NOVEMBER 8: Student addresses “silent Holocaust”

ON THIS DATE in 2010, fourteen-year-old Graeme Taylor publically defended a teacher who had been suspended for throwing two anti-gay students out of his class.

Eighteen days earlier, Howell High (Michigan) economics teacher Jay McDowell had asked a student to remove a Confederate flag belt buckle, a symbol that represents racism to many. After the teacher explained the difference between the Confederate symbol and the rainbow flag symbol, which stands for gay unity, a second student said, “I don’t accept gays.” McDowell ejected both students from his class, after which school officials suspended him for violating their free-speech rights.

Graeme Taylor

Graeme Taylor

At the November 8, Howell School Board meeting, Taylor spoke up for McDowell and addressed the bullying of gays, which he called “a silent Holocaust … in which an estimated six million gay people every year kill themselves.” Taylor said, “I have been in rooms, in classrooms, where children have said the worst kinds of things. The kinds of things that helped drive me to a suicide attempt when I was only nine years old. These are things that hurt a lot.”

Taylor’s impassioned talk, captured on YouTube, went viral, resulting in an appearance on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” on November 18. His “riveting testimony proves the world-shaking power of standing up and speaking out,” wrote Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon.

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