Watch: Out Teacher Fired in Ohio after Giving Pride Bracelets to Students

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday March 29, 2022

A veteran teacher with decades of experience was fired in Ohio — for giving Pride bracelets to students and allegedly violating a policy that prohibits speaking about "personal beliefs."

Local news channel KOMO reported that Jay Bowman, a teacher for 30 years, was asked by students at Huntington High School near Chillicothe, Ohio, about his rainbow-colored bracelet while substitute teaching. In response, "he gave them each one, and told them about the advocacy group" First Capital PRIDE.

"If a kid has questions," Bowman told the news station, "if a kid wants honesty, I don't think I should be forbidden from providing that."

ABC6 reported that school Superintendent Peter Ruby shied away from being interviewed on camera about Bowman's firing. The school district issued a statement in which it declared that "Huntington Local Schools is committed to maintaining a welcoming and inclusive community," adding that such "values guide us, and our district does not discriminate in our hiring practices."

However, the statement added, "Board policies restrict staff from discussing with students certain subjects, including political, religious and personal beliefs."

"This past week, we received reports with specific concerns about possible violations of those policies by a substitute teacher in the district," the statement went on to say. "After a brief investigation, we confirmed, by the substitute's own admissions, that he violated board policies by speaking to students about political and religious topics, as well as distributing bracelets."

Students responded by rallying in support of Bowman and wearing rainbow-colored bracelets to school. But there were also reports of vandalism targeting supportive flyers which "were torn off the wall" and "wound up in the urinal."

"I know I have opened a can of worms," Bowman told the media. "I know I started a discussion. I trust the members of this community know I did that with no ill intent."

The veteran teacher estimated that in his long teaching career, 40 former students have come out. "Everybody's voice should be heard," Bowman said. "My catchphrase has become: 'There is room at the table for everyone.' And there is."

"I don't try to recruit anyone," Bowman told the media. "The parents are responsible for the kids. The parents are the ones who need to teach their kids right and wrong."

That said, though, "I think the reaction to my violation when compared to other instances in the school where certain things are tolerated was unfair," Bowman added. "Huntington Township is, by and large, a conservative area and human rights are not a foreign entity at all, but it is outside the comfort level of a lot of people."

"Huntington is my home," Bowman went on to say. "It is where I got my first teaching job. It is everything to me. It just is. I love this community. I love this school."

Addressing his spiritual beliefs, Bowman added: "I was taught that God doesn't make junk. I am not junk, I am Jay."

To watch the KOMO news clip, follow this link.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.