Nathan Etter is a first-year music teacher at Prairie View Grade School near Chicago, Illinois. On Valentine’s Day, he received a bouquet of flowers from his husband, and when some of his first-grade students asked who they were from, the gay teacher answered honestly.
The 30-year-old has been married to Philip Etter since August. He used the interaction as what he calls a “teachable moment,” making brief comments about respect and tolerance and explaining how some families have two moms or two dads.
“When the kids asked, ‘Are those flowers from your wife?’ I said, ‘No, they’re from my husband,’” Etter recalls. “There was [a] first grade response, such as ‘Ew, gross.’ I said, ‘Oh no, friends, we’re not going to have that response, because that’s not showing respect.’”
After the parent of one student complained about the teachable moment, district officials met with Etter. The teacher claims they treated him in a discriminatory manner when they told him to “stick to the curriculum.”
“The way the situation was handled has brought me great personal concern,” Etter says, “and continues to cause me to question my security in my teaching position in the district.”
Philip Etter agreed. “This would have never happened if Nathan received flowers from his wife,” he told NBC.
But the district is denying Etter’s and his union’s claims that he was treated in a discriminatory way. “Discrimination, harassment, exclusion or intimidation in any form have no place in our schools and are not tolerated in District 301,” school board President Jeff Kellenberger says. “While we appreciate the support shown to Mr. Etter, he was not treated unjustly.”
“There is nothing to protest here. We are with you,” Kellenberger added, though he added that district leaders “can always learn and improve.”