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Michigan: Same Love, Different Treatment – Teacher Suspended over Song Lyrics

A middle school performing arts teacher was suspended for three days, two without pay, in Michigan’s South Lyon school district after permitting a student to share a music video clip in support of marriage equality. At Centennial Middle School, teacher Susan Johnson led activities for her eighth grade class which included an opportunity to share music selected by her students.

One student approached Johnson with a request to play a recording and video of the song, “Same Love,” produced by Ryan Lewis and performed by rapper Ben Macklemore. The tune tackles the experiences of a gay man as he copes with homophobia in his social environment.

Said Johnson, “I asked him a few questions about the song. If it was violent, if there was any profanity, and he said no. And I said this sounds like a great song to go ahead and use for the class.”1

At least one student in the classroom objected to the song’s message, and reported the teacher to school administrators. By day’s end, the principal and assistant superintendent issued an order of suspension without pay.

Assistant Superintendent Melissa Baker defended the decision based on school policy requiring teachers to preview video clips and get administration approval before showing them to students: “The clip had no relationship whatsoever to the instructional class content planned for that day…The purpose of this established practice is to ensure that instructional materials are appropriate for the course and its students. It is because we care about all students that we have this procedure in place.”2

South Lyon school officials framed their decision to the public in terms of following instructional protocols; however, Johnson says she was told that the video itself was at issue for including the word ‘faggot’ and for referencing religious and political topics.

Johnson, who has served the district for 17 years, expressed bewilderment at the administration’s actions. “These are eighth grade kids; these aren’t words they haven’t heard before,” she said. “I said [to the administrators] that I never brought up politics or religion.”3

Rapper Macklemore weighed in on the controversy when informed of Johnson’s suspension: “I believe that Ms. Johnson getting suspended is completely out of line and unjust,” he wrote. “However, I think it’s important for moments like these to be exposed and for us to pay attention and respond. This level of intolerance and fear is still very active in America, but at times is not completely visible.”4

The suspension triggered a community uproar, which came to a head at a meeting of the local school board in early December. Board members were presented with nearly 180 signatures gathered on a petition demanding that Johnson’s suspension be revoked. Some board members reacted defensively: “99.6 percent of the teachers in this district know how to read and follow a policy, and we had one rogue teacher and South Lyon is a bad community? That just ticks me off to no end,” responded board member Don Beagle.5 Ultimately, the district agreed to restore Johnson’s pay for the two days it had been denied; the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is now involved in investigating whether South Lyon merits further attention for its approach to LGBT-related student and staff concerns.

1Taryn Asher, “South Lyon Teacher Suspended for Playing Song about Being Gay,”, 28 November 2012, accessed 11 December 2012, .

2Megan Semeraz, “South Lyon Teacher Suspended for Playing Song Supporting Gay Marriage,” Press & Guide, 4 December 2012, accessed 11 December 2012, .

3Crystal A. Proxmire and Benjamin Jenkins, “South Lyon Teacher Suspended for Playing Controversial Video,”, 6 December 2012, accessed 11 December 2012,

4Reggie Ugwu , “Macklemore Responds to ‘Same Love’ Teacher Suspension Controversy,”, 30 November 2012, accessed 11 December 2012, .

5 Taryn Asher, “Show of Support for South Lyon Teacher Suspended for Playing Song,”, 3 December 2012, accessed 12 December 2012, .