week I had the privilege of interviewing Mitch and Devynn Stein, father and
daughter, on L.A.'s IMRU radio. Devynn is 15 years old and has a new baby
sister, Tuolomne, who Mitch and his partner, Hugo, adopted this year. They are
the very reason why same-sex marriage and equal rights matter.
months ago, Mitch was fired from his position as assistant water polo coach at
Charter Oak High School in Covina, California, for being gay. The principal
would disagree with that assertion - she'd say that he was fired for
inappropriate conduct for a teacher. It just so happens that the only thing
notable about the conduct in question is that it looks kinda gay. Not kinky,
not obscene, merely gay.
all accounts, even the principal's (who fired him), Mitch is a great coach. He
raised more money for the school than anyone. He led the junior varsity boys
team in an undefeated season. He got the pool deck renovated through volunteer
support and in-kind donations. He says that it was all to give back to the same
team that taught him to believe in himself as a teen and never give up. Despite
his firing, he still raises money for the water polo boosters. Devynn is even
on the girls' team.
a state that guarantees equal rights to LGBT people in the workplace, you might
wonder how flamboyantly, outrageously gay must Mitch have been to get himself
posted a picture of himself on Facebook, dressed but wearing a bit of eyeliner,
with a group of lovely drag queens. Oh, and there was also a picture of him
eating a hot dog on a stick. The press said it was a corn dog, but Mitch was
quick to defend himself: "I don't eat carbs."
Oak has no policy on teachers' use of social media, and the pictures were
actually posted several years ago. They came to light when a disgruntled
parent, likely upset about disciplinary action taken against his son, delivered
them anonymously. Mitch was fired almost immediately, after no investigation.
He was told that coaches are held to a higher standard of behavior, and that
was reason enough. It was about the kids; it had nothing to do with sexual
sees it differently. "The only thing that these pictures truly show is
that I'm gay," he told me, a point he expressed repeatedly to the
principal and school board. But their conversations went nowhere, and the
school has restated its position since: the pictures were inappropriate and
Mitch wasn't fired for being gay. A court will soon determine who is right, but
I'm betting on Mitch, who who'd rather have his low-paying job back than a fat
a lot more to this story, of course, most of it pointing to the school's
blatant double standard for gay teachers. But what really caught my attention
was how much homophobes use the excuse of protecting the family and children to
justify behavior that is actually harmful to families and children. At the
moment Mitch was fired, all he could think about was his daughter, Devynn, who
was two days away from starting 9th grade at Charter Oak: "I just needed
to get out of there and get to my daughter." He considered only the
repercussions this could have on her and was prepared to walk away from the
whole thing and send her to a new school. But Devynn insisted that they both
stay and fight. She stands by her choice today, as their fight has become
publicized, and even after she endured bullying from some kids - though not the
girls' water polo team, who have been totally supportive, she says.
is standing up for the kids, as he has always done, and Mitch, Hugo, Devynn and
Tuolomne all demonstrate that equality and respect are core family values.
Meanwhile, Charter Oak is teaching that hypocrisy and fear are OK, and that
parents can get their way through bullying too. So who's looking out for the
kids again? (For more on Mitch check out "Bring Back Coach Stein" on
What really caught my attention was how much homophobes use the excuse of protecting the family and children to justify behavior that is actually harmful to families and children.