michael Rock resigned abruptly, citing bullying and intimidation in the school district. According to an article in the Daily Local, Rock claims that the UCFSD “board is doing little to encourage diversity, and to discourage bullying and intimidation.” He stated, “I cannot and will not serve on a board that does not have the common decency to comfort our minority parents in these trying times, especially since it is so easy and simple to do … There are times when it is important to stand up to racism and bigotry, even the quiet and unspoken kind that we are experiencing here, and say no.”

During the recent Conestoga football hazing scandal, some of us in the public learned for the first time about ‘No Gay Thursday’. Although it does not appear that ‘No Gay Thursday’ actually targeted gays in the athletic department, it certainly would not make you feel welcomed or accepted if you were a member of the school district’s gay community.

The struggles of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) not only affects students in our schools but that teachers can also find themselves bullied and intimidated. Some teachers fear their sexual orientation could color how staff and administration view their performance, skew their evaluations, or otherwise influence whether you stay hired or not.

I was contacted by the family of a Conestoga High School teacher wh, sadly reports their son has endured harassment and intimidation by District administrators.

According to the parent, certain administrators have singled out the teacher (who is not tenured) for extensive classroom observations. I was told that teachers procedurally receive 4 classroom observations per school year but that their son has received 5-7 classroom visits per semester by various administrators. The District’s mid-year review of this teacher in January 2016 indicated a ‘need for improvement’ rating but the final year-end report five months later, in June 2016, provided a ‘proficient’ rating for the teacher.

The intense classroom observations of this teacher continued during the fall of 2016 and shortly before winter break, the teacher was verbally told (by a District administrator) that he was in risk of receiving another ‘need for improvement’ rating in the mid-year evaluation to be held in January 2017. The administrator strongly suggested that the teacher resign in advance of the January review. This is a critical point – I was told by the parent of the teacher, that if a TESD teacher receives 2 ‘need for improvement’ performance reviews during their employment in the District, it is grounds for dismissal. The teacher was given 48 hours to respond to the District’s verbal offer to resign. The offer to resign was later declined on advice from the teachers union.

Why were certain administrators using intimidation and bullying tactics to force this teacher out of the District? What was the provocation for the intensive classroom observations? Were there complaints from students, parents and/or other faculty members regarding this teacher and/or his performance? Had students in this teacher’s class received low test scores? This didn’t make sense to me.

We all know that there are at least two sides to every story and admittedly, in this case I only have the family’s side. When I questioned the parent, I was told that there were no complaints from students or parents and that that the teacher was well-liked and respected by his peers at the high school. The teacher had provided additional student tutoring and in fact, had many grateful parents (and students) as a result of his efforts. And further, the end-of-the-year 2016 test scores were high for the students of this teacher, one of the indicators of a successful teaching experience. So what was motivating certain individuals to have this teacher removed from the District?

The teacher – himself a Conestoga High School graduate – happens to be gay. His parents believe that certain administrators are targeting their son because of his sexual orientation. The teachers union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and the union representatives within the District are fully supporting the teacher (as are other teachers and staff). According to the family, if the District terminates the teacher, PSEA is prepared to take the case to arbitration.

The teacher filed an official complaint this week with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for harassment and intimidation whereby they are trying to force him to resign or fire him for incompetence. The EEOC thinks anti-gay discrimination in the workplace is sex discrimination. In 2015, the EEOC concluded that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act forbids sexual orientation discrimination on the job because it’s a form “sex” discrimination, which is explicitly forbidden.

I want to believe that in 2017, that the TE School District would not discriminate against a teacher because of his or her’s sexual orientation. Falling on the heels of the football hazing scandal and the criminal investigation, the District really does not need the negative publicity that will come with an EEOC anti-gay discrimination case of a TESD teacher.

Three attorneys – Ed Sweeney, Kevin Buraks and Todd Kantorczyk – are current members of the TE School Board. Although a personnel matter and therefore confidential, I would hope that they (and other members of the school board) take the time to fully investigate and make certain that all District policies and procedures were correctly followed in this matter. No employee of our school district should ever feel intimidation and bullying to such a level as to require intervention from the EEOC.


Note: I questioned why the parent contacted instead of the teacher himself. I was told that although the teacher was aware that his parent had contacted me, that contractually he could not. By request, the names of the teacher, administrators and PSEA representatives in the District are not included.

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