Tacoma School Board apologizes to teacher fired 42 years ago for being gay

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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Tacoma, WA —

The Tacoma School Board president formally apologized Sunday night to a former teacher fired in 1972 for being gay.

Jim Gaylord had been a social studies teacher at Wilson High School for 12 years, with excellent reviews, until administrators found out he was gay.

Gaylord described the following few years as a “very unpleasant” experience that he managed to get through with the support of his family and friends.

After he was fired, he sued the district and lost. The Washington State Supreme Court upheld the ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In the 1975 court ruling obtained by KIRO 7 includes court testimony from some administrators at the time.

For example, the assistant principal at Wilson High School at the time, John Beer, is quoted saying, “I don’t believe a homosexual meets the standards, the professional standards, the community standards, that we would expect of a classroom teacher.”

Kurt Miller, the current board president, told KIRO 7 “that was another time.”

At the annual fundraiser for Oasis Sunday night at Stadium High School, Miller said, “I offer a sincere apology to Mr. Jim Gaylord. Jim, thank you for continuing to teach us.”

After Gaylord lost his job, he became a librarian.

When asked whether he thought it would take 42 years, Gaylord said, “Well, I tell you I never gave a great deal of thought to getting an apology, so this comes as a very pleasant surprise.”

Gaylord describes himself as a private man, forced into the public eye during the legal battle that followed his termination.

“I always emphasized to my students the importance of civil liberties and pursuing them. I could hardly not do what I had always told them they should do,” he said.

The plan for this apology started when Michelle Barroga, a youth council member for Oasis, interviewed Gaylord in June for a project.

After speaking to him, Barroga said she realized there was still a lot of pain evident from the lack of resolution.

She asked if anyone had ever said ‘sorry’.

The program’s executive director, Seth Kirby, then went to Kurt Miller asking if an apology would be possible.

“I said, I’ll look into it. And yes, we can. And we will,” Miller said.

In his address to the crowd Sunday night, Miller said, “We cannot make up for the mistakes of an unfortunate past, but we can at least acknowledge them and let those affected know that regret doesn’t end when the old guard moves on.”

Gaylord said his message to the younger LGBT generation is to continue the work that’s been done.

Kirby said he hopes the young people in attendance can see “history wasn’t made in the LGBT community only at Stonewall in NYC or in congress when laws are passed. It actually happens here in our community.”