Many of you may remember Gerry Crane, the Byron Center (Michigan) High School band director who's job was threatened when the public school he worked for learned he was gay. A few days ago he had what they thought was a heart attack and he slipped into a coma, though they found no traces of any heart damage. They then suspected it was an allergic reation. Tonight I received the following letter from a friend of mine informing me that Gerry has passed away.
Please widly distribute this post. Many people around the world responded to support Gerry when he was threatened by the school board and I know they would want to know this information.
Please pray for Randy, Gerry's partner. He was steadfast during the whole scandal and is one of the sweetest men I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, along with Gerry. I'm sure he'll be devastated. I'll provide updates as I get them.
It is 3:50 am Friday morning, and I have just returned from St. Mary's Hospital. About a half an hour ago Gerry Crane died. I had the tremendous privilege of being there in the room. Afterward, one friend described it as a holy moment. I can think of no better way to describe the experience.
Gerry is now at peace. Randy faces a difficult road of grieving. Actually, many of us do, but especially Randy. Please pray.
Earlier in the evening we held a prayer vigil at the chapel at Westminster Church. It was a beautiful weaving of God's Spirit through the words, prayers, and songs of many people. What most impressed me was how Gerry touched the lives of so many people. What a gift he was to us! We thank God for that gift!
January 3, 1997
TO: All GLSTN Members and Supporters
FROM: Kevin Jennings
It is with tremendous sadness that I write to inform you that one of our members, Gerry Crane, died this morning. Gerry suffered a heart attack on Friday December 27 and lapsed into a coma, from which he never awakened prior to his death this morning. He was 32 years old.
Many of you will remember Gerry's story, and perhaps you met him at our Midwestern Conference last March in Chicago.. An outstanding teacher who had revived the nearly-defunct music program in the Byron Center (MI) Schools, Gerry answered a student's question about his commitment ring with the truth about his marriage to his husband, Randy Block, in the fall of 1995. Gerry then faced relentless harassment for the remainder of the school year, including a full school board meeting where it was voted that homosexuals were "unfit role models" as well as the sending of anti-gay hate videotapes to all of his students' families by a colleague. At year's end, he accepted a one-year severance package rather than return and continue to face this harassment. This fall, he was involved in the fledgling GLSTN/Kalamazoo chapter, which was formed in the wake of the Byron Center controversy.
I have just spoken with Gerry's husband, Randy Block, who has asked me to
inform you that, in lieu of flowers, the family will welcome gifts to a
scholarship established in Gerry's memory. Please direct gifts to:
The Gerald M. Crane Memorial Music Scholarship Fund
c/o The Grand Rapids Foundation
161 Ottawa Ave. Suite 209-C
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Gerry's death leaves me deeply sad as well as deeply angry. While Gerry was not directly assassinated by bigots (as were leaders such as Medger Evers or Harvey Milk), he may as well have been. My heart goes out to Randy and their friends in this time of enormous pain and loss.
May we all recommit ourselves to our work so that I never have to write a memo of this nature again.
GLSTNAlert is a GLSTN news bulletin service of the The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network (GLSTN).
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The Detroit News, January 4, 1996
Gay teacher forced out of conservative high school dies at 32
GRAND RAPIDS -- Gerry Crane, who was forced to resign as a music teacher because he was gay, died Friday from complications of a heart attack. He was 32.
Crane, who began teaching music at Byron Center High School in 1993, quit his job last July after months of unrelenting hostility from the community.
Byron Center, 15 miles south of Grand Rapids, is typical of many western Michigan communities where conservative Christians have significant influence.
Crane's family declined comment through Saint Mary's Health Services, the Grand Rapids hospital where he died early Friday.
"Mr. Crane's family and loved ones request prayers, support and that their privacy be respected at this time," spokeswoman Micki Benz said in a statement.
Benz said Crane suffered a heart attack Dec. 27 and had been in intensive care all week. She said funeral arrangements were pending.
"We are stunned and saddened by this sudden and unexpected tragedy," Byron Center Education Association President David Prindle said in a release. "He will be missed."
A release put out by Byron Center Public Schools said officials there were saddened to hear of Crane's death.
"Despite the prior public controversy, Mr. Crane's dedication to teaching and to music was unwavering and unquestioned," the release said. "He will be missed by the many friends he made while working in the district."
The campaign against Crane included the threat of dismissal after school board members discovered he "married" his same-sex partner and an explicit video mailed to the parents of his students that showed homosexual acts.
The anti-gay packages mailed last February included a letter signed by 38 people associated with a group called Parents for Traditional Values.
Crane will be remembered by his supporters as an excellent teacher who revived a mediocre music program and produced the school's first musical.
Opponents, however, believed his sexual orientation set a poor example for teen-agers.
Richard Gregory, pastor of Byron Center Bible Church, had said just as news of Crane's homosexuality was spreading through the community in December 1995 that he "made a choice that imperils the morals of our community. The issue is the biblical authority that teaches that homosexuality is immoral."
A woman who answered the phone at the church Friday said Gregory would have no comment on Crane's death.
Although the school board did not fire Mr. Crane, it issued a statement that December, making its stance clear.
"Individuals who espouse homosexuality do not constitute proper role models as teachers for students in this district," the board said in pledging to keep him under scrutiny.
Stung by the criticism, Crane nonetheless pledged to stick around. But by July, he opted to take a severance package and move on.
Crane received support from his students who gave him a standing ovation during a holiday concert on Dec. 7, 1995.
"We want him to know we are 100 percent behind him," senior Joe Pennington said at the time.
NOTES: from BCS41@aol.com
Daily Tribune,Box 290,Cheboygan,MI,49721
Midland Daily News,Box 432,Midland,MI,48640
Ypsilanti Press,20 E. Michigan Ave.,Ypsilanti,MI,48197
Small town respected, reviled gay teacher
BY BARTON DEITERS, Free Press Special Writer
GRAND RAPIDS -- By many accounts, music instructor Gerry Crane was among the best teachers at Byron Center High School.
He won praise from the principal in an evaluation; directed the school's first musical, and received high marks from the community for the performance of the school's marching band.
But that all stopped when the conservative small town, 15 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, learned he was gay. He quit his job last July because of the hostility.
Early Friday, Mr. Crane died at St. Mary's Health Services in Grand Rapids from complications following a heart attack Dec. 27. He was 32.
Mr. Crane was hired in 1993 and school officials credited him with instilling discipline and professionalism, according to evaluation reports.
His standing fell after news leaked in the fall of 1995 that he had held a commitment ceremony with a male companion in Grand Rapids.
He was threatened with dismissal if he even indirectly talked to students about homosexuality, said a statement in his personnel file.
Said Mr. Crane when he resigned: "When you live and work in an environment where you're constantly told you aren't acceptable . . . it's like poison; just how much can you ingest?"
After his resignation, the Grand Rapids resident was a private music teacher and choir director.
Services are scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Westminster Church, 47 Jefferson in Grand Rapids.
Last updated 1/10/97 by Jean Richter, richter@eecs.Berkeley.EDU