4 APRIL 1,2005
www.houstonvoice.com HOUSTON VOICE
Case of Merry Stephens is one of "mob mentality"
COACH, continued from Page 1
is a lesbian, and school district officials
decided she needed to go.
NCLR and attorney Michael Shirk from
the National Education Association/Texas
State Teacher's Association earlier this
week negotiated a settlement agreement on
behalf of Stephens.
Under the agreement, Minter said, the
school district agreed to pay Stephens for
the last two years of her contract.
"This wasn't about trying to get a lot of
money," Minter said.
Instead, he said, the settlement was
about Stephens and all the other lesbian
and gay teachers who have been fired
because of their sexual orientation.
"This has been going on for a long
time," Minter said. "Lesbian teachers and
coaches have had their careers destroyed
by insidious campaigns like this."
In Stephens' case, Minter said, not only
had she been honored numerous times,
but she had led her team to district,
regional and semi-state championships,
breaking school and district coaching
f| MORE INFO
National Center for Lesbian Rights
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National
Center for Lesbian Rights, said the case of Merry
Stephens was settled without going to court
because someone did the right thing.
records in the process. All along the way,
she received excellent evaluations.
Then, Minter said, leadership of the
district changed and Stephens found herself fighting for her job.
Stephens said she was suddenly subjected to intense harassment by superiors.
On Dec. 14, 2004, the Bloomberg School
Board began termination proceedings.
"Merry Stephens is an extraordinary
coach whose leadership and teaching skills
were highly respected on the basketball
court and in the classroom," Minter said.
"This settlement agreement sends a powerful message that discrimination will not be
tolerated. The days when schools could discriminate with impunity against lesbian
and gay teachers and coaches are past."
Minter said the settlement came days
before a scheduled administrative hearing,
after School Board President Derous Byers
testified under oath in a deposition that the
Board's decision to terminate Stephens
was based on the personal anti-gay animosity of several school board members.
Byers also testified that several school
board members publicly disparaged
Coach Stephen because of her sexual orientation, including stating that she "did
not deserve to work" in the district
because she is a lesbian, Minter said.
He describes what happened to Stephen
as "mob mentality. You have a group of
people who because of their own bias
decide to ruin a teacher's life."
Had it not been for Byers, Minter said,
the case likely would have gone to court.
"What was so unique to this case was to
have that unequivocal testimony," Minter
said. "Usually these things happen in
silence and behind closed doors. Mr. Byers
is just a good man who thought he ought to
tell the truth."
TSTA attorney Shirk noted, "In my 15
years of representing workers throughout
Texas, rarely have I seen such bigotry and
He added, "I hope this settlement will
teach the board members who set this in
motion a lesson they should have learned a
long time ago - that God's grace and the laws
of this State protect everyone equally"
Stephens, who does not plan to ask for
her job back in Bloomberg, said she hopes
that by standing up, she will give courage
"My focus has always been to be the
best coach and teacher I can be," she said.
"No one should have to endure hostility
and prejudice. I hope that by speaking out,
I will give others the courage to stand up
for their rights."
Helen Carroll, Sports Project
Coordinator for the National Center for
Lesbian Rights, applauded the settlement.
"Coach Stephens' courage in refusing to
silently endure this blatant discrimination is an inspiration to the many others
in her position; she is a pioneer in changing hearts and minds."
Minter said the outcome is bittersweet
because, "Part of the sad thing about all
this is that she really loves this town."
Officials of the Bloomberg School
District could not be reached for comment.
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