Friday, May 30, 2008

"Weeding Out" Homophobes

Two weeks ago in South Carolina, Eddie Walker resigned from his principalship at Irmo High School after a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) was created at Irmo. His resignation letter stated that his religious and professional beliefs “put him at odds” with such a group. Recently, there has been quite a fuss over Walker’s resignation. (See for more information.)

Let’s tell it like it is: An admitted and unapologetic homophobe has chosen to remove himself from a position of authority over children. This is a sign of hope for LGBT youth in public schools, because it indicates that Walker felt it would be futile to attempt to destroy the GSA from within.

Though he was clearly hoping that the school board would ban the GSA, Walker’s resignation doesn’t seem to have hurt the Irmo High School community yet. If anything, it appears to have further cemented the solidarity among queer-positive people in Greenville. Earlier this week, a large crowd gathered outside the district school board meeting to support the foundation of the gay-straight alliance that Walker protested. One Greenville resident spoke about the homophobic murder of her son this past year. The crowd sent a message to the school board about the absolute necessity for the gay-straight alliance that Walker had such a personal problem with.

Though I believe education is a crucial first step in effectively addressing LGBT ignorance, I also believe that it doesn’t hurt to put pressure on homophobes and transphobes to get out and stay out. People who are unwilling to self-educate and open their eyes to ever-growing worlds of sexuality and gender should be made to feel unwelcome. I have no qualms about forcing people like Eddie Walker to confront their own biases, and I have no sympathy for bigots who are put on the spot and called out for their violence. Claims about so-called “reverse discrimination” against heterosexuals are completely bogus.

We need to trash this trumped-up notion of “tolerance” that fosters condescension from heterosexuals and cisgendered people towards LGBT individuals. Let’s dispose of the concept of “tolerance” that does nothing to prevent the stigmatization and phenomenalization of queer and trans people. I wish more public schools would send the message: We will not tolerate anyone who propagates bigotry and hate. Not around here.

To Eddie Walker: Good for you, for standing with your convictions. And good riddance.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another Campaign to "Cure" Trans Youth

Below is TransActive Education and Advocacy's response to yet another attack on transgender youth, this time by the Philadelphia Catholic Medical Association. The PCMA takes the position that trans youth need to be forced to adhere to the proper confines of their "birth gender," at any cost. According to them, it's in trans kids' best interests to be forcibly denied their basic rights of self-expression.

I wish I could chalk this up to the work of insane right-wing Christians whom nobody could actually take seriously, but the PCMA's position seems to be reflective of the current climate surrounding trans youth. The PCMA cites Kenneth Zucker's writings to support their claims. And... Zucker was just appointed to head the APA's committee to review the DSM - V, which covers Gender Identity Disorder.

Does anyone else find this infuriating? Is it possible to deny that there is currently a full-fledged assault on transgender youth going on in this country?

Portland, OR (May 27, 2008)

TransActive Education & Advocacy, a Portland, Oregon-based non-profit organization that works on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming children, youth and their families speaks in opposition to the Philadelphia Catholic Medical Association's recently issued Press Release on so-called cross-dressing In schools.

Our response to this Press Release follows the excerpted statement below.
_ _ _ _ _

May 16, 2008

Excerpt from the Catholic Medical Association's statement:

"Superintendents and school district should insist that parents who want their children to attend school dressed in opposite sex clothing be required to have a mental health evaluation for such a child to determine if the child has a gender identity disorder.

"Permitting behavior such as cross-dressing by a child with GID will not help the child; rather, it will enable and reinforce a serious psychiatric disorder. Principals and superintendents should not permit or tolerate any cross-dressing in schools. Not only will this further harm a child with GID, but it will cause other children to suffer confusion and distress.

"The Philadelphia Inquirer recently published an article on May 3, 2008 about a nine year old boy at suburban primary school, who will be allowed to dress as a girl and be addressed by a girl's name. In the article the principal of the school is noted to have written a letter to parents explaining that a transgender child is one whose biological gender does not match his or her gender identity.

