By Albert Lin
James Gaylord was fired from his teaching job for being gay. Forty-two years later, he finally received an apology.
Gaylord, who taught social studies at Woodrow Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash., was relieved of his duties in 1972, a few weeks after he confirmed his homosexuality to a school administrator. “In retrospect, I guess I could have denied it, or refused to answer,” Gaylord told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “But I figured that if it had gotten to the point where the assistant principal was visiting me at home, there wasn’t much possibility a denial would accomplishanything.”
On Sunday, at a fundraiser for a local youth center that works with LGBT youth, Tacoma School Board president Kurt Miller publicly apologized to Gaylord.
“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,” Miller said. “I offer a sincere apology to Mr. Jim Gaylord. Jim, thank you for continuing to teach us.”
During his remarks, Gaylord said, “To the members of the school board, I want you and everyone to know just how much of a difference an apology can make. The impact of doing the right thing just cannot be overestimated.”
The apology came about after a member of the youth center interviewed Gaylord for a project and realized that he still harbored a lot of pain. Gaylord was 35 and a well liked and respected 12-year veteran of Wilson High School when he received a latter on Nov. 21, 1972, informing him that he was going to be fired.
“The specific probable cause for your discharge is that you have admitted occupying a public status that is incompatible with the conduct required of teachers in this district,” the letter read. “Specifically, that you have admitted being a publicly known homosexual.”
Gaylord fought back, appealing first to the school board and then filing a lawsuit. In 1977, the Supreme Court of Washington backed the district’s decision because there was “substantial evidence sufficient to support the findings as to the impairment of the teacher’s efficiency.” Gaylord’s legal battle ultimately ended when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case.
Why did the private Gaylord continue such a public fight “I always emphasized to my students the importance of civil liberties and pursuing them,” he told KIRO-TV. “I could hardly not do what I had always told them they should do.”
Now 76, Gaylord never returned to teaching and instead became a librarian. “I would do it all over again,” he told Tacoma’s The News Tribune. “There were a lot of people who thought it was a losing battle. But it still advanced the cause for equal rights.”
Indeed, the Tacoma School District has become significantly more inclusive: City high schools now have gay-straight alliance clubs; the district has its share of openly LGBT teachers; and in June the board passed a nondiscrimination policy for students that includes gender identity and sexual orientation.