Waymon Hudson

Remember the Anti-Gay Florida Principal? He's now a Local Hero

Filed By Waymon Hudson | August 21, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living
Tags: ACLU, bullying, David Davis, Florida, Heather Gillman, LGBT students, LGBT youth, Ponce de Leon High School, principal

I'm sure readers will remember David Davis, the principal at Ponce de Leon High School in Florida whom the courts said led a "relentless crusade" against gay students at the school and "embarked on what can only be characterized as a witch hunt."

ddavis.pngDavis harassed Heather Gillman, as well as other LGBT students and allies, when Gillman told him she was being taunted for being a lesbian. Davis' response was to tell her "homosexuality is wrong", outed her to her parents and ordered her to "stay away from children". He then suspended some of her friends who expressed their outrage by wearing gay pride T-shirts and buttons at school, as well as asked dozens of students whether they were gay or associated with gay students. Gillman stood up for herself, contacted the ACLU, sued the school, and won.

You would think that after the stinging rebuke from the court, Davis would be a pariah- branded as the bigot he is- and Gillman would be lauded for being a brave young woman. You'd be wrong. In fact, the opposite has happened- Davis has become a local hero and Gillman has been ostracized.

Much more after the jump...

Following the court's ruling and rebuke, Davis was not fired. He was "demoted" from principal to teacher. That's right- Davis is teaching the same students he harassed and degraded.

It also seems the town is behind him. In a horrible article on MSNBC, with the headline "Principal's outing of gay student roils Fla. Town: Many in conservative Panhandle community wonder what man did wrong," the fallout from the case becomes clear:

...Many in this conservative Panhandle community still wonder what, exactly, Davis did wrong.

"We are a small, rural district in the Bible Belt with strong Christian beliefs and feel like homosexuality is wrong," said Steve Griffin, Holmes County's school superintendent, who keeps a Bible on his desk and framed Scriptures on his office walls.

Many in the community support Davis and feel outsiders are forcing their beliefs on them. Griffin, who kicked Davis out of the principal's office but allowed him to continue teaching at the school, said high schoolers here aren't exposed to the same things as kids in Atlanta or Chicago.

"I don't think we are that different from a lot of districts, at least in the Panhandle, that have beliefs that maybe are different from societal changes," Griffin said.

That's right, Davis didn't do anything wrong according to the town and the School Superintendent. There's more:

Others flatly hail Davis as a hero.

"David Davis is a fine man and good principal, and we are a gentle, peaceful, Christian, family-oriented community," said Bill Griffin, 73 and a lifelong Ponce de Leon resident who is no relation to the district superintendent. "We aren't out to tar and feather anyone."

heather gillman.jpgAren't out to "tar and feather" anyone? Maybe they should tell that to Heather Gillman and her family, who have been continually harassed in the small community:

A Wal-Mart worker yelled at her, accusing her of trying to "bankrupt" the school district, which was ordered to pay $325,000 in ACLU attorney fees. One of her friends has refused to talk to her because the lawsuit conflicted with the woman's religious beliefs.

Once again we have seen the devastating effect of ingrained homophobia in our culture. A man who harasses students is seen as a folk hero and still allowed to "shape young minds" in the classroom, while a young woman who stood up for herself and the rights of others is harassed by an entire town.

If Davis had gone on a witch hunt against any other minority or group of kids, he would have been kicked out of the school system for good. Yet because it was against LGBT students, he is slapped on the wrist and will continue to spread his hate. More LGBTQ students will fall under his "tutelage", damaging them for years to come as he continues his bigoted crusade- a crusade supported by the town and school administration.

I hope students continue to stand up for themselves. We need more young heroes for our community like Heather Gillman. We also need to make sure we stay after the court cases and fights to support young people who stand up in hostile areas. We have to work to change the minds and hearts of communities like Florida's panhandle- otherwise the victories we win may create more hostility and harassment that these brave young warriors who fight for our rights have to face alone.

(Crossposted from Bilerico-Florida)

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David Davis will in the end be remembered as Lester Maddox and George Wallace, heroes to a nefarious cause and someday to become a symbol and embarrassing reminder of bigotry.

Those who hail him now will in a few years deny ever supporting him...

This illustrates the true battle we all face, whether GLB or T: how to show fundie Christians that they're wrong, that nothing about Christianity should justify opposition of GLBT rights. Until we find a way to do that, the David Davises of the world will be heroes to their fans. Using a misinterpretation of the Bible to justify one's own prejudices is blasphemy, and love and respect for the equality of all human beings IS true Christianity.

Oh, please, can these comments get more ridiculous? As if somebody gives a flying fuck about queer history;as if someone will actually bother to take record of these individuals and teach future generations about it.

Outside of Black History material, we can barely even squeeze the Holocaust into middle school curricula. By the time high school is reached, the World Wars are covered more through a military viewpoint than a commentary on the victimization of Jews.

Both black and Jews are not subject to war by the greatest dogma of humanity, Christianity; and yet, you only see people remotely informed on these issues at the university level, and that's assuming they're interested in taking the time to attend the relevant classes. Most people are ignorant of the most significant events in these two sectors' histories, even today.

