Moberly students protest alleged discrimination of gay student

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MOBERLY - Moberly high school students wore duct tape over their mouths Friday and dressed in clothes usually worn by the opposite gender.

"We're supporting a Ethan West," sophomore Callie Patton said. "He should be able to go to school and be himself without a teacher disciplining him for his personal beliefs."

Ethan West, a 7th-grade student at Moberly Middle School, said a teacher told students Monday they could do whatever they wanted for a few moments. 

"So I doodled in my notebook, and wrote gay pride," he said. "When the teacher saw it, she ripped it up." He added, "then she sent me to the counselor's office."

Ethan said the counselor suggested he shouldn't advertise himself. 

"I didn't know what she meant," he said. "It's not like it's a secret. I can't deny who I am."

Moberly high-schooler Anjel Savage said Ethan shouldn't have to.

"I'm so tired of hearing about my LGBT friends being hurt," Savage said. "So when I heard what had happened with him, I knew we had to do more than just talk about the problem." 

Savage said that's what prompted Moberly high-schoolers to draw the words "gay pride" and rainbows all over their arms and hands. 

"I know the teacher has been sending students to the office for writing that on their hands," West said. "But the principal usually sends them back. He says it's silly." 

Callie Patton wore sweatpants, a T-shirt, and a loose jacket. She said she usually wears more girly clothes, but said Friday she wanted to stand up for the idea that her gender doesn't define her. 

"That's also why I'm wearing duct tape over my mouth today," she said. "We are all writing our sexuality on our duct tape. It's like putting it out in the open." 

Patton said no one should have to be ashamed of who they are. 

"I want Ethan to feel comfortable at school. It's hard to fix other kids' opinions, but he shouldn't have to worry about teachers using their own beliefs as a reason to punish him." 

The Moberly School District said it could not comment on individual teachers, but did state that it does not allow discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A statement sent to KOMU 8 News said, "As with anything involving our students, there is very little we can communicate in order to protect the privacy of our students. This puts us in an awkward position because we would like to be transparent in all actions. The Moberly School district does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, disability or sexual orientation. This act of nondiscrimination is reflected in our employment, our activities and our student discipline practices."

The 2014-2015 Moberly Middle School handbook does not include "sexual orientation" under the classifications for which discrimination is prohibited.

Patton said she's not sure what will happen as a result of the protest, but said she still thinks it's worth doing.

"We may not change America, or even Missouri, but we want to change Moberly," Patton said. "We want kids like him to not have to go through this again."

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