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Texas HS coach fired because she is a lesbian

Merry Stephens was harassed by the superintendent of the district and others that tried to make her “confess” to being gay. Michael Shirk, Stephens’ lawyer from the Texas State Teachers Association: “In my 15 years of representing workers throughout Texas, rarely have I seen such bigotry and flagrant discrimination.”

In the rural East Texas town of Bloomburg, Merry Stephens didn’t have a chance. Yes, all over the country, people can be fired if an employer even thinks they are gay, as in this case — she didn’t come out to the students or teachers. She actually lied about her orientation in order to keep her job.

When the rumors started to swirl, she was put under pressure to cop to being gay. This wasn’t a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation. They wanted her to tell – or else. Coach Stephens was honored as a “Teacher of the Year” in 2004 and named “Coach of the Year” in three of her five years, but she was dismissed for the unsubstantiated charge of “insubordination.” (Duluth News Trib):

Though it was true, Stephens denied it for five years while she was a teacher and the coach of a championship girls basketball team at Bloomburg High School, afraid the truth would cost her a job.

…”They’d test me to try to figure out if I was a lesbian or not,” she said. “They’d ask if I had a boyfriend or if I wanted one. I lied because I knew it would be career suicide to admit anything.”

It makes you sick when you read the bible-beating sh*t below. None of this is surprising, since no one has a problem with being homophobic in Bloomburg. Queers aren’t welcome and they don’t mind letting them know it.

Some parents of Stephens’ players wanted her gone. Craig Hale, who owns an oil company, said he doesn’t want a lesbian teaching his children and possibly influencing the way they think. His daughter, Kaitlyn Cornelius, played for Stephens last season and said she felt uncomfortable around the coach, though she said Stephens never did anything inappropriate.

“I had nothing against her as a person,” Hale said, but if he stood up for “one lesbian” that would mean he was “for them adopting kids, and my morals and the Bible doesn’t allow that.”

Stephens lives with the school’s bus driver, Sheila Dunlap, a woman with two children and roots in Bloomburg that go back 100 years. That didn’t stop the community from turning on Dunlap either.

Three days before Stephens was placed on administrative leave in December, Dunlap, 46, also was fired, and given no reason, she said, because she is not under contract. Then Stephens’ case against the district began.

Michael Shirk, Stephens’ lawyer from the Texas State Teachers Association, took depositions from community members, including the school-board president, Derous Byers, who was opposed to the effort to fire Stephens.

Byers said in the deposition that another board member, Ronnie Peacock, told him that Stephens “doesn’t deserve to work here” because she is a lesbian.

In that deposition, Byers recalled Peacock saying: “We’re bonded or insured for a million dollars apiece. We ought to fire her and see what happens.”

…Shirk said: “It was the most blatant case of bigotry I’ve ever seen. Usually, they try to fire someone covertly, but I guess in East Texas they haven’t learned that.”

Since leaving their school jobs, Stephens and Dunlap, who live in a spacious log house on nine acres of land, have started a concession business and now sell fruit drinks at fairs. They are still the talk of the town, especially because the school board election is coming up, pitting candidates who were pro-coach Stephens against those who were against her.

In exchange for Coach Stephens’ agreement not to pursue further legal action, the district agreed to pay her the full value of her two-year contract. Guess Mr. Peacock got his wish — the district had to pay out, but it’s a pittance in comparison to the grief and humiliation he and his cohorts heaped on Stephens and Dunlap.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding