Teacher Fired for Being Gay Gets an Apology 42 Years Later

PHOTO: In this photo taken on Wednesday, July 9, 2014, Jim Gaylord sits in his Tacoma, Wash., living room, and talks about being fired in 1972 from his teaching job because he was gay. Peter Haley, The News Tribune/AP Photo
In this photo taken on Wednesday, July 9, 2014, Jim Gaylord sits in his Tacoma, Wash., living room, and talks about being fired in 1972 from his teaching job because he was gay.

A Washington state history teacher fired in 1972 for being gay has received a long overdue apology from the local school board.

Jim Gaylord, a history teacher at Wilson High School in Tacoma was fired 42 years ago after a student speculated that he was gay and reported it to the vice principal. The vice principal approached Gaylord to question him about his sexual orientation just a few days before Thanksgiving.

Gaylord said he didn’t think that confessing his sexual orientation would have any repercussions, so he admitted to the vice principal that he's gay.

He was wrong.

Gaylord was fired just before Christmas on the grounds of homosexuality in 1972.

He had “enjoyed” his job, he said, and wanted it back. He filed a lawsuit against the Tacoma school district, even though he didn’t want to attract attention to himself.

The litigation eventually made it to the state’s Supreme Court in 1977, but the court’s decision disappointed Gaylord -- his firing was deemed legitimate because homosexuality was considered an “immorality” that was a “sufficient cause for discharge,” according to a court document.

“If Gaylord had not been discharged after he became known as a homosexual, the result would be fear, confusion, suspicion, parental concern, and pressure on the administration by students, parents, and other teachers,” the court said in its decision.

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But things took a turn this past week when the Oasis Youth Center in Tacoma decided to hold its annual fundraising event at a local high school.

Seth Kirby, executive director at the Oasis Youth Center, had known about Gaylord’s story for a long time and thought he could do something for Gaylord. He reached out to the current president of the Tacoma school board, Kurt Miller.

Kirby said activists in Washington state had been trying to pass the anti-discrimination protection law for school teachers for the past 30 years, and Gaylord's experience first prompted those efforts.

"The anti-discrimination law passed in 2006 in Washington, so it was fairly recent," Kirby said.

“Seth approached me and thought it would be great if we could issue an apology,” Miller told ABC News. “I contacted our school board members and superintendent, and they were all very supportive of the idea.”

Miller said the school records showed that Gaylord was an excellent teacher and there was “no other reason to fire him.”

“Back then, it was legal to fire staff based on their sexual orientation,” Miller said. “It is now illegal in our state.”

“We want our students to know that when they go through decisions like that, there are people they can talk to,” Miller said. “We honor and respect gay teachers, and they shouldn’t be afraid that anyone would retaliate them.”

“Forty-two years later, all we can do is to apologize,” Miller said. “We want to give him the dignity back.”

“We want the young people in attendance to see that history wasn’t made in the LGBT community only at Stonewall in NYC or in Congress where laws were passed. It actually happens here in our community," Kirby said.

"Jim said that it felt really good to put a nice ending to an unfortunate story," Kirby said.

Gaylord worked as a librarian for a few years after he was fired, and is now retired. He still lives in the same house he lived in 42 years ago, according to Kirby. He could not be reached for comment by ABC News.