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.

  • The Captain

    There are so many things wrong going on here, where to even begin….

    This person is an ass! there was no need to interject their opinion into the students conversation. and their views being religious based should never have been preached. 

    Now, the school district is right, their was no “bullying” going on. “bullying” means that there is implied or direct threats if certain actions are not taken. All this ass did was express their shitty views. NOT “bullying” On the same note they did not “force” his views on anyone. He “SAID” his views, as wrong as that was saying something is not “forcing” something. He never demanded or forced the students to practice his views.

    This is one of those prime cases of, just yell at the guy a bit, tell him not to do it again and let it go cases.

  • The Captain

    And why the bloody hell do people think that everyone who live in San Fran is gay? Stupid people.

  • Deltabob

     It’s a shame you seem to find a difference between “legitimate bullying” and “bullying”. It’s also a shame you don’t think that yelling at students about a particular type of person being punished with torment for eternity constitutes bullying.

  • David Benjamin Patton

    You need to rethink your definition of bullying. It actually IS a lot more than just an “implied or direct threats if certain actions are not taken.”

    Bullying is any kind of verbal, mental, physical or religious harassment of another person for ANY reason. You also need to understand that there is a definite power dynamic going on here when it is the TEACHER doing this. It’s bad enough when kids have to face bullying from fellow students and peers. It’s much worse when it comes from an authority figure. What he did was more than just “saying” or expressing his views to and in front of students who may be too  afraid to go up against a teacher.

  • The Captain

    It doesn’t! It’s attitudes like yours that do a great disservice to kids who actually get bullied.

    Expressing ones opinion does not equal bullying! If you think that then it’s obvious you are against the ideas of free speech. You just use the word “bully” to shut down any speech you dislike. Frankly that actually makes you the bully here. All this ass did was express his opinion, wrongly, but that’s all he did. You on the other hand are calling for consequences to be put on to people who express opinions you do not like in an effort to force them to act in a way you see fit. That’s more like “bulling” than anything he did.

    And stop it with the Akin references. Your doing nothing but looking like a drama queen.

  • Daniel

    So you’d hold the same view if the student said, “I’d love to go to Italy some day” and the response was, “Catholicism is a mythology based on the fictional person, Jesus.  People who believe in such fiction are gullible people who will spend their lives being suckered by anyone with a good story to tell them.  These idiots are sheep who deserve to be sheared.”

    Would you still claim that it wouldn’t be bullying, but rather the adult leader at a school simply sharing their views?

  • farnsworth

    You have to understand the dynamic of the classroom.  Your characterization completely omits that aspect.

    When a person in an authority position says that homosexuality is wrong, and will lead to eternal torture, two things can, and do, happen.  One, any homosexual student in the class is being berated and threatened with eternal torture for something that is totally out of his control.  Two, any other student in the class has been given license to abuse, either physically or verbally, any student he perceives to be a homosexual.

    Because it is done by the authority figure in the classroom, it is far more than  just “expressing ones opinion.”  It can quite correctly be described as “bullying.”

  • mike

    “that actually makes you the bully here”
    Ok, so what do you define as a bully?
    “calling for consequences to be put on to people who express opinions you
    do not like in an effort to force them to act in a way you see fit”

    so what about …
    “yelling at students about a particular type of person being punished with torment for eternity constitutes bullying.”

    I’m sorry but those actually sound incredibly similar.  For an easy blend:
    ‘calling for eternal punishment to be put on students of a particular type’

  • The Captain


  • The Captain

    One is real, one isn’t. not the same at all.

  • The Captain

    How is it “bullying”? It NOT real!

  • The Captain

    “Bullying is any kind of verbal, mental, physical or religious harassment of another person for ANY reason” The problem here is everyone is using this to mean ANY expression of an opinion you do not like is “harassment”. Sorry, but “harassment” implies more than one instance. Had this guy been following these students around then yes, maybe. But a one time rant, as inappropriate as it is, is not “harassment”.

