Tag Archives: Schools

Homophobia at Oregon City High School

18 Apr
Home of Homophobia

Home of Homophobia

I have to thank my dear friend and amazing LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey, for inspiring me to write this story. She actually heard about this sad news before I did. Yet another story that hurts my heart.  Once again, here in the self purported progressive Portland, we witness some very ugly homophobia. Even more sad is that this awful incident comes in the wake of the Farmers Pantry homophobic debacle.

This story has a lovely beginning. Students at Oregon City High School were honoring the National Day of Silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.  Just to prove how much we need this Day of Silence, other students at Oregon City High School decided to protest, creating and wearing shirts that read: “Gay Day is Not Ok.”  I won’t even bother to link to the very hurtful homophobic interview one of the teens gave, but I will share some of  his words:

I don’t have a big problem with gay people. It’s just when they start parading around the school about how we have a day of silence for gays, lesbians, transvestites — it’s like, we don’t have a straight day!

Let us hope this young man will have a transformative experience in his life and will not be full of so much hate. Let us hope he will evolve. I also tire of the often heard heterosexual victim attitude of: “I’m not homophobic — I just don’t want to treat gays equally.”  How do we even address the ignorance of “it’s like, we don’t have a straight day”?  I hear this from many white people about Black History Month — “why don’t we have a white history month?”   Really people? Every day is white heterosexual day.

I contacted the school and tried to speak with Principal Tom Lovell about this incident, but he never returned my calls. I am interested in how he is addressing or not addressing this very serious problem.

The impact of this incident sends a very clear message that LGBT students are not safe at Oregon City High School. It also sends a message that LGBT people here in Oregon have a long way to go to being treated as human beings. We have yet another reminder that we LGBT folk must navigate the world with extreme care. I guess we cannot “parade” our lives in public like heterosexuals who are allowed to be who they are all the time.

Call to action: Here is an opportunity for LGBT folk and our allies to call Principal Lovell and ask that he address this homophobic problem.  On a larger scale, we have another opportunity to ask all schools in every state to create and enforce policies that help protect LGBT students from bullying and harassment.

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Hero of the Week Award, August 23: Antoinette Tuff

23 Aug
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week, tragedy was averted; this week, children did not die. Credit for the peaceful resolution to a potentially devastating situation goes to one person: Antoinette Tuff.

When Michael Brandon Hill  walked into Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, GA with an AK47 style rifle, anything could have happened. Fortunately, he encountered Tuff, a clerk and bookkeeper at the school. Hill said he was off his medication and wanted her to call a probation officer. She called 911 and began to quietly and calmly reassure Hill that everything could work out fine. Even as Hill fired his weapon into the floor, she kept the line open and kept talking to him. While 870 students — Pre-K to 5th Grade — were evacuated, she was a model of courage and compassion.

The 911 recordings show a woman dedicated to humanity. She shares her own struggles, telling Hill about her husband leaving her and her disabled son, making herself a real person to him in the tense moment. She offered him encouragement.

It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you, though, OK?… We all go through something in life…You going to be OK.

It was building relationship with words of love and support and understanding, not armed guards or concealed pistols in teachers’ desks, that helped Hill make the right decision. Even after a brief exchange of gunfire with police, he was able to hear Tuff’s message and surrender. As things came to a close, what did this heroic woman say?

We not going to hate you, baby. It’s a good thing that you’re giving up, so we’re not going to hate you.

In the face of potential violence, she expressed compassion. She allowed Hill to retain his humanity, dignity, and that human chose to seek more help rather than be another horrifying statistic.

Thank you, Antoinette Tuff, for doing all the right things. Not just calling 911 as procedure demanded, but for seeing a person in pain and doing everything you could to help. Dozens of lives may have been spared, and millions have seen the power of a caring word triumph over the threat of a weapon.  Would that we had more Antoinette Tuffs in the world that answer violence with love and compassion rather than hate and more violence. Brava, Ms. Tuff!

Pushing Back Against Bullying

23 Aug

Let’s put a stop to bullying

As the nation gradually heads back to school, it’s important to remember that the problem of bullying is still a major issue for many students. Last year saw an unprecedented number of kids commit suicide because they were bullied due to their real or perceived sexual orientation. Given the endorsement of anti-gay discrimination that came from the Boy Scouts, more bullies may feel empowered to act out their aggressions. Studies show that LGBT teens are still more harassed and depressed than their straight peers and violence against the LGBT community is up overall.

