Former student of anti-gay Florida teacher Jerry Buell, 2003 graduate and honors student Bryan Blaise speaks out in this exclusive Q&A interview with The New Civil Rights Movement’s Scott Rose.
Florida school teacher Jerry Buell has made headlines for weeks after his anti-gay comments on Facebook were revealed. Buell wrote on Facebook:
“I’m watching the news, eating dinner, when the story about New York okaying same sex unions came on and I almost threw up.”
“If they want to call it a union, go ahead. But don’t insult a man and woman’s marriage by throwing it in the same cesspool as same-sex whatever! God will not be mocked. When did this sin become acceptable???”
Buell, who is also the faculty advisor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at his school, was removed pending an investigation but was fully-reinstated last week.
Even after he was re-instated, Buell made this shocking statement:
“I’m passionate about my faith, I’m very patriotic about my country. I just feel very strongly about certain issues…basically it comes down to if you’re uncomfortable with that — if it’s a personality thing — then maybe you need to get your schedule changed.”
There are now reports coming to light consistent with what former student Bryan Blaise tells The New Civil Rights Movement here.
Bryan Blaise was a student in Jerry Buell’s 11th grade Social Studies/American History class. He was also a National Merit Finalist with multiple (full-ride) scholarships, president of the National Honor Society, and co-editor of his high school yearbook.
SCOTT ROSE: WHAT SPECIFICALLY CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT JERRY BUELL’S ANTI-GAY BULLYING IN THE SCHOOL?
Bryan Blaise: The clearest and most specific example I can provide of Jerry Buell’s anti-gay remarks in the classroom happened my 11th grade year (2001-2002) during his American History course. Before explaining this occurrence, I would like to first comment on Mr. Buell’s classroom. Among several things hung around the room, Bible verses were spread across the walls, accented by a picture of Jesus Christ above the clock. While there may have been some additional quotes from other scholars and philosophers, the signs were predominantly Christian. And while, yes, Buell’s number one rule was/is Respect, I personally fail to find how those signs are equally respectful to other religions in a public school classroom or how his statement respects human life.
Mr. Buell typically opened his classes with a review of current events, quizzing the class at the end of each week. During one of these updates at the beginning of class, a student provocatively asked Mr. Buell what he thoughts about gays in the military. I tensed, knowing full well the point of view to follow in Mr. Buell’s response.
I looked up when he said he supported gays in the military, stunned by the answer. He immediately followed that comment with the statement that we should then put them on the front lines, and pull back. Disgusted at the thought of violence and murder of humans being vocally supported, I shut my book and walked out of class, the only time I would ever do this during my educational career.
I returned at the closing bell to raise the issue with Mr. Buell. He noted my actions could be grounds for discipline, to which I countered by noting that his comments, if reported, would be the same. I also pointed out that the man in the picture hanging above the clock never advocated murdering another human being.
I didn’t report him then, and am sharing this story now to simply provide an example of Buell’s personal opinions infiltrating his classroom and teaching. His statements in recent media stories that he values students equally and loves his gay students I personally believe are inaccurate given my experiences as a student and alumni of his classrooms.
SCOTT ROSE: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE FREQUENCY OF ANTI-GAY BULLYING IN THE DISTRICT?
Bryan Blaise: First, I would like to be clear that my general observations below on anti-gay bullying in the Lake County School District and Lake County in general are from my school experiences in the late ‘90s and early 2000s and my personal observations on subsequent visits to the area over the past decade, respectively.
Throughout both middle school and high school years, I continually was teased and bullied. In most cases, the taunts centered on my obvious differences from most boys in the area. My inherent personality was more emotive and my mannerisms were more stereotypically feminine. My athletic pursuits included dance and tennis, while I spent additional free time in school, artistic, civic and church activities, generally in the company of female friends.
It was quite common to go through a school day and hear remarks toward me from strangers or acquaintances in the hallway or classroom, many of which included the words “gay,” “fag,” or “girl.” These didn’t stop even in my senior year of high school, when I was dating my female ballet partner. (That relationship lasted almost five years.) The taunts even reached my younger brother, who in his freshmen year (my senior year) was confronted by a student about a false rumor that my father had caught a male dance friend in bed with me.
Clearly there was an established definition of what a young man in Leesburg should be, do, act and say – and I didn’t fit that at all. Being different wasn’t a non-issue or something to be celebrated, but rather something continually pointed out and mocked.
I chose to handle taunts by raising the most severe comments with my parents and mentors. I chose to surround myself with intelligent, high-performing friends, and largely insulated myself as best as possible from the bullying. Looking back, after many sessions of therapy, I can better understand many internalized issues that resulted from those years.
I do not find my experience as entirely unique. It follows the same course of other closeted LGBT youth in the school system and around the country, who happen to live in a small largely conservative and homogenous area. Overall culture inside and outside of Lake County school premises is not one of inclusivity and diversity for LGBT individuals, and I would assume other minority races, religions and cultures may feel the same. Though likely stating the obvious, being white, straight and Christian is the least controversial “way” to be.
From my personal experiences, anti-gay bullying is typically motivated by individuals’ conservative “Christian” interpretations of scripture and basic fear of those who are different from the area’s definition of what is “normal.” Among local residents, the perception and understanding of the LGBT community is archaic, and many generally avoid ideas, conversations or even gay people that will challenge the opinions they have developed. It’s easy to hate or fear that which we don’t know.
I’d also like to add that since moving away for college in Tampa and my career in Chicago, I continued to have my personal sexual orientation be the source of bullying and unsolicited “help” from Leesburg residents. Among them were both of Jerry Buell’s children, who contacted me via social media to provide their unsolicited comments on my sexual orientation, God’s wrath for the sinful and so on. In each case, I requested that they not contact me with these messages, no matter how “lovingly” they shared them, as I had lived long enough in a community where I was consistently told, verbally or nonverbally, that I was – in their eyes – an anomaly, abomination, etc .
SCOTT ROSE: HAVE YOU EVER COMPLAINED TO A LAKE COUNTY SCHOOLS ADMINISTRATOR ABOUT BULLYING TAKING PLACE IN THE SCHOOLS THERE, AND IF SO, WHAT DID THE ADMINISTRATOR(S) SAY/DO?
Bryan Blaise: As previously noted, I did not report Mr. Buell’s comment about gays in the military. Nor did I formally report bullying comments from students. My attempts to internalize and buffer myself from the comments, as well as awareness of the area’s general attitude towards LGBT individuals, made such an action seem futile.
We invite you to sign up for our new mailing list, and subscribe to The New Civil Rights Movement via email or RSS.