"This demonstrates a common but serious lack of knowledge of the medical literature related to psychiatric diagnoses in children. These studies show that children with strong transsexual thinking and behaviors, in fact, usually have the diagnosis of a Gender Identity Disorder (GID). GID leads to the desire to dress in clothing of the opposite sex and to be called by a name of the opposite sex. The major textbook on this subject is Gender Identity Disorder, by Zucker and Bradley.

"These children have failed to identify and embrace the goodness of their masculinity or femininity for a number of reasons, related particularly to conflicts with peers and parents, primarily with their mothers.

"As Zucker and Bradley document in their clinical work and research, most children who are treated for GID recover. They come to accept and embrace their birth gender.

"Paul McHugh, former chairman of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, studied those who sought transsexual surgery and has written, 'I have witnessed a great deal of damage from sex-reassignment. The children transformed from their male constitution into female roles suffered prolonged distress and misery as they sensed their natural attitudes. Their parents usually lived with guilt over their decisions - second-guessing themselves and somewhat ashamed of the fabrication, both surgical and social, they had imposed on their sons.'"
_ _ _ _

From the outset, the Catholic Medical Association's statement is disingenuous in its representation of both the child and parental motivation for allowing this nine-year old to attend school in a way that is respectful of their true gender identity (female) rather than reflective only of their assigned birth sex (male) based solely upon their anatomy. Furthermore, this is a standard to which other students are not held. There is no school in the country that we are aware of that requires students to first submit to a gender identity/anatomical sex congruity exam prior to being allowed to attend school.

To imply that this child simply "wants" to attend school dressed like a girl is a gross and misleading over-simplification of what a gender non-conforming child experiences. This child has always identified as female. She simply wants to be extended the right to express herself in a way that is consistent with her gender identity.

The implication by the Catholic Medical Association that gender non-conforming and transgender children, youth and their families do not seek out psychological guidance prior to making these difficult decisions is nothing more than a blatant attempt at prejudicing their membership and those who might read this press release against these children, their families and anyone who might support them.

Our organization works with many therapists that provide counseling services to these children, youth and families. In fact, we have never come across a single case of a parent or caregiver that has not first sought counseling for both their child and their family before taking any specific action related to their child's gender non-conforming identity.

Nor is there and credible evidence that a transgender or gender non-conforming child will cause other children to be confused or distressed. They may ask questions, but the last time we checked, school was about asking questions and learning not only about reading, writing and arithmetic but about developing the social skills to work with and respect the many types of people our children will encounter throughout their lives.

They assert, incorrectly, that "children with strong transsexual thinking and behaviors, in fact, usually have the diagnosis of a Gender Identity Disorder (GID)." In fact, the reverse is true.

A clinical diagnosis of GID (Gender Identity Dysphoria) in children predates by several years any conclusions regarding what may or may not be a 'transsexual' outcome. It is not up to the therapist, psychologist or the Catholic Medical Association to decide when or if a child is a 'transsexual'. That decision is theirs and theirs alone to make once they attain an age of informed consent.

They claim in their press release that "GID leads to the desire to dress in clothing of the opposite sex and to be called by a name of the opposite sex. The major textbook on this subject is Gender Identity Disorder, by Zucker and Bradley."

Again, this is a misleading and distressingly wrong-headed statement for a so-called medical organization to make. GID does not "lead" to the desire to dress in any type of clothing or to be called by any particular name. In fact, a child's sense of their gender identity is independent of clothing or name preferences.

As to Zucker and Bradley having written "the major textbook on this subject", this is a substantial overstatement of the credibility and acceptance the work of Kenneth Zucker and Susan Bradley has been accorded within the circle of those who research and treat transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth.