  • The Captain

    “I’m sorry but those actually sound incredibly similar” so then you admit that ya’ll are trying to “bully” this teacher then?

  • farnsworth

    I clearly described how it is bullying.  Apparently you have a very narrow definition of the word “bullying” that is not shared by many others, me included.

    You imply that a threat is required to meet your definition of “bullying.”  How about, “Stop being a homosexual, or you will be tortured for eternity.”  Or, “Sgt. Vanzandt says you will be tortured for eternity if you don’t stop being a homosexual, so you better stop.”  Or, “Sgt. Vanzandt says you deserve eternal torment for being a faggot, so I am going to start it for you now!”  Do any of these examples rise to the level of your definition of “bullying”?  If not, why not?

  • The Captain

    Two weeks ago I had to yell at a kid who had taken another kids bike in from of my house and wouldn’t let him have it back. They also have chased this kid with fireworks, and thrown rocks at another kid on a Big Wheel they didn’t like. I i’m not even going to tell y’ll what it’s like when the ice cream truck pulls up. That is actual “bullying” people. Saying mean words you may not like, yea, thats just called being an ass, but it ain’t “bullying”.

  • Cutencrunchy

    To affect change it would help if another teacher would give the same speech but using Satin or Atheism – as the sin hit’s the fan the issues of bullying,  proselytizing and being insensitive to alienating and isolating individual beliefs will be more accessible to those numb to expressions of standard religion.  

  • RobMcCune

    Fair point, but the fact this guy is intolerant of the word ‘San Francisco’ makes this a bit more serious than the average teacher puts foot in mouth scenario.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Since when did “religious harassment” become bullying? And what in the world does that mean anyway? Expressing your Christian faith that homosexual behavior is a sin is now religious harassment?

  • Artor

    How about velveteen or twill? Oh- you meant Satan, not satin. My bad.

  • observer

    You’ve just answered your own question.

  • Indorri

    “I want to move to New York! ”
    “Them Jews, don’t you know they’re silly religious rules just anger God without faith in Jesus? “

  • Artor

    That would be an extreme & inappropriate way to but into a conversation you weren’t invited to. And depending on how it was handled, yes, that could be considered bullying too.

  • mobathome

    Don’t feed the troll.

  • Taxihorn

     So mental abuse isn’t abuse?

  • 3lemenope

    It is when you have direct power over the people you are talking to and they have no choice but to be there. That they’re kids only makes it worse, because it makes the situational imbalance much more severe than, say, your boss opining on religion and who should end up in a lake of fire and what behaviors, exactly, are fitting for castigation and punishment and the revocation of love from the Almighty God he or she believes in.

    Honestly, you’re the last person I’d have expected to be supportive of a teacher or other school official injecting their religious opinions into a conversation with someone else’s kids. Isn’t the religious upbringing of a child the provenance of the parents alone? Would you be cool with a teacher telling their classes that Christians are idiots that believe in fairies and angels and should be treated as mentally defective? Then why would you be OK with one going on about how gays are sinners that congregate in the pit of iniquity known as San Francisco?

  • CoboWowbo

    Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior manifested by the use of force or coercion to affect others, particularly when the behavior is habitual and involves an imbalance of power. It can include verbal harassment, physical assault or coercion.

  • PooPooPants

    Look, The Captain speaks a different point of view and tries to make arguments. That does not make him a troll. Please stop with this nonsense.

    And I happen to agree with The Captain in that this preaching was really inappropriate and vulgar but it is not bullying. His tirade was illegal and agaist JROTC codes and that needs to be addressed but to call it bullying (and no, you do not get to move the goalpost and try to redefine words like bullying mid-game) is a canard.

    There is brutal and daily bullying being done that goes well beyond this dumb-ass digression. It does cheapen those who suffer the real bullying. The argument of redefinition does not work.

    But please, just because there is debate and discourse does not make the person who has a side you do not like a “troll”. This has to stop. Please.

