by Megan Smith
Some careers are more gay-friendly than others: fashion design, the arts, and, one would think, cosmetology, given the number of gay hairdressers. Well, that’s not the case in Beaumont, where 22-year-old Kwmane Gray was unable to continue as a cosmetology student past his first day of classes. On September 13, the decade-old adult cosmetology program offered through Beaumont Independent School District’s (BISD) Taylor Career and Technology Center closed its doors for good—all because principal Thomas Amons would rather shut down the program than admit a gay student.
After only a brief observation of Gray, Amons labeled the student as gay, came into the cosmetology class and pulled instructor Cequada Clark, who has headed the program since 2009, from the room. He then demanded Gray be removed from the program, as he was not welcome because of his sexuality. Clark, who is also a pastor of a Groves church, felt a moral obligation to do the right thing. As Clark explained in an interview with The Examiner, “I told [Amons] if he wanted to tell that young man that, he would need to do that himself.”
After their confrontation, Amons proceeded to seek legal advice from BISD on the matter. When informed he could not prevent enrollment based on sexual orientation, but did have the right to end the program, he immediately shut it down entirely. “[Amons] told me he would rather shut down the program altogether than to have ‘riff-raff’ like that in the program,” Clark told The Examiner.
In addition to closing the program, Clark was told to turn in her keys and receipt book, as Amons informed her that her services were no longer needed.
Gray is deeming the situation a hate-crime and speaking out against Amons’s actions. “He never even talked to me,” he told The Examiner. “He judged me. I don’t know and I don’t care [why]; I just don’t want him to be over any other kids and maybe do that to them, too. He can cause a lot of trouble for students like that. Right now, I can see I’m going to need counseling. I wasn’t at the point in my life to really open up about my sexuality. This is a big depression on me—he thought I was gay, and he didn’t want me around. That’s pretty tough to hear.”
BISD is standing behind Amons’s decision, blaming a lack of funding for the elimination of the program. The school district released an official statement in Amons’s defense, stating, “Due to budget restraints and no Beaumont ISD cosmetology graduates registering for the class, the Taylor Career Center is no longer offering an extended courtesy evening cosmetology class for adults.”
Contrary to this statement, Clark has documentation that at least one BISD Taylor Career Center graduate was enrolled to continue her license this semester in the adult program. “I take this very seriously,” Clark told The Examiner. “Most of my students coming in are single moms trying to move ahead and make a life for themselves. My thing is, I bust my tail off with this program: I give God the glory because it’s been doing good since I’ve been there. At the very least, I’d like to see Mr. Amons apologize to that young man and to allow those already entered in the program to finish their instruction to get licensed,” Clark said. She also noted that the ultimate goal is to continue the program and allow Gray to attend. “Six or seven [students] in there can’t get their license because of me,” Gray said. “That just isn’t fair.”
The Beaumont community is outraged, showing overwhelming support for Gray and his family. A Facebook group called “Southeast Texans Against BISD’s Taylor Center Principal Thomas Amons” has emerged to fight against the principal’s discriminatory actions. With nearly 800 members, the group demands “documentation that Principal Amons followed standard BISD protocol in cancelling the course to begin with, and that if such documentation doesn’t exist, he be removed from his position, that the program be reinstated, that Cequada Clark be returned to her teaching position, and that a formal apology be issued to Kwmane Gray from the school district.” So far, the group has staged two protests in support of both Clark and Gray, with no plans on ending their campaign. The group urges others in the community to join in their efforts at https://www.facebook.com/groups/443070862405312.
At press time, a Change.org petition with similar demands registered over 1,300 signatures. The petition needed slightly more than 150 additional signatures to reach its goal. It can be found at http://www.change.org/petitions/bisd-superintendent-release-documentation.
“The whole thing is just mind-blowing,” Clark told The Examiner. “I don’t really think he [Amons] thought this whole thing out.”