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NYT's Idea of "The Best News" - Gay Commitments

Students attending their Harlem teacher's "gay commitment" ceremony is worth a big profile by reporter Susan Dominus. Plus: Seventh-grade "homophobes"?

Reporter Susan Dominus's "Big City" profile piece in Monday's New York section, "Most of the Seventh Grade Will Be at the Commitment Ceremony," provided a nice, gentle indoctrination into the wonderful world of gay commitments, making sure that this "best news" kind of story involving gay NYC schoolteacher Chance Nalley commitment ceremonydoesn't go unheralded, whether it's newsworthy or not.

Sometimes the best news is that a story makes no news.

In the fall of 2008, the supporters of Proposition 8, a ballot initiative meant to ban gay marriage in the state of California, fell on a lucky break: video of first graders whose class parents had arranged for them a trip to city hall, where they celebrated their female teacher's marriage to another woman, a ceremony over which the mayor of San Francisco presided. Gay-marriage opponents cried indoctrination, and the ensuing controversy provoked so much outrage that it has been considered important in squashing opposition to the ban. (The California Supreme Court is currently weighing the constitutionality of the proposition.)

In Harlem a week ago, a 32-year-old math teacher handed out slips of paper inviting the entire seventh grade of Columbia Secondary School to his upcoming ceremony, where, the names on the invitation made clear, he'd be celebrating his commitment to another man. The teacher, Chance Nalley, rarely wastes an instructional opportunity but said that, in this particular instance, he wasn't trying to make an educational statement.

"They kept asking if they were invited," he said of his students at Columbia, a selective public school that specializes in math, science and engineering. "Originally, I said no. But when I found a venue that turned out to be big enough I said, 'O.K., you can come.' I invited their parents, too."

This is all clearly meant to be heartwarming. The few who complained about Talley's out-and-proud disposition upon "coming out" during a diversity workshop were given a chilly reception by Dominus:

Two parents told the principal that they didn't want Mr. Nalley teaching their children. Dr. Maldonado-Rivera explained that since the school had only one math teacher at the time, if they wanted their children to take math, they didn't have a choice. The children stayed, and since then, neither Dr. Maldonado-Rivera nor Mr. Nalley has heard a word from them.

Teacher Nalley is quite popular:

He is expecting about two-thirds of the school's 96 seventh graders at the ceremony, on April 4 at St. Paul's Chapel on Columbia University's campus (he had to hire an extra security guard because so many children were coming). Four seventh graders, approached at random on Friday, said they planned to be there.

The sensitive Dominus concluded the profile by stigmatizing an innocent and quite mild schoolyard insult as disturbing "homophobic" bigotry. You've got to watch your words around this teacher, and that's how Dominus likes it:

Every once in a while, Mr. Nalley does catch an earful of the homophobia that's obviously rampant in seventh-grade boys trying to prove their machismo. For example, he said, seventh grade is the age when kids start saying everything is "so gay."

"When I hear that, I just say to them, 'What exactly do you mean by that?'" said Mr. Nalley.

After that, he doesn't hear it again.