  • Steve Caldwell

    I would suggest having the parents call the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network as well as the FFRF.  They have experience dealing with harassment based on both actual and perceived sexual orientation in the US military:

    The SLDN website has the following information on it about anti-gay harassment:

    Harassment can take different forms, ranging from a hostile command
    climate filled with anti-gay jokes and comments to direct verbal and
    physical abuse to death threats. Military leaders have stated publicly
    that they do not tolerate harassment. In fact, the DADT Repeal Policy
    Guidance states “harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation is
    unacceptable.” Service members have the right to make complaints either
    through military channels or outside military channels about improper
    treatment or harassment.

    Source –

  • PoopieWoopieWoo

    It certainly makes him an idiot but it does not make him a “bully”. People, this mole-hilling really has to stop. WHen you yell fire too often it takes the power out of the punch.

  • Christinatrin

    Does the response of the city education board’s representative alarm anyone? Aside from the content of the message, I mean. The grammar is sort of atrocious, particularly for a message from a supposed authority on education.

  • Christinatrin

     I rather like satin, myself. Now burlap, that’s a shady hunk of cloth right there.

  • Piet Puk

    Honestly, you’re the last person I’d have expected to be supportive of a teacher or other school official injecting their religious opinions into a conversation with someone else’s kids.

    Really? You clearly have not been around this hypocrite for long then.

  • mike

    I’ll admit to bullying a grown man, which might make me an ass; if you’ll admit that he bullies children, which might make him a despicable coward.

  • Alexander Ryan

    I’ve seen things like that from teachers and administrators before, and usually they just get angry and say something along the lines of “Do I look like an English teacher?” Hell, from the way some of them spelled some words and worded their sentences, it didn’t seem like they were English students either.

  • Guest

    What a fool.  This is the 21st century.  Of course it’s bullying.  The very definition of bullying is to attempt to express religious faith in the public forum and fail to celebrate homosexual normality.  And since bullying must be eradicated, we all know what that means.  Clearly this is a case for punishment for failing to conform to the undeniable Truth of the Left.  It’s time he understands the meaning of the glorious censorship and that we are free in this country to be liberal, and nothing else.  I’m fine with punishing him.  These people have got to learn there is only one acceptable Truth.  And America isn’t big enough for those who conform to liberalism’s dogmatic definitions of diversity.

  • Rwlawofice

    I’m not defending this guys actions. The article is vague as to what he did exactly. What I was commenting on is this new definition of “bullying”. Frankly I think the term has been so overused that it is losing its meaning. On that point I agree with captain.

  • David Benjamin Patton

    Re-read the article. He drove those girls out of the classroom in tears. He caused physical duress by bullying the class with his opinions simply because one girl mentioned living in San Francisco. 

    If a bigger kid slammed a weaker kid into a locker on purpose and called him a faggot that’s bullying. Even if he only did it one time and never bothered that kid or anyone else ever again he was still a bully. Likewise if this teacher only ranted in class one time and never again he is still a bully. 

    Furthermore this teacher is dangerous. If he’d go off like this just because a student mentioned living in San Francisco what would happen if he had an only gay student in his class? Simply put if he did it once he is likely to do it again.

  • David Benjamin Patton

    Aside from the obvious – that there is a proper time and place for everything (which christians often ignore) – there is the golden rule that if you don’t have anything nice to say then keep it to yourself. Especially when it was not invited but I digress..

    DISCUSSING (key word there) in an open forum or a debate the different sides of that old chestnut with christians about homosexuality and sin is one thing. Christian students, preachers and others mocking and deriding another student or human being for being gay, saying they will go to hell, etc, etc is NOT the same thing. However many christians would say that both ARE the same – christians merely “expressing ” (their) “christian faith.”

    Do you see the double standard here? Forcing your “opinion” of “christian faith” on others when it was not asked for or invited IS harassment. You’re still being a dick about your beliefs and just because it is ‘religion’ or ‘faith’ or whatever doesn’t mean you deserve a “get away with harassment free” card.

