IRMO, S.C. — As originally reported at Q-Notes Online, the principal of Irmo High School, located just minutes to the northwest of Columbia, announced May 21 his intent to resign at the end of the 2008-09 school year. His resignation is a response to an order from the Lexington-Richland School District 5 superintendent to allow the formation of a gay-straight student organization, most commonly known as gay-straight alliances or GSAs.
In a letter sent to the student body and faculty that was obtained by WIS News 10 Columbia, Irmo High School Principal Eddie Walker wrote, “The formation of this club conflicts [with] my professional beliefs in that we do not have other clubs at Irmo High school based on sexual orientation, sexual preference, or sexual activity. In fact our sex education curriculum is abstinence based. I feel the formation of a Gay/Straight Alliance Club at Irmo High school implies that students joining the club will have chosen to or will choose to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, opposite sex, or members of both sexes.”
Walker also said he had “prayed about the decision for a period of time and I have a peace about it.”
The educator’s contract had him committed to employment with the system through the 2008-09 academic year. Part of his reasoning for not resigning this year, he said, was that he also felt it ran counter to his personal beliefs to not fulfill the commitment he had made to his employers and colleagues as well as his students and their families.
The federal law used to uphold the Irmo GSA’s right to form is the Equal Access Act. In a prepared statement, Buddy Price, the Lexington-Richland School District 5 director of community services, said the system is not allowed to “discriminate against a club based on the club’s purpose and viewpoint by not allowing it to form unless the purpose of the club is unlawful.”
Walker’s resignation announcement was met with fierce criticism, including calls for his immediate termination, from LGBT organizations and leaders across the Carolinas.
Brent Childers, the new executive director of Faith in America, called Walker’s resignation a “shame,” saying the educator placed “religion-based bigotry and discrimination over his former commitment to his students and staff.”
Childers added, “We truly believe it is unfortunate that this principal cannot see the immense harm that is caused when a social climate of rejection, condemnation and violence is justified with misguided religious belief.”
Indeed, it is the possible hostile climate created by Walker’s announcement that has most concerned LGBT organizations.
In response to the resignation, C. Ray Drew, executive director of South Carolina Equality, stated, “It’s unfortunate that this Principal is so grossly misinformed about the intent of a GSA group. This group is forming to provide support for gay, lesbian, and straight students — a reprieve from the often hostile environment in our schools.”
On May 22, SC Equality demanded Walker’s immediate termination.
“This Principal has emphatically and publicly stated that he does not support a significant portion of his student body,” Drew said. “He has created an atmosphere where intolerance is considered a principled stand.”
National student surveys administered by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) show that 80 percent of LGBT students do not know a single supportive adult at their school. The data also shows that 38 percent of gay students face hostility and violence in the course of their required attendance at school and 18 percent of gay students experience physical assault.
“Gay students face more verbal harassment and physical violence than any group of students,” SC Equality claimed in a press release.
Rev. Bennie Colclough, the pastor of Providence Christian Church and a member of the Board of Directors of South Carolina Equality, stated, “I ask Mr. Walker to join me in prayer for these gay students who face wholesale discrimination and harassment every day of their school year. Discrimination is simply immoral.”
He added, “[Walker’s] resignation is a farce. If he truly stands on religious convictions, then why didn’t he resign immediately? Instead he has deliberately created an unsafe world for these students for the next year.”
Tommy Gordon, 15, is a freshman at Dutch Fork High School, a nearby Irmo High rival. He is the grandson of one of Columbia’s best known straight allies and the namesake of the city’s Community Center, Harriet Hancock. He told Q-Notes that his gay friends at Irmo will be happy to see Walker leave.
“From what I understand he is such an outspoken homophobe,” Gordon said. “A lot of people I know who go to Irmo don’t like him anyway and I think they are also sad that he is not leaving immediately.”
He added that Walker’s views on sexual orientation were known across the school. “The students are aware he doesn’t like gay people.”
He agreed with SC Equality’s push to have Walker terminated immediately. “Termination will help because if he stays around next year after the GSA gets going, he might in his time do something to hurt the club. He might make the club disband or stop the meetings. It would be better for the students for him to leave now so that they don’t have any problems later.”
Ryan Wilson, president of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement and, at 24, a youth himself, added, “We have a solemn duty to let these students know that we accept them and that we’ll be there for them.”
During his call for Walker’s dismissal, Drew cautioned the Lexington-Richland District 5 school board, “Every day that this Principal remains at Irmo High students will continue to live in fear for their safety. These unsafe and dangerous conditions for gay students are intolerable.”
— For the latest news on this topic, including Walker’s full letter of resignation, visit Q-Notes Online at www.q-notes.com.