Union County teacher says he was let go after sponsoring LGBT club

MAYNARDVILLE (WATE) - A Union County teacher is without a job next year and he thinks it's because he sponsored a club for LGBT students.

WATE 6 On Your Side received numerous requests to look into why Chris Richeson's contract wasn't renewed for the 2016-2017 school year. Each person said they believed it was because he sponsored the new Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club at Union County High School, where students said there is bullying toward LGBT students.

"I have a lot of friends who are in the LGBT community and it's such a struggle, especially at such a small town small school. It's very conservative," said UCHS junior Emily Potts. "It's not accepted…They make rude comments, they threaten them, there's a lot of violence."

Pictures of posters that students said other UCHS kids put up in the school say things like, "GAY IS NOT THE WAY," and "Stay Straight ‘God Is Coming Back Soon'!"

UCHS Senior Jada Vandergriff said she's even seen physical violence and a lot of hostility directed at her LGBT friends.

"There were chants going around, 'steers not queers,'" she said.

That's why dozens of students were grateful Richeson agreed to sponsor GSA as a new club last year. Richeson said being asked by a student to sponsor the club was his proudest moment as an educator, but that afterward, there were more than a dozen instances where students were asked to change the club, or Richeson was questioned about it.

"I was called down to the principal's office repeatedly and given lectures involving the GSA's attempts to do different activities," he said. "It was very difficult to get approval for basic things that other clubs do such as making announcements or hosting an event."

After the school year ended, Richeson got a letter from the director of schools that said his contract would not be renewed for next year, but it didn't give a reason. Richeson said he has reached out to administrators for three weeks trying to get a reason, but none of his emails or phone calls have been returned.

WATE 6 On Your Side reviewed Richeson's personnel file Wednesday and found no disciplinary actions or mentions of the GSA club. The school system has not been able to provide a reason why Richeson was not renewed. Richeson said he had also requested to see his file before the school year was over, but was told it didn't exist.

"They said there is no file," he said. "I've never had any disciplinary action in the community. In fact, I'm a five-level teacher, which means that on their scale I'm the best you can be. I have been every year there."

Richeson feels like he lost his job because of his involvement with GSA and now he's worried that his former students will be left without an adult to stand up for them and give them a safe space.

"I always told them they were completely safe in my classroom, that I would lose my job before I ever allowed anything to happen to them," he said. "Unfortunately that did happen."

Richeson said he will look for jobs in other states.

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