Fortunately, many are raising their voices against this tide, pushing for schools and communities to shut down bullying of any kind once and for all. In the past year or so, a number of voices have been raised against bullying: the It Gets Better project, a wonderful comic book called The Power Within, and families of victims have all made a difference. Two other wonderful efforts deserve our attention.

My friend and colleague Alison drew my attention to an important new film, Teach Your Children Well. Directed by Gary Takesian and narrated by Lily Tomlin, this documentary short consists of many important facts and interviews that demonstrate the ongoing problem of bullying.

The film’s primary goal is to bring homophobia and its harmful repercussions to light, and to hopefully effect a change in society’s consciousness such that the bullying and violence against our LGBT young people is greatly reduced – and ultimately eliminated. It is our intention that the message of this film expands beyond theaters and film festivals, reaching into the areas where these aggressive behaviors take place: our schools, homes and neighborhoods.

Regular TSM reader and commenter Daphiny drew my attention to this wonderful story. Kevin Curwick, a Minnesota teen, has responded to the problem of cyberbullying by creating a special Twitter account. @OsseoNiceThings celebrates accomplishments and positive qualities of Curwick’s classmates. Using social media to emphasize the good and drown out the negative has caught on, with many students around the nation creating similar accounts as Kevin’s story spreads.

These are important steps. We must all continue to shine a harsh light on the realities of bullying and not allow schools to fall back on  the “kids being kids” excuse. Until our communities are safe for all, they are safe for none.

Louisiana, Where Women are Chattel: The Scarlet P

7 Aug

Unfortunately, Louisiana is yet again the subject of how backwards can a society go.  They misogyny in this particular story is sickening. Thank you to Never Contrary for inspiring me to write about these events.  Louisiana is proving to be a state not safe for women or the LGBTQ community.

Astonishingly enough. young women attending a public school in Louisiana are being policed and profiled.  Female students just suspected of possibly being pregnant must submit to a pregnancy test. Here is the real illegal kicker: if the female students refuse the pregnancy test or prove to be pregnant they are kicked out of school.  Yes, you just read that correctly. Refusing to submit to the pregnancy test or being pregnant automatically gets one kicked out of school.  What are the consequences for the young men that got them pregnant? Oh, of course, NONE.

The Delhi Charter School, in Delhi, Louisiana, is a school that does not believe its female students have a right to education free from discrimination and is in direct violation of Title IX.  I guess the United States Constitution is only valid if you are a heterosexual male in the state of Louisiana.  Title IX makes it perfectly clear (for those who can read)  that schools cannot exclude any student from an education program or activity, “including any class or extracurricular activity, on the basis of such student’s pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom.”  Seems pretty clear to me, but then I don’t have tea bags in my ears or eyes.

One of the many things that I find profoundly dangerous is the message being sent to these young women: you are just an object with no voice, sex is only for men, you must submit to anything men tell you to do or be punished.  Thank you Louisiana for bringing us back to the 17th Century.  What might be next on your agenda?  You certainly have proven this state will support Mitt (I am in control of all vaginas) Romney.

Louisiana: A Model for Gutting Public Schools

3 Jul

Education should be reserved for those who can afford it.

Today it is an honor and pleasure for me to introduce a new TSM contributor.  Never Contrary was gracious enough to provide this fantastic post.  Never Contrary has an amazing voice for social justice and understands the intersections of oppression and why we must change systems.  There are many times when I am in awe of Never Contrary’s voice and ability to speak truth to power. In this first article by Never Contrary, the Voucher system is exposed as the tool to gut public schools and create a classist society where only the wealthy may benefit from an education. For me this article addresses so many different issues all at once: class, race, gender, and–because Never Contrary is part of the LGBT community–multiple identities experiencing oppression.

Louisiana is consistently in the bottom three states in education every year. It is quite apparent that change is needed. Change has come.

