Note: Mr. Moore's hometown is Fullerton.
Unless things have changed within the last two weeks, if you say you hope same-sex marriage is legal in California, you can't be Mr. Fullerton.
We know this because that's how Kearian Giertz, Fullerton Union High School student and entrant into the school's fun little "Mr. Fullerton" contest two weeks ago, concluded his answer to the question, "Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?"
Upon hearing Giertz's answer, the school's assistant principal, Joe Abell, sprung into action, cutting off Giertz and pulling him from the contest. Why? Abell didn't respond to the Long Beach Post's request for comment, but if your guess is "(something related to) homophobia," it pretty closely resembles mine.
That doesn't mean we're right. And the young man at the epicenter of the controversy wants to believe otherwise. "I do not want people to view Mr. Abell as a homophobic or as someone who doesn't support gay rights," Giertz told the OC Register. "That's none of anyone's business, and it's none of my business."
True, Abell's personal feelings aren't anyone's business. Until he crosses the line of taking public action based on them. Did that happened here?
Based on its actions, it seems Fullerton Union School District may want it both ways. According to the OC Weekly, "The district said Abell believed Giertz's statement was off script and not pre-approved […]" -- the implication being that Abell's actions had nothing to do with either the pro-equality political content of Giertz's remark, nor with his sexual orientation, but simply with the fact that Giertz had violated a contest rule.
But within 24 hours the District had sent letters home to parents saying that Giertz had not broken any school rules and that Abell shouldn't have disqualified him, and Abell had personally apologized to Giertz and made a public apology over the school's PA system.
Then Monday the OC Register reported that Abell has been removed from campus and is working (temporarily or otherwise) in the District office as an administrator.
Seems to lend credibility to my/your guess about the cause of Abell's actions, yeah? But what we're not hearing so far is Abell or anyone else talking explicitly about why this all went down. And I have to wonder if the matter would be handled similarly if the issue at center stage weren't homosexuality. For example, if this had been a "Ms. Fullerton" pageant and a contestant had gone "off script" by answering, "I hope in 10 years there's true pay equity in this country," do we believe that Abell would have thrown her out of the contest?
We're not in a position to know for sure. But if I had to take a guess…Oh -- you, too?!
The "off script" rationale for Abell's actions sounds unconvincing partly because there is still such a large portion of this country -- including several of our public institutions --openly discriminating against homosexuality.
On the face of it, that's what this looks like. It appears that the assistant principal of a high school -- an authority figure, to be sure -- sent a message to the student body and the rest of the community that hoping to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples is a notion so offensive that by expressing it you forfeit your chance to take part in a school tradition. Or maybe it's simply that Mr. Fullerton isn't supposed to be gay.
If true, I find that somewhere between sad and reprehensible. But I don't begrudge people their different-than-mine beliefs. I do begrudge people's inculcating bigotry into their children, but for better or for worse, parents get to decide what beliefs they (try to) pass on to the next generation.
Public institutions, though, are a different kettle of fish. You've got an intolerant belief? Sorry, but you don't get to pass it along in school. Leave it at home. Keep your mouth shut. Grin and bear it.
Kearian Giertz says he does not wish to see Joe Abell fired. Perhaps that's an admirable bit of tolerance. Perhaps Abell's actions don't warrant such severe repercussions. But this isn't just about Joe Abell; it's also a story about what sort of authority we allow our public employees to exert on our children.
The final word on that story, the happy ending we must demand, is: Societal authority may not be bigoted. And so while I'm in no position to say what was on Abell's mind when he chose to walk to the stage and penalize one of the students in his charge for expressing a hope that within a decade all of us enjoy the same marriage rights, I was not exactly second-guessing the school board's decision to remove this man from campus.
The second-guessing comes now, as the District has reinstated Abell. He will finish the school year as Fullerton High's assistant principal. And then? His request to be reassigned to a different school district -- as a classroom teacher -- will be granted.
What will he teach his students? Let's hope that, whatever it is, it serves the greater good.
Equality, of course, is a horse of a horse and as good of a good as it gets.