A gay teacher near Chillicothe, Ohio has spoken out after he was fired from his job for discussing his Pride-themed bracelet with his students.
Jay Bowman has taught for 30 years. He'd been working as a substitute teacher at a Huntington Local High School classroom when several of his students asked about the bracelet he was wearing.
It was a rainbow bracelet that read "First Capital Pride."
"If a kid has questions, if a kid wants honesty, I don't think I should be forbidden from providing that," Bowman told local TV station WSYX.
First Capital Pride is a local LGBTQ+ rights organization.
"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 told the Scioto Valley Guardian.
WSYX reports that the school district's superintendent wouldn't agree to an on-camera interview, but the district sent a statement. In it, the district said Bowman had violated school policy.
The statement, which was addressed to "Huntington Local Schools students, staff and families," notes that the district doesn't "discriminate in our hiring practices."
The district adds that it does regulate what staff can discuss with students.
"It is important for you to know that our 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 said.
The district said after an investigation and after Bowman told them what happened that Bowman "violated board policies by speaking to students about political and religious topics, as well as distributing bracelets."
"As a result of his violation of board policies, the district decided his services as a substitute would no longer be utilized. While we recognize there are diverse points of view on this matter, this policy exists for the purpose of ensuring all students feel comfortable in the classroom," the district wrote.
A representative from First Capital Pride said, "We are saying that it is not okay to be out. It's not okay to be gay or queer or LGBTQ, or if you are out, there will be consequences."
"I don't try to recruit anyone," Bowman told WSYX. "The parents are responsible for the kids. The parents are the ones who need to teach their kids right and wrong. I think the reaction to my violation when compared to other instances in the school where certain things are tolerated was unfair. 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."
He added, "Huntington is my home. 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. I was taught that God doesn't make junk. I am not junk, I am Jay."
On Monday, a demonstration was held around the controversy. Bowman said it showed that he wasn't alone.
WSYX reports that some community members plan to discuss the district policies at the next school board meeting on April 11.