  • David Benjamin Patton

    Maybe going with a verb instead of a noun would be better?

  • The Captain

    If you can’t handle someone expressing their opinion, no matter how wrong it is, then it’s you that has the problem.

  • Don Gwinn

    Nope.  It doesn’t work like that at all.  If you are a teacher, you’re expected to be a professional.  If you berate your students with long rants about the evils of a minority and send even one of them out of the room in tears (I know, zero tolerance, right?) then YOU have a problem.
    Your problem in that event is that you are an unprofessional failure as a teacher.  Vanzandt is the one with the problem, not the kid who didn’t like being bullied by him.

    As a professional entrusted with the care of students, he doesn’t have the option of blaming them when he blows it like this.  Your argument that bullying would go away if the perpetrators were left alone to do the “little stuff” or if the victims were better at playing along is not unexpected from an anonymous internet commenter, but it’s laughable coming from a school administrator.  If it can be established that Vanzandt did what he’s accused of doing, the pressure should stay on until not only Vanzandt but any administrator who had the power to hold him accountable faces real consequences.

  • Don Gwinn

    Bullshit.  You are euphemizing “You shouldn’t live in San Francisco, because it’s full of gays, and gays are evil, and sinful, because the Bible says so . . . .” into “an opinion you do not like.”

    “Everyone you know who has sex in a way that squicks me out is evil” is not merely “an opinion you do not like.”  Ridiculous. 

    Technically, if there isn’t evidence that this incident wasn’t the first, they may be able to make the case under Alabama’s model anti-bullying code that one incident isn’t “harassment.”  However, the report should still be made, because this incident is exactly the kind of bullying (by a teacher, which the model code doesn’t even contemplate!) that would create a clear pattern of harassment if it happened twice.  It should be on record and, at a minimum, it should be made clear to Vanzandt that he’s on probation from now on.

    That’s only if the administration continues to stonewall the public and refuse to hold Vanzandt accountable within their own authority over teachers.

  • Don Gwinn

    What is so hard to understand about this?  When you are a teacher, you have power over students.  You are obligated to use that power responsibly.  Using it to force them to listen to you rant about how evil a given minority is (without knowing whether any of them are members of that minority, or children of members, or friends of members) is NOT a responsible or professional use of that power.  

    That’s exactly why the definitions of bullying used for students are not an exact match . . . . teachers are and should be held to a higher standard.

  • Rich Wilson

    I think s/he meant “satin and cotton mixed blend”.

  • Rich Wilson
  • Rich Wilson

    Among other things, the dynamic of bullying is different between girls and boys.  Girls are a lot less likely to be physical in their bullying, but that doesn’t make it any less damaging.

  • The Healthy Humanist

    Hemant, he’s a FIRST SERGEANT.  Not a sergeant.  That’s a huge difference and the weight of such a high rank should not be lost due to the misunderstanding of the Army rank structure.  That’s a difference of about 15 years of service time.

  • Piet


    Do you see the double standard here?

    RW is famous for his double standards, so don’t expect an honest reply.

  • Nazani14

    The Army should relieve him of all ROTC  duties.  His statements are in direct opposition to Army policies regarding discrimination and proselytizing.  An official Army reprimand, with suspension of pay, would be more effective than anything from the school board.

  • MJS

     Mmmm… velour.

  • Heidi

     Helpful hint on how to identify bullying: If a kid runs out of a classroom in tears, it was probably bullying.

    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

  • Vision_From_Afar

    Obvious troll is obvious.

  • Nazani14

    Absolutely!  Jute fiber doesn’t come from any Xtian countries!

  • Nazani14

    No, this is a prime case of make an example of him by bringing down the full weight of military discipline on his sorry head.  If kids are contemplating going into the Army, they ought to witness what the UCMJ is like before they find themselves subject to it.

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    Since some people are allergic to facebook, you should also include your website

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