INDIANAPOLIS (Indianapolis Star) -- A teacher in a small western Indiana school district has set off a media firestorm for her support of efforts to organize an alternative "traditional" prom -- a prom that would exclude gays.
The effort, organized by some students and parents at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Ind., was undertaken to protest school officials' decision to allow a same-sex couple to attend the high school prom scheduled for April 27.
Diana Medley is a special-education teacher in the Northeast School Corp., a school district also in Sullivan County but separate from the Southwest School Corp. district which includes Sullivan High School. Her involvement in the effort went public Sunday in a meeting that was covered by a Terre Haute, Ind., television station, which broadcast an interview in which Medley made comments disparaging gays.
In the television interview Sunday -- since widely circulated online -- Medley was asked whether she believed members of the LGBT community "had a purpose in life."
"No, I honestly don't," she told the station. "Sorry, but I don't. I don't understand it.
"A gay person isn't going to come up and make some change unless it's to realize that it was a choice and they're choosing God."
Medley could not be reached Wednesday. School officials in and around Sullivan, a town of 4,200 about 25 miles south of Terre Haute, moved to distance themselves from her and the effort to organize an alternative prom.
"She doesn't speak for us, or represent us, or even work for us," said David Springer, principal of 600-student Sullivan High School, referring to Medley. "She's been associated with us but that is unfortunate."
Springer said he believes the controversy began when two girls asked to go as a couple to the prom's Grand March - an event where each couple is introduced to a crowd beneath a spotlight.
"It's never been done before here because nobody ever asked," Springer said of the same-sex couple. "We do allow two girls to walk out together," whether it be two friends or a couple.
Springer said he has received about 200 emails since the story broke, and has responded to each of them. Some were confused about the school's involvement in the controversy because of rumors and erroneous reports that it was school officials who sought to exclude gays from the prom.
"Everybody we talk to, we set the record straight," Springer said. "There are thousands of people out there with an opinion, and we're dealing with the misunderstandings."
Mark Baker, superintendent in Northeast School Corp., where Medley is employed, did not respond to calls or emails.
The school corporation did, however, release a statement in response to the original story.
"I would like to clearly state the Northeast School Corporation has never denied any student the right to attend prom or any other Northeast School Corporation-sponsored event due to their race, gender or sexual orientation," the statement reads in part. "The Northeast School Corporation employee that was interviewed was expressing her First Amendment rights.
"The views expressed are not the views of the Northeast School Corporation and/or the Board of Education."
Medley's comments came Sunday at the Sullivan First Christian Church, where parents, students and others met to talk about creating the alternative prom.
"We want to make the public see that we love the homosexuals, but we don't think it's right nor should it be accepted," one unidentified student told the station.
The story was picked up by several national outlets, including writer and LGBT activist Dan Savage, who in a blog post accused WTWO-TV of editing their report to cast Medley in a better light.
But Tom McClanahan, news director at WTWO, said the story was only amended to correct inaccuracies in the original report that implied the high school was banning gays from attending the prom.
People across the country are still calling for Medley's job.
Jay Michaels, an Indianapolis resident who lived in Terre Haute for three years, started a petition on Change.org that as of Wednesday had more than 16,000 signatures.
"I started seeing it just on social media, people talking about it," said Michaels, 28. "I didn't really get fired up until I saw the teacher's response to the TV station. I'm openly gay and I remember being 14 years old and coming out, and having teachers embrace me and being supportive.
"I don't think I could even imagine being a 14-year-old kid questioning my sexuality, living in a rural area and a teacher from my school is on TV saying I don't have a purpose in life."