When Mitch Stein posted a couple of goofy photographs to his Facebook page, he never dreamed that years later they would lead to his being kicked out of coaching.
Last August the principal of Charter Oak High School in Covina, California, called Stein into this office and fired him. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports the trouble started when three members of the water polo team showed up without proof of their required physical examinations. Stein set them to washing cars instead of practicing. One of the parents retaliated by printing two photographs off the gay coach’s Facebook site and sending them anonymously to the school.
According to Outsports, one of the photographs was at least a decade old. In one shot he was surrounded by drag queens. In the other he was about to stuff his face with a corn dog. They were hijinks shots of a slice of gay culture, nothing more. (They can no longer be seen online.)
Stein was stunned by what the firing implied. He is a loving father to two daughters, a 15-year-old and a newly adopted baby. He was assistant coach for the school’s winning water polo team. Even though he’s been fired, he is still out there raising funds for the school. Nothing in his behavior with students nor in his coaching has been called into question. His only “crime” is two photos posted years ago.
In an interview with Kergan Edwards-Stout in The Bilerico Project, Stein said none of the people involved in the firing had ever met him — not the parent who sent in the photos, not the principal or the assistant superintendent, not the school athletic director.
At first Stein’s fiance, Hugo, just wanted to move on and focus on their family, but Stein decided he had to fight the dismissal. He felt he owed it to Devynn, his teenaged daughter. She is a student at Charter Oaks and is on the water polo team. When he suggested she might want to change schools, she told him, “Dad, I don’t want to change schools. And besides, if we change schools, they win.”
Parents rallied around the coach. Even after he was fired, they voted him, unanimously, to the post of president of the aquatics booster board.
In her coverage of the controversy for the Los Angeles Times, Corina Knoll quoted one parent with two sons on the water polo team. Raymond Adams said:
I don’t agree with homosexuality, but at the same time we shouldn’t be judging anybody. His private life has nothing to do with coaching the water polo team. I believe the school made a huge mistake, and they should just come forward and admit it and stop wasting the school district’s money. I see Mr. Stein as a servant to the community and the kids more than people that I go to church with, including myself.
Next page: Stein Fights the Dismissal
According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Stein and his attorney are charging the school district with “discrimination based upon sexual orientation” and “wrongful termination in violation of public policy.” They claim that straight teachers who have posted questionable photos of themselves have not been fired and that other, more serious breaches of appropriate behavior have gone unpunished.
School and district administrators refuse to comment on a “personnel matter,” but they insist they have done nothing wrong and have no intention of changing their position.
The only way Stein can clear his name is to take the district to court. His fight is not about the money. The Los Angeles Times says he has “a lucrative and flexible job as a producer in the TV industry.” The lawsuit is about the treatment he and many other LGBT teachers endure because anti-gay sentiment is still so widespread.
For him to quietly accept the district’s unfair dismissal would send the wrong message to his daughter. It would also encourage those who continue to think the kind of blatant and ongoing discrimination experienced by LGBT people is acceptable.
Those of you who have read some of my previous posts on LGBT issues know where I stand on this. My granddaughter has two mothers. The thought that either of them or their daughter should ever have to endure this kind of unfair smearing is appalling to me.
It is the Mitch Steins of the world, who refuse to take on the ugly mantle tossed their way, who will clear away the vestiges of intolerance so that LGBT people can be judged by what actually matters, the quality of their character.
Watch this video of Mitch Stein talking about his dismissal with students at Citrus College, then weigh in on the issue, and sign the petition below.
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Photo credits: Thinkstock