Howell Michigan's balancing act amid homophobia, racism charges

Anissa Ford's picture

Howell, Michigan isn't exactly known as a tolerant community. Howell is a small town, 96 percent white with a population of a little more than 9,000. So when a teacher was suspended for removing two students who expressed views that many deem intolerant, the rest of the country condemned the town, but town officials struggled to understand why.

Howell district school teacher Jay McDowell was suspended from teaching for one day without pay early in October when he removed two students from his classroom. One student wore a confederate flag belt, the other unleashed an anti-gay tirade that McDowell deemed intolerant hate speech, particularly since it was Spirit Day, a day dedicated to remember those fallen victim to anti-gay bullying and suicide.

Howell residents want to change the town's KKK reputation and many believe it can by refusing anti-gay speech in school

A 14-year-old gay student in the district, Graeme Taylor, told the MSNBC and the school board that it was a mistake to suspend McDowell because McDowell is 'saving lives.' McDowell,Taylor said, is a teacher, who I fully support and who " finally stood up and said something. I’ve been in rooms, in classrooms, where students have said the worst kinds of things. The kinds of things that helped drive me to a suicide attempt at nine-years-old. The kinds of things that hurt a lot.”

Taylor said that it’s not easy being gay in a place with such deep ties to racism, homophobia and hate and that McDowell should be commended for creating a safe space for all students in his classroom. Michigan's assistant state attorney general was fired last week after he unleashed a series of anti-gay bullying campaigns against University of Michigan's openly gay and newly elected student body president.

Howell is a small town in Michigan with a little more than 9,000 residents and close to a 96 percent white American population. KKK Imperial Grand Wizard, the late Robert Miles lived at near Howell. And during Miles's lifetime, the Howell area was considered the Midwest capital of the kln until Howell’s death over ten years ago. Howell was in the news in ’05 when a KKK group rallied off a Klan robe on Martin Luther King’s birthday.

At the community forum on diversity, school board officials remarked they were taken aback by the number of people from outside of Howell that spoke against the school board’s decision to suspend McDowell.

McDowell was suspended for one day and has since filed a grievance over his suspension. School board officials say that McDowell, who wore a pro-gay t-shirt to work that day, became the bully when he dismissed the student who vocalized his opinion from the classroom. After McDowell's story made national headlines, the Howell school district has vowed to keep all students safe.


Submitted by Someguy (not verified) on
While sensationalism is everywhere, an article loses credibility if it does not even attempt to get some of the facts correct. A simple google search would have allowed the author to recite actual facts instead of false or made up ones. First the KKK had Grand Dragons for each state and an Imperial Wizard who was the chief bigot for the whole thing. Miles was a Grand Dragon. He was never the Imperial wizard and there is no impreial grand wizard. Second, miles did not live "at near" Howell (whatever that is supposed to mean, apparently "a township north of Howell is not dramatic enough, so throw in an "at" in order to tie Howell more closely), he lived in a township north of Howell. He did shop in Howell from time to time. Howell was not considered to be the midwest capital of the clan, except in urban legend and rumours propounded by the ignorant. The real facts are that Miles hosted rallies at his farm and people came from all over the country to attend. There were undoubtedly some locals involved, but there is no real record of how many or whether any locals other than Miles were involved. Having one high ranking klansman does not make a place the "capital of the KKK in the midwest" Moving into the more important mistatements, the 2005 acution was not a KKK raffle, it was an acution by a collector of offensive historical memorbilia. It was not held on MLK day, but scheduled for that day, and then rescheduled when the hue and cry arose. Apparently the shop owner was an idiot and did not realize the impact of choosing that day (or maybe he did and just wanted to be a jerk, no one knows). At that auction, at least one african american organization purchased what they considered important historical materials demonstrating the impact of racism. If this were a KKK raffle as represented in this article, you would nto have black activist groups attending and buying historical materials to demonstrate the extent and impact of racism. there were two kids who were made to leave the classroom. One was wearing a confederate belt buckle. the teacher told thim to remove it and asked the kid if he had a problem with homosexuals. the kid answered calmly that he was catholic and they believe homosexxuality to be a sin. Another kid then launched into a diatribe about his feelings about homosexuality. The teacher made both of them leave. The teacher waffled abck and forth about the reason for making them leave. At times it was becasue what they were saying was offensive, at times it was they were beign disruptive. However the other kids in the room said it was not disruptive, just a discussion, the content of which the teacher found offensive. It has nothing to do with making the classroom a safe place. There was never any issue about safety. the howell school district has not "vowed" to do or change anything. They have remarked their existing policy is to provide a safe and calm learning environment for all students. However there is nothing in this article that has anythign at all to do with student safety. No one was threatened. No one was even hostile. They just had a discussion. The teacher did nto like the student's opinions, so he made them leave the classroom. Had this teacher made a student leave for making a pro-gay statement, or told the student to remove a rainbow belt buckle because it is offensive to Catholics, the PC crowd would be not only screaming for him to be fired, but prosecuted, jailed and if possible executed.

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