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Arkansas schools chief condemns anti-gay posts by school board member

By the CNN Wire Staff
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School official: I like it when gays die
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Protesters demonstrate against man's comments
  • Head of state Department of Education condemns posting
  • Board member's father: "I don't know why he said it"

(CNN) -- A group of protesters traveled Thursday to a small Arkansas town, where they held a demonstration to call for the resignation of a school board member who posted anti-gay comments on a social networking site.

Holding signs that read, "All kids matter," and "Resign," the small group held the protest in Pleasant Plains, Arkansas, according to CNN affiliate KARK. The town is served by the Midland School District.

Clint McCance, vice-president of the district, wrote on his personal Facebook page that he wanted gay people to commit suicide, according to The Advocate, a newspaper focusing on gay news.

McCance used the terms "queer" and "fag" repeatedly, promised to disown his own children if they are gay and stated that he enjoys "the fact that [gay people] give each other AIDS and die."

Video: Shocked by anti-gay rant
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Thursday's protesters traveled from Little Rock, about 80 miles southwest of Pleasant Plains. Several wore purple shirts to honor gay youths who committed suicide after being bullied because of their homosexuality, according to pictures provided by KARK. Others held signs containing some of the teens' names and ages.

McCance's comments have drawn criticism from education officials in his district and at the state level.

"I strongly condemn the statements that appeared on Mr. Clint McCance's Facebook page," Tom Kimbrell, Arkansas commissioner of education, said in a statement Wednesday. "... The statements attributed to Mr. McCance constitute a significant departure from statements we expect from our school leaders. The divisiveness and disruption of these comments cause me to seriously question the ability of Mr. McCance to remain as an effective member of the Midland School Board."

Because McCance's Facebook page is not accessible publicly, the Advocate said it learned about the posts after being provided with a screen shot.

"I don't know why he said it," McCance's father, Ron, told CNN's "AC360" on Wednesday. "All this caught everyone by surprise. He said it was his page, he pulled it and he got caught up in the moment. This was out of character."

Ron McCance said, "I do defend his right to say what he wants to, but we've all been blindsided."

Attempts by CNN to contact Clint McCance by telephone Thursday were unsuccessful. CNN affiliate KATV also said he was unreachable by telephone, and both KATV and affiliate KARK said no one answered the door at his home.

The Midland School District also denounced the posting. "The district strives to foster an environment that discourages all forms of bullying," it said in a statement, "and an environment that encourages a safe and productive educational climate [for] all of our students. The district is very diligent in pursuing and addressing bullying of any variety on our campuses."

The state Department of Education said earlier it was "dismayed to see that a school board official would post something of this insensitive nature on a public forum like Facebook."

Because McCance is an elected official, the department cannot deal with him directly, according to the statement. But staff will be monitoring schools to provide a quick response in case students are bullied because of McCance's comments, it said.

Kimbrell said in his statement he had contacted the district superintendent and the president of the school board. "They are aware of my strong feelings concerning this matter and I know they share in my grave concern," he said. "Along with the members of my staff, I will continue to closely monitor this situation."

The posts were made, according to The Advocate, in response to a bullying awareness campaign sponsored by GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The "Spirit Day" campaign aimed to foster recognition of bullying directed at gays and the effects it can have on young people through a series of events held on October 20.

One aspect of the campaign encouraged people to wear purple to honor those who had committed suicide after experiencing anti-gay bullying, and to show solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth who face the same pressures.

According to the screen grab obtained by The Advocate, McCance wrote the following about the event: "Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers committed suicide. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed therselves because of their sin." (sic)

There is now a page on Facebook encouraging the Midland School District to fire McCance. More than 45,000 people had "liked" the page as of Thursday morning.

However, not everyone disagreed with McCance's comments, which he defended on his page by citing his religious beliefs.

Gays and lesbians are "thinking they're all right, and [God is] going to let them think that and go to hell for believing what they're doing is right," pastor Harry Craig, of Pleasant Plains Full Gospel Church, told KARK.

Kimbrell said his in statement, "Despite these unfortunate events, it is my utmost hope that the students in the Midland School District and across the state of Arkansas clearly understand that they are all valued and have intellectual and human worth, and they deserve the best education we can offer."

On Tuesday, the federal government warned that bullying and harassment in schools often includes violations of federally protected civil rights. Officials warned that school administrators who fail to properly deal with harassment risk being cited for civil rights violations. In extreme cases, such violations could lead to cuts in federal funding.

An 18-year-old Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide in September, after a secretly taped sexual encounter between him and another man was posted on the Internet. It was the most recent in a string of suicides by gay youths that have received increased media scrutiny in the context of an anti-bullying push by advocacy groups.

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