Coming Out In Salem
By Christopher Smart
NOVEMBER 3, 1997: Comparisons to the Salem Witch Trials not withstanding, coming out of the gay or lesbian closet in the hamlet of Salem, near Spanish Fork in ultra-conservative Utah County, can be dicey.
That is exactly what 40-year-old Wendy Weaver found.
The former coach of the girl's Spanish Fork High School volleyball team won't be coaching the team, and according to a memo from the Nebo School District, she won't be discussing her sexual orientation, either. On or off campus.
"This memo is to place you on notice of the expectations the school district has for you and may jeopardize your job and be cause for termination," the document reads, in part.
Not that Weaver ever did discuss her personal life with her students. As she says, she's a private person. But keeping a secret from your students in any small town would be tough if you divorced your husband also a school staffer and later coupled with a lesbian partner.
Naturally, word of Wendy's new sexual orientation spread like wildfire through Salem and Spanish Fork. When Weaver telephoned to remind students of an upcoming volleyball camp, one girl asked the teacher if it were true that she is a lesbian.
"I answered truthfully," said Weaver.
And the race was on. Nebo District officials, in a July 22 memo, admonished Weaver not to discuss her sexual orientation with students, staff nor parents. And that, says Weaver, means she can't talk to some of her best friends about her personal life even at home. She has been at the school over 17 years.
During her tenure, Weaver has led the girls' volleyball team to four state championships, eight regional championships, retained an overall record of 263 wins against 78 losses, and in 1994 was named Utah's 4-A "Coach of the Year."
As an educator, too, Weaver's credentials are impeccable.
But suddenly, the district and school administration were looking askance at her: "... I have determined that it will be in the best interest of the students, the school and the district if I assign someone else to the task" of coaching the volleyball team, wrote principal Bob Wadley.
Weaver filed suit in U.S. District Court for Utah, alleging that the Nebo School District is violating her rights of free speech, privacy and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.
Although determined to have her free speech restored, the controversy isn't any fun, says Weaver. "I am a fairly private person. This is not the most enjoyable place for me to be. I just want to live my private life as I choose."
Kevin Jennings, the executive director of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) said Weaver's issue goes beyond homophobia. "It's mind-boggling to me that any employer can go beyond the workplace into your home. This is not a gay/straight issue. It is an issue that employees be judged on what they do in the workplace."
The story of Weaver's suit went out on the Associated Press national wire. The Utah Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is aiding Weaver, has been deluged with telephone calls from around the country interested in the story, said Carol Gnade, executive director.
Among them, were NBC's Dateline, The Today Show, CNN News, CNN Sports, National Public Radio and Newsweek magazine.
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