In their press release, they outrageously state that, "These children have failed to identify and embrace the goodness of their masculinity or femininity for a number of reasons, related particularly to conflicts with peers and parents, primarily with their mothers."

They clearly choose to accuse these children of "failing" to accepting the "goodness" of an arbitrary or stereotypical standard of 'masculinity' or 'femininity' and then go on to broadly apply questionable Freudian thinking regarding peer pressure, parental influence and ultimately, blaming the mother for causing a child's gender non-conformity. This is more than voodoo's blatantly misogynistic.

The Catholic Medical Association quotes Zucker and Bradley as reporting that, "most children who are treated for GID recover. They come to accept and embrace their birth gender."

The facts are that Zucker and Bradley believe (inaccurately) that 75% of gender non-conforming children end up identifying as homosexual rather than transsexual or transgender. We suspect this is what they refer to as "recovering" from GID and later "embracing" their birth gender. Would it be too cynical to believe that under different circumstances, in a different press release, the Catholic Medical Association might not consider this alleged "recovery" to a homosexual identity to be an altogether positive outcome?

The quote from Paul McHugh, former Chairman of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University contains, to be blunt, a misrepresentation of data clinical research with regard to transgender identity and surgical or hormonal outcomes in children and adolescents. During Dr. McHugh's tenure at Johns Hopkins there was virtually no hormonal or surgical treatment of transgender children or adolescents.

There was treatment by Dr. John Money (since completely discredited) done with regard to intersex, genitally ambiguous and surgically mutilated infants, however those conditions are unrelated to transgender identity in children. Any suggestion otherwise by either Paul McHugh or the Catholic Medical Association is, to put it generously, a stretch.

The continued assumption by organizations like the Catholic Medical Association, Exodus International and NARTH, as well as individuals like Kenneth Zucker and Paul McHugh that gender non-conforming and transgender children are confused, distressed or 'disordered' as a result of their gender identity belies an arrogance that only does further damage to these amazing children and their families.

Their failure to recognize that the stress, unhappiness and too often, suicidal ideation these children and youth experience comes as a consequence of the judgments, stereotypes, fundamentalist religious persecution, indifference and ignorance of these organizations and individuals is not only appalling, it dances precipitously near the fringes of child abuse.

The Philadelphia Catholic Medical Association should ask forgiveness for their ethical, moral and medical sins against these children, youth and their families.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Religious Right Says: Save Our Children From Trans People!

The following radio spot, entitled “Predator,” began circulating this past month in Colorado:

This is yet another classic example of the religious right’s invocation of “children’s safety” in order to promote their own political candidates and agenda.

This clip is not coming from groups who aim to eradicate sexual assault and violence against women, though “Predator” may seem to insinuate that. In fact, Focus on the Family Action and Colorado Family Action, the two groups responsible for creating and running the spot, could seem to care less about women’s rights. Focus on the Family Action states on its website that it is geared towards those who care about the “family” and about “traditional moral values.” The Focus on the Family Action page is devoted entirely to a preservation of traditional marriage between a man and a woman (and, I would think by extension, the “traditional” use of marriage as a means for men to possess and own women) and the restriction of abortion and contraceptive access for women.

“Predator” invokes age-old stereotypes about trans women and gender non-conforming individuals in order to fight against public schools’ development of gender-neutral bathrooms. The groups behind the clip are clearly trying to capitalize on mainstream society’s rampant transphobia and anxiety about gender norms in order to endorse their politician of choice.

This endorsement parrots the classic transphobic cliché: We must carefully monitor conditions in our public schools to ensure that gender non-normative and transgender people cannot comfortably or safely enter those spaces. If not, trans people will inevitably destroy “our children.”

Is anyone else getting sick of this bullshit? I can only hope that anyone who hears it realizes how downright ridiculous it is - unfortunately, I fear that may not be the case. As a gender non-normative educator in a public middle school, the fervor and confidence with which these ludicrous right-wingers attack trans people’s humanity in instances like this gives me pause, despite my better sense.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Another LGBT Issue More Important Than Gay Marriage

On May 20th, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) put out a report on anti-LGBT hate violence that indicated a 24% increase in incidents from 2006 to 2007. I wish I could say I am surprised to hear this.

