ROSS COUNTY, Ohio — A Huntington Local School substitute teacher said he was fired by the district for being gay and now, the school is at risk of losing millions in federal funding.
Ross County substitute teacher Jay Bowman said the district fired him over “community complaints” regarding his sexuality and a conversation he had with students.
According to Bowman, the school district said his dismissal came after complaints about a conversation he had with students regarding a wristband that was rainbow-colored and bore the name of a local LGBTQ+ advocacy group — First Capital Pride — on it.
“When approached by students who expressed a certain point of view, I happily slid the band off my arm, offered it to the student, and explained that First Capital Pride offered support groups for teens who may be struggling, are suicidal, are ostracized, and need support,” he said on Thursday.
He went on to say, “According to the superintendent, this was a violation of school policy and that the complaint originated from a school board member. When I asked what the difference was between the blatant religious signage posted around the school, the response was “completely evasive.”
The Guardian reached out to Huntington Local School District Superintendent Pete Ruby for comment on the allegations, but the requests have gone unanswered.
Hundreds of community members shared Bowman’s story across social media.
The First Capital Pride Coalition released a statement regarding Bowman and the allegations against the school.
“As many of you already know, our friend and fellow First Capital PRIDE board member Jay Bowman was dismissed from his position as substitute teacher at Huntington Local School District by the superintendent on Thursday.”
Ohio does not have any laws specifically protecting members of the LBGTQ+ community from being discriminated against, but in a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court Decision (Bostock v. Clayton County) employment discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals is illegal.
In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County, that an employer who discriminates against a gay, lesbian, or transgender worker is discriminating against that individual “because of such individual’s … sex” in violation of Title VII. This decision firmly established that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex extends to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Court expressly noted that it was not deciding the meaning of sex in any other federal statute, but lower courts have applied the Court’s reasoning to Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination.
Trump-appointed Justice, Neil Gorsuch wrote at the time, “An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions.”
On his first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order declaring that prohibitions on discrimination on the basis of sex cover discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. The sweeping executive order relied on Bostock’s interpretation of Title VII, and extended that interpretation to other federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination, including Title IX. Additionally, the order calls on agencies across the federal government to review existing regulations and policies that prohibit sex discrimination, and to revise them as necessary to clarify that “sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
It is unknown how much of the local school district’s funding is federal, but it is believed millions of dollars are at risk. A Department of Education spokesperson told the Guardian on Friday that the federal government is reviewing the district’s actions and that the Biden administration will act appropriately if it’s proven Bowman was fired for his sexuality.
The local pride coalition said they are working to rally members of the public at the next board meeting.