As Pride celebrations across the country unfurl their rainbow flags this month, teacher tenure in California suffered a stunning blow from a Los Angeles Superior Court, undermining protections that have shielded the LGBT community from discrimination.
Although the decision will likely be appealed, Judge Rolf M. Treu's ruling galvanized teachers unions and evoked memories of conservative attacks on gay teachers in the 1970s, including the unsuccessful Briggs Initiative that was a rallying point for then-Sup. Harvey Milk and a new generation of LGBT political leaders.
"To jeopardize any of the protections we have now, it's a thinly veiled attempt to demoralize teachers, and it's an attack on public education," Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, the San Francisco Democrat who began his political career as an openly gay teacher campaigning against the Briggs Initiative, told the Guardian.
LGBT rights and teacher tenure may seem to have little in common, but a peek at the movers and shakers in the LGBT and teachers' rights movements show an interconnected relationship of protections and the players who fight for them. Loss of tenure can threaten the protection of minority groups, academic freedom, and unpopular political speech, despite employment rights gained in recent years.
"We've beaten back that thinking," Ammiano said, "but it's still lurking."
In California, K-12 teachers are shielded by legal protections often referred to commonly as tenure. Permanent status is the backbone of these protections, offering an arbitration process for teachers who administrators intend to fire. Also struck down by the judge was the First In, First Out law, which protects veteran teachers from layoffs by letting go of recent hires first.
In his ruling, Treu said these policies created an environment where students were burdened by ineffective teachers who were difficult to fire, disproportionately detracting from minority students' education quality in the most troubled schools.
"The evidence is compelling," the judge wrote in his ruling, "indeed, it shocks the conscience."
Many education advocates vehemently disagreed with that ruling, and the veracity of the evidence will be further weighed in upcoming appeals. But along the way to pursuing equality for students, the equality of teachers may find itself eroded by an unlikely new hero of the LGBT movement: A conservative attorney who fought against marriage discrimination, but also litigated against the legacy of an LGBT legend.
HERO OF MARRIAGE EQUALITY
The morning last year when the US Supreme Court ruled to overturn California's ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, San Franciscans gathered inside City Hall by the grand staircase. Men held men, women held women, and families held the their children tight.
When the court's decision finally hit the news, the outcry of happiness and surprise at City Hall was deafening. The expressions on the faces of those there was that of joy with many understandably streaked by tears. Attorney Theodore Olson helped litigate against Prop. 8 and won, and as he fought for gay rights, his face was often streaked with tears as well, LGBT rights activist Cleve Jones told us.
"There was a part of that trial when the plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier described their love for each other," Jones said. "I was sitting with their family in [US District Court Judge] Vaughn Walker's court. When we broke, Ted Olson went to embrace them and there were tears on his face."
But Olson is not a poster child for most politics considered the realm of liberals and Democrats. Olson and fellow Prop. 8 litigator Attorney David Boies were on opposing sides of the Bush v. Gore case that Olson won, handing George W. Bush the presidency in 2000. Olson was then appointed solicitor general of the United States, often leading conservative causes.