I will start at the beginning. Three years ago I walked into my principal’s office. I was given a login to a program that included every kid I had taught in the past two years and their grades in my courses and state tests. I asked what this was for and was told it was for an upcoming law that would track student performance to their teachers. I found it odd that the state had not only already paid for the computer program to be built but was already using it before the laws had even begun discussions in the legislature. Flash forward three years. The news laws are finally being discussed. I knew that of course they would pass, as they had already been paid for. The whole debate was simply a show.

What exactly passed?

A voucher system. This will allow students in failing schools to have access to a scholarship to attend any private school of their choosing. Including the school in North Louisiana that believes that the proof that evolution is false is the Loch Ness monster.  I wish I was making this up.

Each student that leaves a public school takes their money with them. In October, the private school receives the money from the state. At that point the school can kick the student out for behavior, or grades, or frankly anything, and the student goes back to public school. The private schools keep the money, of course.  There will be no accountability for the private schools in any way about what they are doing with the students while their attend their schools.

Students that stay in public schools are now being tracked. It is being called “value added.” Teachers are given a score every year. Half of that score is your evaluation from your administrator. Because those reviews with your boss are always fair and free of the politics of the work place, of course. The other half comes from a score based on your students’ state scores that year, their attendance, their socio-economic background, their scores the previous year, etc. These scores will then be tied into teacher’s pay. It has yet to be decided exactly how.

The tenure program has also been axed. In order to receive tenure, a teacher must perform in the top 5% of their district for five out of six consecutive years. If a teacher has two years of unacceptable scores they will be terminated regardless of past performance.

Teachers can go through a rigorous process to become national board certified. It is very challenging to pass. Only the best teachers are able to. It used to come with a $5,000 pay raise, as motivation for teachers to improve their craft. The governor also took this away. Why reward the excellent teachers, when you can just punish the bad ones? Of course the state superintendent of education in Louisiana makes $349,249.00 a year.

Who Would Jesus Hate?

31 May

Thank you to my friend and LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this story.  Can you imagine being suspended from high school for wearing a shirt that basically says Jesus was not a hater?  Well, such was the case in Ohio. Yes, the state that produced such homophobic, misogynistic bigots like John Boehner.  Maverick Couch, 16-year-old junior at Waynesville High School was told by his principal (not a principal that should be in any school) that if Couch continued to wear the shirt he would face suspension.

Fortunately, on May 21, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett ordered school officials to allow Maverick to wear the T-shirt to school whenever he chooses. He also ordered the school district to pay $20,000 in damages and court costs to the teen.  Principal Randy Gebhardt cost the school district money and showed poor leadership with no integrity.

Milton Hershey School: Playground for Discrimination

7 Dec

Say NO to Discrimination

When I think of schools, I think of places designed to educate, empower, and enlighten students in a safe and nurturing way.  Granted, I know not all schools live up to this notion, but to learn of a school that actively discriminates against an already vulnerable population is profoundly disturbing.  What is unforgivable to me is that a school, the Milton Hershey School, is contributing to the stigma and prejudice that exists against those living with HIV.

When reading the mission statement of the Milton Hershey School, I have to say that it sounds like such a wonderful environment and resource for students:

Milton Hershey School nurtures and educates children in social and financial need to lead fulfilling and productive lives.

The vision statement is even more impressive:

Today, Milton Hershey School is a cost-free, private, coeducational home and school for children from families of low income, limited resources, and social need. The School is funded by a trust established by Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine. Milton Hershey School offers a positive, structured home life year-round and an excellent pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education. Our vision focuses on building character and providing children with the skills necessary to be successful in all aspects of life.

To learn that the Milton Hershey School denied admission to a 13-year old who is living with HIV seems to run contrary to the mission and vision of the school.  How is the school “building character” when they are modeling discrimination?

I spent some time trying to reach anyone at the Milton Hershey School for comment, but to no avail. I encourage all TSM readers to take action by clicking here and signing a petition telling the school that it is unacceptable to deny admission to students living with HIV.  How sad that we have to educate a school about HIV and that it is not an easily communicable disease.

While discriminating against anyone living with HIV is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Milton Hershey School states:

…we cannot accommodate the needs of students with chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others.

The school is desperately in need of an HIV 101 education class, for then they would know that admitting this 13-year old boy does not pose a threat to the health and safety of others.  Is this 1985?  Is Ronald Reagan still alive and now working at the Milton Hershey School?

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