CULLMAN, Ala. (WIAT) – Gilly Shine casts spells of positivity. 

But even he, the “sunshine wizard,” was hurt Tuesday after finding out that a local history instructor called for a rally by the “you know what” to “put an end” to a local LGBTQ+ pride event Gilly had helped organize. 

On Monday, in a private Facebook post, Wallace State Community College history instructor Leigh Ann Courington suggested Satan had a hand in the event, called Cullman Comes Out, which is set to take place Oct. 8. 

“The devil is attacking our beautiful town of Cullman now apparently…and the police chief is in on it? I heard he was a crazy-ass liberal but this??? We need a rally by the you-know-what to put an end to this foolishness. Of course, it may be as well-attended as the Juneteenth event the white liberal weirdos tried to do a few years ago in Hanceville.”

The post was quickly screenshotted and shared across social media. Courington declined an interview about her statements. “People need to get a life,” Courington told CBS 42. “Good grief.”

The post was private, Courington argued, and not meant for public view. 

“That was on my private page, and if someone doesn’t like it, they need to unfriend/block me,” she wrote. 

Jennifer Lee, a former student of Courington’s, said that excuse doesn’t hold up. “When you hold a position like that where you influence young minds, you should be very careful what you put on your social media account,” Lee said. 

Lee attended Wallace State from 2004 until 2006. She said she’d looked up to Courington as a mentor at the time. When she saw her former instructor’s post about the pride event, Lee was appalled.

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“I cannot believe she actually wants the KKK to rally at what is probably going to be the most peaceful event ever,” Lee said. “Why? Just Why?”

Lee said that in her time studying under Courington, there were times when she questioned the instructor’s teachings on some content areas, particularly the Civil War, which Courington referred to as the “War Between the States.”

“She emphasized that at its core, the Civil War wasn’t about slavery,” Lee said. “I know better.”

Courington, Lee said, should be reprimanded by the college for the post, and potentially even forced to retire. 

 “The KKK was famously terroristic,” Lee said. “My husband’s in the military, and I am very anti-terrorism. She should face repercussions for the terroristic things she said.” 

Whitney Turner was also a student of Courington’s at Wallace State, taking history courses with her last fall and spring. 

She said she was angered by Courington’s post, which she said reinforces Cullman’s reputation as a city that excludes. “I can’t even put it into words,” she said. “That people still think this way and have those opinions – it’s just frustrating.”

Bethany Bishop, a retired educator who grew up in Cullman, said because of the role that teachers play in children’s lives, it’s important that they set a good example for others. 

“This woman is a teacher,” Bishop said of Courington. “She is trusted to educate our youth and teach them about our past and do it in a responsible way. The post made me sick, honestly. Physically sick.”

She said comments like Courington’s set the city back by decades. 

“For every 10 of us that are out here trying to clean up the reputation of Cullman and move it forward, you’ve probably got ten in the dark who are still harboring these feelings and sharing them with each other,” Bishop said. 

For his part, Gilly the “Sunshine Wizard” said he’d rather focus on the positive – looking forward to Cullman Comes Out – than on the negative.

Gilly the Sunshine Wizard has garnered thousands of followers on social media (Courtest of Gilly Shine)

“I’d always been a very gay child and that was definitely never acceptable here,” said Gilly, an advocate for queer and autistic youth. “And today, some people still feel that way, and we want to give folks a place to hang out and have fun and just give people something to do other than go to the Wal-Mart parking lot.”

Matthew Sanford co-organized the event with Gilly. Sanford, who plays guitar in a local band, said growing up biracial and bisexual in Cullman was a challenge. Cullman Comes Out, he said, can provide a space where everyone is accepted: a space he wished he would’ve been able to experience as a child. 

Sanford is a guitar player in the local band Hassleinone (Courtesy of Matthew Sanford)

“I had the double whammy going on,” Sanford explained. “And I think bringing something like this to Cullman gives the kids an incentive to be themselves, because I was afraid to be myself growing up.”

The concert and community event, which will be held Oct. 8 from 6 to 10 p.m. in Cullman’s Depot Park, is open to everyone, Gilly and Sanford said. 

A flyer for Cullman Comes Out, scheduled for Oct. 8. (Courtesy of Cullman Comes Out)

That includes Leigh Ann Courington, Gilley and Sanford confirmed. Asked if she’d be welcomed at Cullman Comes Out, the organizers didn’t skip a beat.

“Absolutely,” they agreed. 

Wallace State Community College sent out a statement Wednesday afternoon. In that statement, they said Courington had been placed on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation.

Wallace State Community College condemns racism and bigotry in all its forms, and addresses any infractions of our policies decisively, including and especially those that prohibit discrimination.  The recent statements made by one of our employees are offensive to everyone who values human life, equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility. The employee has been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation. 

Wallace State has made a sustained, conscious commitment to learning that transforms lives and communities in a positive and meaningful way through student-centered and supportive learning environments, teaching excellence, and respect for uniqueness and diversity, which are at the very essence of our mission.  Wallace State was named a Caring Campus by the institute for Evidence-Based Change several years ago, and that designation is based in part on the holistic services, welcoming environment and sense of acceptance students find here, and on our work toward diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.  Our efforts to create an inclusive, caring campus will always be ongoing. This incident is a reminder that we must never think this work is done.  

As a college, we affirm our commitment to recognizing, addressing, and eliminating racism, bigotry and discrimination in all its forms, and to serving as a beacon of equity, equality, inclusivity and accessibility for our community.

Wallace State Community College President Vicki Karolewics