Jovida Ross, the Executive Director of Community United Against Violence in San Francisco, stated that the increase indicates that “more people within the queer community are reporting sexual assaults” and considered it a “hopeful sign that [queer people] are coming out of isolation to heal from trauma” and a demonstration of “the positive impact of education and outreach.”

While Ross’ optimistic, “the glass is half full” approach to the rise in reported anti-LGBT violence is refreshing, I remain skeptical. So does Avy Skolnik, National Programs Coordinator of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, who suggests that the actual number of violent anti-LGBT incidents is probably even higher than reported: “We know that the 2, 430 people who called on our organizations in 2007 are only a small fraction of the actual number of LGBT people who experienced bias-motivated violence.”

Over the past year, LGBT-related bullying and violence has particularly stood out as a daunting challenge to the self-determination and self-expression of students in public schools. Perhaps the biggest tragedy was the February 2008 murder of eighth grader Lawrence King by fourteen-year-old classmate Brandon McInerney in California.

King’s death touched close to home for many educators, including myself. I witness verbal and physical harassment regularly in the hallway of my school, often involving words like “faggot” and “sissy,” and it frequently goes unreported by students and teachers alike. This year a large number of violent attacks have been made by and on our students, both inside and outside of the building of my school. While none of these attacks have been explicitly connected to LGBT issues, gender plays so significant a role in the nature of the aggression that it seems inextricably linked to gender identity and expression. Unfortunately, though, bullying is considered a fact of life for middle schoolers - “well, they’re in middle school, what do you expect?” and “it builds character” are used far too often by teachers and administrators as excuses to look the other way.

Fed up with our school’s general complacency about bullying, which is a more pressing concern than bubble sheets in the lives of our students, several teachers – most of us queer women - created a group called Respect For All to meet once a week. Despite its cheesy name, we anticipated that Respect For All would jump-start our school’s progress towards effectively addressing bullying. Unfortunately, founding and maintaining this kind of group has proven extremely challenging. Initially, several unnamed colleagues in the school expressed discomfort about the group, telling administrators that it would take up valuable time even though the meetings took place after school hours. Administrators failed to attend meetings, provide resources, or lend an open ear. Also, few educators have the energy to create and advocate for institutional change while mired in individual lesson planning and the everyday exhaustions of teaching. Between administrative discouragement and a lack of teacher investment, for which I am partly responsible, Respect For All has disbanded.

Combating bullying requires more than the existence of groups like Respect For All – it requires a collaborative effort and careful allocation of schools’ resources. As in many public schools under No Child Left Behind, my administration will abruptly halt regular school programming to give “pop” standardized tests. But it seems unfathomable that a school-wide day of education about the devastating effects of widespread bullying could feasibly take the place of scheduled classes. The efforts of Respect For All to create a “Respect Week” to kick off the 2008-2009 school year are wasted if administrators at our school aren’t willing to make room at the beginning of next school year for anti-bullying, pro-awareness workshops and activities for students.

So what can we do, in schools and outside of schools, to combat anti-LGBT violence?

First, we must advocate for collaborative efforts among teachers, staff, and administrators to confront bullying and violence in schools. Everyone in schools must recognize that classroom time and the learning students do in the education system are about more than test preparation – regardless of what the state and federal governements would lead us to believe. Tearing down No Child Left Behind is crucial in this endeavor.

