Alabama High School JROTC Instructor Makes Anti-gay Comments; District Officials Look the Other Way

There’s an ongoing battle going on in Huntsville, Alabama because a JROTC instructor at Grissom High School, Sgt. Lynn Vanzandt, was preaching to students in the classroom:

Sgt. Lynn Vanzandt

Here’s what went down back in April, according to James Robinson, executive director of GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services:

Robinson said the incident began with a simple conversation between two freshman girls. “The students were having a conversation, like students have, and one of them said she someday wanted to live in San Francisco,” Robinson said.

It was at that point that the instructor began telling the girls “about the Bible, Adam and Eve, and how homosexuality is a ‘sin,’” according to the letter sent to Wardynski by the [Freedom From Religion Foundation].

Besides the fact that what Vandzant said was completely inappropriate, keep in mind there wasn’t even a real trigger (not that such a thing would have been an excuse). The student mentioned the words “San Francisco” and Vandzant began the rant.

The FFRF’s letter also said (PDF) that after one of the students left the class in tears, Vandzant “continued to force his religious views about homosexuality on schoolchildren.”

Vandzant later apologized, but FFRF asked the school district to take actions to make sure this sort of bullying doesn’t happen again.

About a week and a half ago (nearly three months after FFRF’s letter was sent to them), a representative from the Huntsville City Board of Education wrote back (PDF):

… It seems more than a little over the top to equate Sgt. Vandzant’s alleged statements with “bullying”. While you and I may agree that preaching at school that homosexuality is sinful and against the Bible, is not appropriate, this is not bullying…

I am sorry you do not agree with the actions of the Superintendent and that you do not believe that an apology is in the slightest way helpful. The Superintendent disagrees with your point of view. Absent further conduct of a similar nature, this matter is closed.

Talk about distorting the facts… the apology was a good start. But it does nothing to prevent the situation from happening again. It’s barely a slap on the wrist.

The girl’s mother isn’t happy with how the school district is handling this either:

Mia Gonzales, the girl’s mother, said her concern was the students in the classroom that day.

“My first thought was, ‘What if there was a gay student in that class that looked up to that instructor?’” Gonzales said. “I’m not arguing with what people believe. But what if this one student would have committed suicide? That was a concern for me.”

What Gonzales and the FFRF want is for the district to follow JROTC regulations. JROTC demands nondiscrimination, and when there’s a violation, the U.S. Army Cadet Command must be informed about it. The district refuses to do that because they don’t think there was any sort of violation. That’s not all:

Robinson and the girl’s family want the district to provide proof that the mandatory report to the Army JROTC has been filed, a written commitment by Wardynski to meet with the student, her mother and their advocates, and a written commitment to district-wide sensitivity training for staff. Those requests were sent to the district on Aug. 28.

Robinson has been updating a Facebook page with details about this case and he writes in the latest update:

If the parent of the student who filed the complaint does not hear from your office by the close of business on September 7, 2012 to establish a meeting time by the close of business on September 14, 2012 we will proceed by filing the official complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

This whole situation is completely ridiculous on the school board’s end. It was bad enough for Vanzandt to say what he did and use his classroom as a pulpit for his harmful, disturbing, stereotypical, Christian views. It’s even worse that the district isn’t taking it seriously. This isn’t about going to court; it’s about doing what’s best for the students. But the district doesn’t seem to care about that — they just want to keep their staff member out of the spotlight and pretend like this never happened.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.