An openly gay middle school teacher in Missouri resigned after parents accused him of teaching his students to be gay.
To indicate his classroom was a safe space for all students—regardless of gender identity, nationality, or sexual preference—Neosho Junior High School teacher John Wallis had put up a welcoming sign.
"In this classroom everyone is welcome."
In addition to the sign, Wallis displayed an LGBTQ+ pride flag on the bookshelf. The school administration advised against Wallis doing either, but he did both anyway.
Homophobic parents who found out complained about Wallis to the superintendent of the district.
The teacher was handed a letter to sign stating he would remove both, the LGBTQ+ flag and the welcome sign, or face termination.
"They asked me to sign a letter saying I would not discuss my sexual orientation," he told the Kansas City Star, adding, "In other words, that I would hide who I am."
So instead of removing the requested items, he handed in a letter of resignation the following morning.
He took to Twitter and detailed the sequence of events that led to him stepping down instead of remaining and being forced to hide his identity.
"This experience has helped me realize that this is clearly not a place for me," he continued, and he expressed his disappointment to two unnamed individuals he has known for almost ten years "in a completely different light than before."
"My administrators chose to believe the bigotry of parents over their building's teacher."
"To say I am devastated is an understatement."
He concluded his thread by apologizing to his colleagues for "leaving so quickly and under these circumstances."
"To my students, I still love you and wish you the best with your new teacher."
"To the parents, I hope your children know just how special they are. Goodbye, Neosho."
He told the Kansas City Star he was initially bracing for backlash but was pleasantly surprised to receive an outpouring of love and support from most of the Neosho community.
"In some of my darkest moments, I have looked back at these to see the love that has been sent my way," he said.
"Thank you to the many people who have reached out across all my social media platforms to voice support and encouragement."
But he also had a message for his vocal detractors who lashed out against him on social media with "vitriol and hateful bile."
"To those of you who chose to lash out at me with hate, I want you to know that I forgive you," he told them.
"While I am not a member of an organized religion, I consider myself to be very spiritual. The God I know teaches me to love and accept people, even those who do wrong and speak in the manner you did to me."
"Please know that I am praying for you. I can only hope that you will see that I am a normal human being, capable of everything you are and deserving of every right you are even though I love differently."
Missouri representative Cyrstal Quade thanked Wallis on Twitter for his "dedication to our kids" and also urged the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA)—which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Missouri's Human Rights Act—to be passed.
Missouri's Human Rights Act currently bans discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations for other protected categories, including race, sex, and national origin.
Plenty of others expressed their support for Wallis.
The Neosho School District issued the following statement regarding Wallis' departure.
"As per all personnel matters, there is a limited amount of information that is allowed to be shared by the school district."
"In regards to inquiries regarding Mr. John Wallis, I can share that Mr. Wallis was hired on 8/13/21, and he submitted his resignation on September 1, 2021."
"Should you wish to view any of our personnel policies, they can be found at https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/Policy/PolicyListing.aspx?S=332 Sincerely, Dr. Jim R. Cummins Superintendent."
Wallis encouraged "Neosho and all other districts to seriously think about the phrase 'All means all' as it pertains to supporting students in public education."
He concluded his Kansas City Star guest commentary with:
"I can only hope that my story encourages others to share their experiences and that it leads to systemic changes everywhere."