Second, there needs to be a shift of some of the focus of LGBT organizations and resources away from gay marriage and onto issues like anti-LGBT violence and homophobia and transphobia in the education system and the justice system. Though I’m not inherently opposed to gay marriage, marriage laws will not fundamentally change the fact that violent homophobia and transphobia seem to be socially sanctioned just about everywhere in the nation. We need some of HRC’s - for one example - money and time to be channeled into ensuring universal LGBT and HIV-positive health care access, eradicating LGBT harassment in schools, fighting police brutality, ending the discrimination against undocumented immigrants that affects many LGBT communities, and addressing the abuses of transgender people in United States prisons.

Third, we must challenge the misconception that throwing more people into jail will effectively address anti-LGBT violence. Though Brandon McInerney committed a horrifying act of hatred, trying McInerney as an adult and pushing for a life sentence without parole will not ultimately help to prevent anti-LGBT violence. Though some might convince themselves that it will in order to cope with the anger such a tragedy incites, the prison industrial complex is more about quarantining society’s “unwanteds” than it is about rehabilitation or protection. Even hate crime legislation may not ultimately serve LGBT aims. Due to their selective enforcement, bias laws may ultimately harm "the most disadvantaged members of society and ironically those whom [they] are intended to help,” as Frederick M. Lawrence states in the abstract for his recent book. The criminal justice system is notorious for its blatant targeting of minorities, transgender people, and queer youth, and reinforcing its power by looking to it to solve our problems with anti-LGBT violence without addressing its many problems will only hurt LGBT people more in the end.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sigourney Weaver is making the movie "Prayers for Bobby"

Leroy Aarons' 1995 book this is based on is poweful. The film is due to debut next February, with Weaver producing and acting the part of Bobby's mother, Mary Griffith.
"Sigourney Weaver's passion and dedication to this project are incredibly inspiring," says Tanya Lopez, Lifetime's head of original movies. "As both the star and co-producer of this movie, she wholly embodies the strength and perseverance of Mary Griffith."

Based on Leroy Aarons' book, "Prayers for Bobby" centers on Mary Griffith, a devout Presbyterian who raises her children in strict accordance with church teachings. But when her son Bobby confesses he might be gay, she won't accept it and instead urges him to pray more and seek out a "cure." Bobby obeys, but he also spirals into depression and eventually commits suicide.

The film will also chart Mary Griffith's reaching out to the gay community, where she finds unexpected support.
Sigourney Weaver Says 'Prayers' with Lifetime

Some Must-Read Queer YA Literature

The distinction between a book that is LGBT-positive and a book I would call queer is difficult to draw, but I believe it exists. A great number of books geared towards young readers take a definitively gay-friendly stance, by advocating for gay marriage rights or possibly incorporating a gay or lesbian individual into its collection of secondary characters. Those texts, however, rarely delve into the nuances and wide array of experiences associated with queer or trans adolescence.

I know very little about the politics behind the publishing of young adult literature. However, it does not take an expert to see that “pro-gay” books that hope to circulate to a wide young adult audience usually revolve around assimilationist narratives of LGBT people – almost always suburban, white, and middle-class - who are absolutely “normal” and endearing to a mainstream public in every way other than their sexual orientation.

The truly excellent, valuable, and queer reads for middle school students, in my opinion, push the envelope on this point and attempt to present for adolescent contemplation characters whose sexualities and genders are not – and cannot be – isolated from other aspects of their identities and lives.

This is why every middle school and high school English teacher absolutely must read Jacqueline Woodson’s From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun with his or her classes. The book describes the process of Melanin Sun, an almost-fourteen-year-old boy, after his mother comes out as queer (her own language of self-identification) and, possibly even more shockingly for a biracial boy immersed in a predominantly black neighborhood in Brooklyn, as being in love with a white woman. Melanin Sun opened up intellectual doors for my classes last year, and students generated a running list of big issues and concepts we came across as I read it aloud to them. It practically creates lessons for teachers. It demands that readers think about the phenomenon of white people entering a predominantly non-white sphere. Several students of mine who live in the currently gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook brought up examples from their lived experiences to contribute to a conversation about the class and racial conflicts that can erupt in gentrifying areas.

