A ninth grade student in the Granite School District is raising concerns about his mistreatment during a January school assembly when he was outed to classmates and teachers.
While sitting on the front row, Max, whose name has been changed, was participating in a group exercise where hypothetical situations arose which were supposed to help the students set goals. When the question, “Would you rather marry a rich man who doesn’t love you or a poor man who does?”was asked, it was intended for the girls. But when Max answered the question honestly, the presenter, Jeffery Dean, heard him.
“He made a comment about my sexuality and said the question was just for the girls to answer,” Max said. “I thought it was a little funny at first because I didn’t think he was being rude. I sort of laughed. But when he brought it up a second and third time, even telling another student to go and sit, ‘with that other kid,’ I realized the joke wasn’t so funny. It hurt. So I left the assembly and didn’t go back.”
While he is out to his family and a few close friends, he said he wasn’t open about his sexuality to the entire school.
“I didn’t want everyone to know. There are some not so nice people at this school and I didn’t want any problems. I didn’t know how they would react if they found out I am gay,” he said. “But now they all know. I didn’t want to come out like that.”
After the incident, the principal asked him if he was OK.
“I told her I was fine. I didn’t know what to think. I felt a little scared and a little ashamed,” Max said. “I know I should have said something right then, but I didn’t really know what to do. It was happening pretty fast.”
Max approached Dean after the incident and voiced his concerns over his treatment and said his sexuality shouldn’t be used in front of the school as a joke. According to Max, Dean simply replied, “I’m sorry that’s all you took from my great presentation. There was so much more to learn.”
Granite School District was made aware of the incident and a district representative said an intensive investigation was performed and concluded that it was handled correctly. Multiple witness accounts were gathered from teachers who attended the assembly, said Ben Horsley, a district spokesperson. The witnesses said there was no bullying or mention of the student’s sexuality, he said.
“The first thing on our minds is the safety of our students,” Horsley said. “The safety of the student is the first concern. But we feel everything was handled appropriately in this case.”
While Max said he is not facing any imminent bullying threats from other students as a result of the incident, for three or four days after the assembly, many students made comments about his sexuality. Some thought it was funny, and others came to his defense, but it was not a comfortable way to be presented to the entire school, Max said.
The presenter of the assembly, Dean, is a Christian speaker and ordained pastor. He founded Jeffrey Dean Ministries in 1993. Dean tours the country giving speeches to young people and fund raises for conservative, anti-choice groups. He is also outspoken about his opposition to gay rights. On his Twitter feed and personal blog, Dean has made several disparaging remarks about gays and lesbians.
When asked if Christian ministers are normally allowed to speak to junior high students, Horsley said Dean’s religious affiliation made no difference in the choice to select him as a speaker and it was a motivational speech, not a spiritual one.