For Shame

This Georgia school canceled a guest speaker’s presentation…for mentioning a gay person

Marc Tyler Nobleman, a self-described “superhero geek” and Batman researcher, regularly shares the thrilling behind-the-comics story of the world-famous caped crusader with elementary school children. Although hundreds of schools have welcomed him, one Georgia elementary school canceled his presentation for mentioning the fact that gay people exist.

Nobleman authored Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, a book that discusses the legacy of comics writer Bill Finger. Although Bob Kane is well known as the creator of Batman, Nobleman argues that Finger played a huge, previously unacknowledged role—including coming up with the iconic bat ears and the name “Bruce Wayne.”

He died unknown and penniless in 1974, and his only son, a gay man named Fred, passed away due to AIDS-related complications in 1992. For years, those who knew Finger believed that, with no living heirs to put legal pressure on DC Comics, posthumous recognition would be impossible. This changed when Nobleman discovered that Fred actually had a daughter, Athena, who went on to secure credit for her grandfather’s role in Batman’s origins.

This is the story that Nobleman has shared with school children around 1,000 times, by his count. But for the first time, while presenting to fifth graders at Sharon Elementary School, Nobleman received a strange note from the principal. “Only share the appropriate parts of the story,” the note, according to The New York Times, read. The principal was later more direct, pressuring Nobleman to leave out references to Finger’s son being gay.

“This is not subject matter that we were aware that he was including nor content that we have approved for our students,” the principal wrote in an apology email to parents. He went on to assure them that “action was taken to ensure that this was not included in Mr. Nobleman’s subsequent speeches.”

Although Nobleman initially agreed to leave the reference out, telling the Times that he felt “trapped,” he declined to omit the word “gay” from his presentation at a third school. “In the best interest of these kids, I can’t do that anymore,” he told the principal. His remaining presentations within the school district were unceremoniously canceled.

A spokesperson for the school claimed that the presentation did not meet “state standards.” While some states like Florida have a “Don’t Say Gay” law on the books, Georgia has no such law. Instead, the school claimed to be serving the interests of parents—only one type of parent, of course.

Forsyth Coalition for Education, a local group of educators and parents organized against conservative efforts to restrict teaching, described their horror at the school’s response. “Imagine opening an email and reading the message that your sexual orientation, your family, your child, your very existence as a gay person warrants apology and an assurance that no discussion of your existence will be allowed,” the group said.

Although Nobleman will carry on his presentations elsewhere, he’s frustrated for Georgia’s deprived students. The whole purpose of having a guest speaker, as he put it, is “to give kids something that maybe they’re not getting in their community.”

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