Melanin Sun exposes readers to LGBTQ experiences that extend beyond simplistic portrayals of homophobia. Kristin, the partner of Melanin’s mother, illustrates the concept of “chosen family” because her birth family disowned her when she came out as queer. Melanin Sun is perfect for the middle school classroom because it demands critical inquiry into who “owns” identity-related language. Woodson uses words like “queer,” “fag,” and “dyke” in the book to refer to sexuality – the words “gay” and “homosexual” are rarely seen. My students kept a running list of questions that arose as we read, including: What does “queer” mean, and why do Melanin’s mother and Kristin use it? How can Melanin’s mom be a lesbian if she has a kid? Should his mom have told Melanin earlier than she did? When, if ever, should a word like “queer” be used, and by whom? This last question prompted a particularly fascinating full-class conversation about who has the right to invoke what terminology – is it different for an LGBTQ person to call themselves queer than for a straight person to do so? Why or why not? This text opened innumerable analytical doors leading into important conversations relevant to social justice and to students’ lived experiences. Instead of providing an empty, cut-and-dry rhetoric of “gay is okay!”, Woodson pushes and challenges readers to think critically about the complicated ways identities work – something that far too few young adult novels about issues of identity do.

Another novel to share with middle school students is Totally Joe by James Howe. Though the book takes place in what could be described as a quasi-suburbia in upstate New York dominated by middle-class white kids, it maintains a healthy dose of self-consciousness about that fact and avoids relying upon the tired trope of the “tragic faggot” narrative. Howe has created a deeply compelling and realistic character in the narrator Joe, a gay middle schooler experiencing his first relationship with a boy in his class. The book offers a vivid depiction of a character who is complex and inevitably identifiable to middle school students (regardless of their sexualities) coming out in a relatively rural area of the United States. Joe’s characteristics read as queer, but James Howe avoids resorting to dull or problematic stereotypes, which is a tricky balance to navigate in young adult literature. Overall, Totally Joe provides a great readaloud and engaging character study for middle school students.

There is also value in having a book like Carrie Mac’s Crush in the middle school classroom. Crush revolves around a mostly-white and socioeconomically privileged lesbian community in gentrified Park Slope, Brooklyn. The benefit of this book is that it focuses on a young woman’s coming out and thereby addresses issues of female sexuality without any male presence, which is an infrequent trait in young adult literature. It is also an Orca brand book, which means that it is considered by many educators to be more accessible to “lower level” readers than many other texts while containing content mature enough to be relevant to middle schoolers. Crush isn’t an ideal full-class read, as it does not come close to the depth and power of Melanin Sun, but it is good to have around for a book partnership or individual student looking for “low level, high interest” texts.

Queer young adult literature ideally sparks analytical thought about operations of power in society, how identities are read and interpreted, and how meanings are mapped onto identities in various social contexts. Melanin Sun does this the best of any of these texts, to the point that I wish it were required reading in college courses. If you haven’t read it yet, set aside an hour of time and zip through it on the subway. Then, give it to your students, your younger sibling, or a random teenager you bump into. Everyone can benefit from it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Nationwide Attack on Queer and Trans Youth Continues

The systematic assault on queer, trans, and allied youth occurring in the United States may as well be federally sanctioned.

The murder of openly queer eighth grader Lawrence King by a fellow middle school student in February received a mere fraction of the press coverage devoted to similar school shootings. Sadly, I am sure that the circumstances of King’s death were ignored by faculty or teachers at most schools around the nation. I am even more certain that many teachers who knew about King’s death did not inform their students about it, and made similar excuses to some teachers at my school: “Students might get scared by it,” and “they’re so young, they won’t understand, and they will giggle at the word ‘gay’.”

The giggling of middle school students does not typically deter teachers from doing our jobs. But the popular media, the national public education system, and a political climate in which open homophobia is sanctioned don’t exactly encourage teachers to address these instances of hate inside our classrooms.

