Opinion: Saying ‘gay’ in Forsyth schools cancels children’s author

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Forsyth County Schools raised the ante this week in what has become a race to regression in Georgia around LGBTQ issues. The principal of Sharon Elementary School in Suwanee sent an apology — sanctioned by the superintendent — to parents about a children’s author who used the word “gay” in a presentation about the history of the Batman character on Monday.

Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman,” was hired to speak at three Forsyth County elementary schools this week. The response of school leaders and Nobleman’s outrage over the apology letter ended up cutting those appearances short.

“As trust and transparency are foundational to our partnership, I am reaching out to make you aware of subject matter that was brought up today by a guest author during his speech to our 5th grade students,” wrote Sharon Elementary Principal Brian Nelson to parents. “I apologize that this took place. Action was taken to ensure that this was not included in Mr. Nobleman’s subsequent speeches and further measures will be taken to prevent situations like this in the future.”

After seeing Nelson’s apology, Nobleman said he was shocked and regretted immediately agreeing to delete the word “gay” from his remaining presentations. “My conscience came roaring back and I was no longer willing to do that,” he said in an interview on Wednesday after his final appearance in Forsyth County.

A few hours earlier, at Settles Bridge Elementary, Nobleman informed the principal he intended to use the word “gay” in his talks to three grades that day. However, after his first presentation, the principal and a district communications leader insisted he cease. When he declined, his last two talks were canceled.

“When I spoke to him, I told him we respected his beliefs,” said Jennifer Caracciolo, Forsyth County Schools’ spokeswoman. “However, we have a responsibility to our parents and guardians that they are aware of what their children are learning, and that certain topics are for higher grade levels.” Caracciolo said Superintendent Jeff Bearden “also sanctioned the canceling of the two presentations.”

“It was a single word in a 57-minute talk. This was actually doing a huge disservice to these kids,” said Nobleman. “It deprives them of this experience. It is not a controversial word, but they were saying it was against state standards.”

“I have received administrative pushback before, three or four times in 20 years,” said Nobleman. “But Forsyth was the first time it went this far — the first time I wasn’t able to convince my hosts to allow me to proceed with the presentation intact.”

Forsyth County parent Dawn Anderson was dismayed by the apology. “‘Gay’ isn’t a four-letter word and I’m saddened to think that in 2023 the mere mention of it needs to be handled with such special care,” she said. “I hope that this won’t result in this author not being invited back in the future. His visit really sparked an interest in the subject matter for my child.”

Aimed at ages 8 to 12, “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman” is the biography of Bill Finger, whose role in creating the world and imagery of Batman had long been overlooked. Nobleman helped correct that omission, and his crusade to see Finger credited officially for his contribution to the Batman universe inspired the Hulu documentary “Batman & Bill.”

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

A critical element in the saga was Nobleman’s discovery that Finger, who died penniless and unheralded in 1974, had a granddaughter to legally press the claim that he was co-creator of Batman. And that is where the word “gay” enters the story.

Bill Finger had a son Fred, who was gay and died of AIDS-related complications in 1992, which led to the assumption Finger had no heirs. Nobleman tells students this assumption initially thwarted the effort to win credit for Finger. Finally, in 2015, DC Entertainment acknowledged the Finger family claim and comic books began to say, “Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger.”

“I don’t mention it to be a provocateur. It is an essential point in the story because it misdirected researchers for years into thinking Bill had no living heirs after Fred died in 1992,” said Nobleman.

Still, he doesn’t dwell on it in his talk, focusing on the big picture that he wants to convey to his young audiences — that they need to be persistent, to speak to injustice when they see it and never give up.

And that message resonates with kids based on how often Nobleman is hired to speak at schools around the country, including in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Glynn counties. This was his first visit to Forsyth schools. Nobleman said his presentation at Settles Bridge Elementary in Suwanee was “one of the best talks I had in recent memory. The kids were so bighearted and empathetic and clapping throughout, not just at the end. Normally, we do a question and answer and about 50 hands went up.”

The school’s announcement there was no time for questions tipped off Nobleman. “I knew I was being censored. It seems to me that they are so afraid of parental backlash. It may be a small group in the county, but they are a loud group.”

Nobleman said he was frustrated by the contention by Forsyth County administrators that telling kids that Finger’s son was gay was discussing sexuality.

“If a child asks me if I am married, can I say I have a wife? This is pure and simple discrimination and intolerance. It is also extremely insulting and dangerous to our children. We have so much teen suicide in the LGBTQ community and it’s because they are not welcome to speak up about their own lives in their own community.”