BY PAMELA ENGEL, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Residents and officials in Sullivan, a city of about 4,200 near the Illinois border, are scrambling to escape the uncomfortable spotlight cast when a teacher supporting the "traditional" prom for Sullivan High School said she believes people choose to be gay and that gays have no purpose in life.
"I just ... I don't understand it," Diana Medley, referring to gays, told Terre Haute television station WTWO.
The comments by Medley, a special education teacher in a neighboring school district, have gone viral and sparked online campaigns to have her fired. A petition on Change.org calling for her dismissal had generated more than 17,500 signatures from as far away as the United Kingdom as of Thursday, and a Facebook page supporting a prom that includes all students had more than 27,000 likes.
The fallout has surprised many residents, who say the issue roiling the community in an area known for coal mining and attractive parks is being blown out of proportion.
"We are conservative around here. That's just the way of this town," said Nancy Woodard, 60, who owns the Hidden Treasure Exchange store. "In any town in this county, you'll find four or five churches no matter how small the town. ... The Bible is a big belief system here.
"Everybody has jumped on this little town. To me, there isn't any need for it," she said.
Sullivan High School Principal David Springer said talk of the "traditional" prom began in January, after a student began circulating a petition demanding that gays be allowed to participate in the grand march at Sullivan's April 27 prom. The "traditional" prom would not be sanctioned by the district and wouldn't be held at the school.