A public school teacher must swim upstream in order to touch on LGBT issues in any way beyond a simplifying and tokenizing “gay is okay!” – and sometimes that’s even going too far according to parents, or school districts, or administrators in his or her specific school. Educating students about the murder of Lawrence King and the very real, lived repercussions of homophobia and transphobia is an almost impossible sacrifice for individual teachers to make without strong networks of support and mentorship. The lack of discourse in schools about sexuality, gender, and expression that results from such a culture of repression is, quite literally, killing LGBT youth.

Does anybody care about the current status of queer and trans youth in the U.S.? Does nobody see the alarming rate of homelessness among LGBT children, particularly youth of color, in New York City? Does nobody hear about the singling out of queer youth of color by police officers on the Chelsea Piers in Manhattan? Has the plight of LGBT youth in this nation been so successfully erased by the federal government, by law enforcement, and by our schools that nobody in the United States sees what is happening?

Recently, several all-too-familiar faces in the push to invisibilize and dehumanize trans people have popped up, courtesy of the American Psychiatric Association. The APA recently appointed a committee to review and revise the DSM-V, which covers the diagnoses of Gender Identity Disorder. The committee will be headed by none other than Kenneth Zucker, a psychiatrist who is notorious for his efforts to “prevent” transsexuality, which have resulted in a great deal of violence and abusiveness towards trans youth. (See the Torontoist article at and a valuable Bilerico post at for more information on Zucker). The fact that Zucker is still considered qualified to speak as a psychiatrist at all is mind-boggling.

The committee will also include Ray Blanchard, who also has a long history of oppressive pathologization of transsexuality, particularly in trans women. The APA has released statements in the past few days, attempting to reassure those of us who are infuriated by such a blatant attack on trans people. They “explain” that there is absolutely no chance that homosexuality will return to the list of mental disorders. They "explain" that the DSM addresses criteria for the diagnosis of mental disorders, and not treatment recommendations or guidelines. So… everyone should just relax.

What a load of dung.

It looks to me like the APA is trying to cover its own ass by claiming that diagnosing is entirely separate from proscribing treatment for GID, which is ludicrous. No statement by the APA can erase Zucker’s and Blanchard’s deeply upsetting histories of violent transphobia and advocacy of "curing" children by forcibly squashing any indicators of their transsexuality. The APA may attempt to discourage and dissuade potential protesters, but it’s not going to appease my anger. On a daily basis, trans youth in the United States are denied the right to express their gender(s) and are aggressively ripped away from their identities. If Zucker and Blanchard have their way, by 2012 the violences done to trans youth in this nation will not only continue to happen but will be authorized by the APA.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Final Thoughts Defending the Day of Silence

A troubling article in this week’s SnoValley Star [] quotes the local pastor who led a demonstration during this year’s Day of Silence, promising more protests during next year’s Day of Silence at this tiny rural Washington State high school.

The Safe Schools Coalition is proud of the brave gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students at Mt. Si and their wonderful straight classmates who stand up for them every year on the Day of Silence. And at almost every other high school in the region. And we will keep turning out in their defense for as long as Rev. Hutcherson continues to turn out crowds to express disapproval of them.

These courageous students have the same right to safe passage to, from and during school, every day of the year, as does Rev. Hutcherson’s daughter. And their liking someone of their own sex or their not being as masculine or as feminine as someone thinks they should be ought to have absolutely no bearing on their access to an education. They shouldn’t have to pretend and they shouldn’t be made invisible. And they have every right to the civil disobedience of being silent one day out of the year! For Pete’s sake, give everybody writing assignments that day; encourage reading, athletics and arts. Teachers can find a bazillion perfectly appropriate teaching methodologies that don’t require verbal discourse for one day!

As for Mr. Potratz’ analogy … the teacher was obviously just trying to say that children’s free speech doesn’t end at the school house door, no matter how odious their beliefs might be.