What makes you think we'll have any better chance of seeing atonement from our oppressors? I wish people would leave their delusions of eventual justice at home.

These students will continue to be harassed, and there's nothing the feds will be able to do. No hate crimes legislation, and locals--including the authorities-- will completely turn a blind eye to any future wrongs. There won't be justice; there will only be retaliation by the community against the rebels.

I can only dread the hardship these people will face at the hands of these goddamned Christian hicks.

tell us how you really feel Lucrece.

Is there a way to reach out to this student? A way to send letters or cards to provide support?

Great question! I'll do some reaching out and digging so I can update everyone.

beachcomberT | August 22, 2008 4:02 AM

I think the best way to support her is to check your own local school district, see if it has a Gay-Straight Alliance, and, if so, let your principal, superintendent and school board members know you support the organization. If not, start talking to students and teachers about what sort of climate exists in the classrooms and hallways. You don't have to be a parent to care about what's going on in your school system.

Lucrece, we do see change I those areas though. The UN responded to the Holocaust by setting up Israel under international authority. And blacks and allies did fight and did make massive advances. And we are aware of these struggles and the information is there. It isn't perfect and it doesn't change overnight but it does change and we do win and we will win. If you are bothered by the hardships then I invite you to participate in the struggle against them, support those youth. Volunteer with organizations that help them.

Amen Rob Barton, nihilistic moaning will never advance anyone closer to a solution. Though a part of me feels we'll have to shave off the previous generation of fools before we can even come close to where we should be.

However, in the meantime, doing all we can to make sure the next generation's eyes are opened and hopefully not following in the foolish steps of their ancestors.

Not surprised. People like him don't just appear and get into power - they have the support of all the people around him.

Wonder how much they're talking about the hoity-toity librul activist judge who ruled in favor of Heather?

I have a radical idea that just might let Mr.Davis and his supporters know just how bad their behavior and support of him is.Place a conviction bounty on his head.Since he is still teaching make it so any student that is harassed or has their constitutional right to free speech curtailed by him gets a nice bonus for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Mr.Davis.That bounty can also be put out to include anyone in that community that acts in a deliberate and harm full way to anyone lgbt.Let's see how this gentile Christian Community that doesn't want to tar and feather anyone likes being made to conform to the law.

Wow a conviction bounty? Cool idea.

lucrece, your opinion is soooo pessimistic. or realistic. in many ways, i think that most will agree with you. i do myself.

just the same, davis and those like him are becoming relics of the past. rapidly. the best revenge is living well, and i believe the LGBT community will in the end have our revenge. just being able to live our lives with dignity and equality. young people like heather gillman don't "feel" like second class citizens. they lack the "slave mentality" of my own generation, accepting the oppression they face as a matter of fact. they deserve, and are increasingly demanding, full equality. i believe they will obtain it. will discrimination and bigotry still exist? of course it will. we humans are a flawed and imperfect species. but there is progress being made, one small skirmish at a time. let's all try to focus on the positive side - we have a lot to be thankful for. and let's just keep fighting the fight. kicking bigot butt is really a lot of fun, so enjoy! and you rule, heather!

Thanks for covering this, Waymon!

We can’t give out Heather’s contact information, but if you want to say something here I'd be happy to send a link to this post along to her. And what beachcomberT said about supporting local GSAs is a fantastic idea.

Chris, that would be great!

I know that I would like Heather to know how thankful I am for her bravery and determination. She is truly a hero to our community and to the youth who come after her.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | August 22, 2008 10:38 AM

It seems like I have been waiting 35 years for the deadwood fools to die out of the system. Oh, it has been 35 years. Judging by his waist size he has been at too many church waffle breakfasts and will soon pass from the scene.

Gregory Brown | August 22, 2008 12:39 PM

I KNOW this is woefully superficial--but just LOOK at the guy! He embodies, literally, the worst stereotypes of appearance of the fundie homophobes. I imagine the whole town is similarly fat and foolish....except the kids. It will be long years before the entrenched yuobboes die out. I'm encouraged, though, by the support the kids showed a classmate.

I'm glad you raised this. It needs immediate attention and community-level action. Unfortunately and fortunately, it's not the first time we've had to intervene in this way and we have superb organizations, tools and experts who have worked through similar situations successfully. Only when they're not raised do we end up with 'If only we knew...' responses and sad stories as outcomes.

I can't help but think of Ryan White and HIV/AIDS, given the work I do today.

I grew up in the time and place of Lester Maddox and George Wallace, but the voices we were allowed as youth were fashioned differently -- with no organizations like ACLU, PFLAG, GLSEN and others doing the incredible work being done now, at the school and community levels. And I'm sure they invlolve local communities of faith, the center of community even for youth in these zones.

For the sake of this young person, I'm sure others are ON IT, but I will also use what you wrote to add my voice and action to this initiative, asking the experts to step up immediately if they have not already.

Situations like this are an emergency, and we can look at the current tragedies against youth in our schools to remember that. Thanks again. Diego