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An “excellent” social studies teacher who had dedicated 12 years to his students had his career cut short after he was fired in 1972 because his sexual orientation was deemed "immoral."
But more than four decades after what Jim Gaylord, now 76, refers to as “the unpleasant event,” the Washington school district that he was fired from will offer a public apology.
Gaylord was paid a visit from the Wilson High School vice president around Thanksgiving 42 years ago, he recalled. A student had recently speculated that his teacher was gay, and the vice principal approached Gaylord to question him about the claim.
“I didn’t think there was much point in denying it,” Gaylord told NBC News. He had been quiet at school about his personal life for more than a decade, but he didn’t think being honest would have negative repercussions.
Gaylord was wrong.
In what the former teacher sarcastically called “a nice touch,” he was formally fired just before Christmas on the grounds of homosexuality.
Gaylord “enjoyed” his job, he said, and wanted it back. He filed a lawsuit against the Tacoma School District, even though he was not keen on attracting attention to himself. “I had to lose my privacy to protect my privacy,” he said.
The five-year-long ordeal eventually made it to the state’s Supreme Court, but even after all the time and all the trouble, Gaylord didn’t get his job back.
In the 1977 case, the court cited the New Catholic Encyclopedia to rule that Gaylord was legitimately fired because homosexuality was considered an “immorality” that was a “sufficient cause for discharge.”
“If Gaylord had not been discharged after he became known as a homosexual, the result would be fear, confusion, suspicion, parental concern, and pressure on the administration by students, parents, and other teachers,” the decision read in part.
“It is equitable and right for the District to publicly acknowledge that the actions taken in 1972 were rooted in prejudice and unsubstantiated fear,” the current Tacoma School District president, Kurt Miller, plans to say during an apology he will deliver to Gaylord on Sunday.
Gaylord “was only accused of being gay and received excellent evaluations while a teacher,” Miller told NBC News.
“I had to lose my privacy to protect my privacy.”
Miller was approached by the director of Oasis, a LBGT youth center in Washington after one of their members profiled Gaylord. Miller thought an apology by the district would be a great idea, but needed to consult with other district officials first.
“It seemed within a matter of hours, after making the rounds within the district, it was decided that we could and should” make the apology, Miller told NBC News.
Miller will read the apology at an Oasis event called "PROUD Outloud," which 200 people are expected to attend, said Seth Kirby, the director of the center.
Gaylord, still a private man, said he was surprised by the offer and finds the attention “a bit awkward.”
On the other hand, “it should offer some more closure,” said Gaylord, who disclosed that the ordeal haunted him up until about 10 years ago.
Beyond the comfort, Gaylord said, he hopes the apology “will help the youth … and also put some gay teachers at ease.”
Protections in Washington state prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of orientation, but “in 29 states, it's still legal to fire people simply for being LGBT,” Kirby said.
“It has been a long and hard road for gay rights and a lot of work still needs to be done,” said Miller, who plans to make clear in his apology that the Tacoma School District has become accepting and inclusive.
Kirby said the center is encouraged by the response from the district and hopes Gaylord, who spent most of the rest of his career years as a librarian, “will be able to live the rest of his life knowing that his community loves and supports him, knowing that for some students, he was the best teacher they have ever had.”