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Health Teacher Suspended After Gender Identity Lecture

by Sierra C. Jackson /

A New York health teacher was placed on paid administrative leave after inviting a guest lecturer to speak to her students about gender identity issues.

Jacqueline Hall had invited a speaker from the Pride Center of the Capital Region — an LGBTQ advocacy group based in Albany — to speak to her class at Cambridge Central High School, which teaches seventh through 12th grades.

Students were then given a handout that included a list of definitions related to LGBTQ relationships and identities, which they were told they would be tested on. It was this list of definitions that caused an outcry among some parents, who then brought their concerns to the school district.

In an Oct. 30 Facebook live video, Sirell Fiel — the father of an 11-year-old seventh grader in Hall’s health class — explained his outrage about the list of more than 50 definitions, which he referred to as “state-funded porn.”

“This is something that I should be teaching; this is something that you should be teaching your own kid,” Fiel said in the video. “I don’t believe in the school having to teach our kids about this stuff.”

Fiel was particularly concerned with the word “bottom,” which is defined in the packet as “a person who is said to take a more submissive role during sexual interactions.”

“This is something my 11-year-old definitely does not need to know in health class in seventh grade, nor should your daughter or anybody else,” Fiel declared.

“I understand there’s gays, there’s straights,” Fiel continued. “But I don’t need it being brought into a classroom, to where we pay our tax dollars for you to teach stuff to my kids years before they should even know about this stuff.”

Fiel told NBC News via Facebook messenger that it was not the topic of sexuality and gender identity that he found "concerning," rather the way the information was presented.

"I understand bringing awareness to people being different and respecting that," he wrote. "It was how in-depth that they took [it] ... no 11-12, I don’t even know if a 15 year old should be subjected to learning what this pride center rep brought in.”

Superintendent of Schools Vincent Canini said the topic of gender identity was never the issue for the school district.

“The District teaches gender identity and many other health topics to its students as required by the New York State Education Department,” Canini told NBC News via email. “The District has no issue with doing so and believes it is appropriate to do so to encourage diversity and acceptance among students and our community.”

Canini noted that the inclusion of certain terms that some might deem inappropriate for seventh grade students to learn was the only aspect of the presentation that concerned administrators.

“There was a list of ‘Common Terms and Definitions’ in the materials distributed which contained street jargon, slang, or sexual positions which we do not believe were age appropriate to the middle school students being taught,” Canini stated. “All educators bear a responsibility to teach required curriculum, but to also ensure that the materials used to do so are age appropriate to the students involved.”

The Pride Center of the Capital Region, which created the handout, declined NBC News’ request for comment.

Eliza Byard, executive director of LGBTQ student advocacy group GLSEN, disagrees with the belief that students shouldn’t be learning about more in-depth LGBTQ topics at the 7th grade level and above. Although Byard didn’t see the full list of terms, she was made aware of its contents and the inclusion of words like “bottom.”

“There’s not much in the materials that he talked about that would, one, be particularly new to a student at that age, frankly, from what students say to each other all the time in the jokes that they make,” Byard said. “It would be pretty important to have an appropriate and certified sexuality and health educator demystify [these topics and terms] for students in that classroom.”

Byard said adequate information is the most important resource for students of all ages.

“It is absolutely essential for all children to have medically accurate, age appropriate, LGBT-inclusive health and sexuality education at school,” she added. “It is absolutely clear that far too few students get health and sexuality information that is inclusive in a way that can truly save and change students’ lives.”

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