Friday, January 27

An Ohio teacher was fired in 1974 for being bisexual and you need to know her name. Especially now.

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Does the name Marjorie “Marj” Rowland ring a bell? No?!

Well, Rowland is someone you definitely need to know, especially with the current legislative assault on the autonomy of Ohio’s teachers. 

The new book “Mad River, Marjorie Rowland, and the Quest for LGBTQ Teachers’ Rights” details Rowland’s journey of being fired as a guidance counselor in 1974 for being bisexual and suing her Ohio school district for justice. 

Mad River, Marjorie Rowland, and the Quest for LGBTQ Teachers’ Rights

Rowland’s case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices declined to consider it. Still, the case provided a foundational legal argument for protecting LGBTQ+ individuals, one that is particularly important at this moment in time in Ohio.  

“Marj’s story and the other teachers like her are so relevant today because we can take strength from knowing that people in the past have fought this battle and that people fighting it today are not alone,” explains co-author Margaret Nash.

To learn more about this relevance of Marjorie Rowland, The Buckeye Flame spoke with Ohio authors Nash and Karen Graves about why Rowland’s experience is one we all need to know right this very second. 

How did you first hear about Marjorie’s story?

Karen Graves

Karen Graves (KG): I ran across her story when I was researching the history of LGBTQ+ teachers. Starting with the horrendous purge of teachers in Florida in the 1950s and 60s, I moved to the 1970s, which was the period when teachers had more support and they were able to better fight these problems in court. That’s when I came upon [Rowland’s] case.

What was your approach in telling Marjorie’s story?

Margaret Nash

Margaret Nash (NS): We really think that Marj was heroic in what she did and we wanted to capture her courage, bravery, and perseverance as well as the cost that she paid for standing up for LGBTQ kids and teachers rights.

We know that Marj is one of many teachers who have been similarly brave. Although we really wanted this to be about Marj, [this book]is also about the many other teachers and educators who have stood up in this way. 

Marj’s case had such wide ranging repercussions and impacts for LGBTQ rights: for marriage rights, for the rights to serve in the military, all of that. Even though her case was grounded in educators’ rights and First and Fourteenth amendment rights, the implications are far broader than that. 

KG: Marj’s story stakes the claim that LGBTQ people will not be fully accepted until educators are. The battle to be accepted in the field of education advances the whole social justice movement further.

Why is this story important to tell now, at this point in history?

KG: Putting it in today’s context is really important because of what’s going on right now with the laws to censor the classroom curriculum in K-12 and higher education. There is an attack on teachers’ professional autonomy.

There is also an assault on transgender rights going on currently. 

If I think about how today’s situation is similar to the 1950s and 1970s purge of teachers, one thing that is similar is we see these things playing out as a form of raw politics. Governors and people in statehouses are doing this just to get political votes or political power; it’s using the schools, teachers, and students as political pawns and as wedge issues to win power and keep a broader agenda going. 

Obviously the notion of this vigilante oversight under the guise of parental rights cutting away at teacher autonomy, we see that periodically in the field of education, claiming that this is happening to “protect children.” We have seen all these things before in the history of education. 

MN: Now we have the “Don’t Say Gay” laws. Florida has gotten the most attention for these laws, but it’s happening right here in Ohio. We know that last spring a teacher was fired in Huntington, Ohio for handing a rainbow bracelet to a student who asked about it.

The rainbow bracelet gave information about a support group for teens who are experiencing challenges and even suicidal thoughts about their identities. This teacher was fired because giving the student that support violated the district’s rules about not engaging in any political or religious talk. 

Marj’s story and the other teachers like her are so relevant today because we can take strength from knowing that people in the past have fought this battle and that people fighting it today are not alone. We have precedent to stand on, we have these “heroes” and “sheroes” in the past [from whom]we can draw strength. 

What do you want people to *do* with Marjorie’s story after reading it?

MN: I certainly hope it will ignite in people a stronger support for teachers and teachers’ rights to autonomy. We hope this will create more support for teachers as caring educated professionals who make good judgments every day and are working with youth, and especially at-risk and LGBTQ youth.

These teachers need our support because they are under attack constantly right now and that is not an easy place to be. Supporting teachers could include going to school board meetings, running for school board, being a voice for LGBTQ teachers, students, and being their allies.

And, of course, voting in local, state, and national elections. 🔥

Ignite Action:

  • Buy “Mad River, Marjorie Rowland, and the Quest for LGBTQ Teachers’ Rights” by going here and saving 30% on the book’s price by using the code “RFLR19”.  
  • The authors will be holding a meet-and-greet at the Cuyahoga County Public Library on Tuesday, October 25 at 7pm. More info here.

About Author

Rebecca Vontroba is a future Speech-Language Pathologist who has always taken an interest in learning more about people and their stories from all around the world. She double-majored in Communication Sciences and Psychology and earned a minor in Business Management at Case Western Reserve University. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Speech-Language Pathology at Baldwin Wallace University.

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