Oregon Teacher of the Year says school district bullied him because he's gay
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon Teacher of the Year Brett Bigham told KATU on Tuesday that he's been harassed and bullied by supervisors at his school district.
Bigham is a special education teacher with the Multnomah Education Service District. Last year he was named Oregon Teacher of the Year.
"I have been told not to say 'I'm gay' in public," Bigham told KATU.
He said "his supervisor" gave that order.
"I have made the choice that I will not follow their directives and I will continue to be who I am," Bigham said.
"It's something that me and my partner discussed when I first got the nomination -- stepping forward in the public as the first openly gay Teacher of the Year from Oregon. Across the United States there's only been a couple. It meant I would have to carry a second group of voices with me wherever I went. That too is an honor too," he said.
This week he went public with his frustrations, posting the following message on his personal Facebook page:
How can one day be so heartbreaking and so inspiring? Today was my last national conference as Teacher of the Year. My year continues until January, but I won't ever be together with the whole group of teachers again. It is like saying goodbye to your brothers, sisters and best friends all at once.
The teacher from Ohio hugged me hard last night and whispered, "You have the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met, I feel like Dorothy saying goodbye to the Scarecrow."
"But he's the one with no brain," I pointed out.
"But he's the one it hurt most to say goodbye to," she said through tears.
This has not been an easy year. I have stayed quiet, but my district has bullied and harassed me mercilessly throughout the year. I've been told not to say I'm gay, I've had four gag orders and I have been treated like a piece of garbage. But these Teachers I have spent my year with have given me more strength and love than I could ever possibly imagine.
Despite my district dismantling my classroom, transferring my staff and destroying the class that got so much recognition, I have stood strong because I have had Mike and 54 Teachers of the Year cheering me on.
I face the remaining months as T.O.Y. without my teacher friends to pick me up, I face an onslaught of horrible, unbelievable behavior from my department, but I will carry these friends in my heart. They will give me strength as my district tells me they see no value in me meeting with gay student groups. They will fuel my fire to stand up to oppression and repression.
And when times get tough I will think of one teacher who heard me stand up for myself and refuse to be silent. "You are the bravest person I know," he said the evening we met the President and the day I spoke out for gay youth at the White House despite having a gag order in place that I was to say nothing unless my district had approved it in advance. "Hearing you speak today was my favorite thing so far of being Teacher of the Year."
"But you just met the President," I said.
He smiled and said, "I know, this was more important"
Thank you Oregon, for this amazing honor. As the news of my treatment breaks in the news in the following weeks, please know that I have served you well, I have represented strongly at 185 events. And despite my district's Orwellian behavior, I have stood firm, strong and never let them crush my spirit.
I am and always will be the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year. I will set an example and stand up to the bullies. I am the voice of so many and I will not be silenced.
I cannot be silent. Every day gay kids are ending their lives. Originally I wanted to show them it gets better, but now I will show them they can survive the hatred and bullying. They will get through it, just as I will.
It is a bittersweet message, but perhaps I needed to walk a mile in those shoes to see just how hard a fight this would be.
I will try to be the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Lion. But, especially the Lion.
The Multnomah Education Service District spokesperson told KATU it is investigating these accusations and taking this matter seriously but the district would not comment on a personnel matter while investigating.