That said, comparing forms of oppression is dicey. Gay and transgender young people do get murdered on a regular basis — about one every two months in the U.S. (see — as did middle schooler Larry King this past February. But their numbers pale relative to the generations of African Americans beaten to death during slavery and lynched since abolition. We appreciate people’s sensitivity about analogies to horrific things like slavery.

The point is, nevertheless, that it’s tragic for schools to ignore racism, homophobia, misogyny, classism or xenophobia. When schools abdicate, students learn anyway. They learn from media and older peers. They learn prejudices and misinformation about people different from themsleves.

The Day of Silence is a protest against teachers’ silence in the face of anti-gay bullying and disrespect. Adults in every school need to do a better job of stopping ALL harassment and of teaching about ALL kinds of diversity.

Hear, hear for teachers like Mr. Potratz and Ms. McCormick who stand up for students, even if the particular words Mr. P used may have been too easily misconstrued. He tried. Besides, some folks may intentionally misconstrue others' words for their own reasons. How many other teachers stand by, afraid to say anything, while students like the boy who killed Larry hurl words and fists and, eventually, bullets.

Let's stand by teachers who care.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Today, in the News (Or Not?)

Word of California’s decision to lift the ban on gay marriage implemented in 2000 has spread like wildfire today. Though it is true that this decision could set a valuable precedent in terms of legal policy, I can’t help but be incredibly frustrated by the nearsightedness and narrow-mindedness of the gays who tend to dominate these political pushes.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is the perfect example of an assimilationist, visible gay rights organization. The HRC focuses on the legalization of gay marriage to the exclusion of numerous issues that are pressing to many LGBTQ people throughout the nation. This past year the HRC abandoned transgender people in their push to get an ENDA bill passed that would ban discrimination against LGBT individuals in the United States. Apparently, the HRC felt it would be easier to get the bill passed to protect the rights of gays and lesbians if they dropped the “T” and forgot about trans folks’ rights. So they did. Simple as that.

It is what is not so visible in the mainstream news today that betrays the fact that upper- and middle-class gays, as exemplified by organizations like the HRC, could not care less about more disadvantaged LGBT people.

Yesterday, a man named Willie Campbell was sentenced to 35 years in prison for spitting at a police officer in Dallas, Texas. The reason for such a severe sentence, for what could be passed off as an intoxicated slip-up? Campbell is HIV-positive and was therefore charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The arresting officer, Dan Waller, has been quoted as saying “I know it sounds cliché, but this is why you lock someone up, so our streets are safer… Without him out there, our streets are a safer place.”

Wait a second. I thought HIV couldn’t be contracted through saliva? Campbell’s sentence is obviously grounded in a stigmatization of people who are positive, rather than in any rational – or legal, or scientific!– concern that Waller had contracted HIV from Campbell’s spit. Are we going to begin quarantining people with HIV/AIDS now, because the world would be “safer”? The sentencing of Willie Campbell is a classic instance of fear tactic employment by the government, which uses idiotic law enforcement officers like Dan Waller as its pawns. Regimes, like George W. Bush’s, that operate by fear always designate certain bodies as “monstrous” or “scary.” They promise mainstream members of society that they will all be “safe” if those deviants are put behind bars and isolated from society. Trouble is, the only groups of people not categorically classified as “dangerous” seem to be white and upper- or middle-class.

What does all of this have to do with education and LGBT issues in schools? Everything, particularly because many of my students are young, low-income children of color deemed “unsafe” and closely monitored by law enforcement because of their demographic. The NYPD is already just waiting to pounce on if they make one misstep – and most of my students are acutely aware of this. Students in many under-resourced, urban public schools end up becoming less than human, becoming known and tracked by their scores on standardized tests. As I discussed in my first post, public schools often serve as funnels to channel society’s “unwanteds” into prisons. From the moment they are born, or from their second grade year when they missed thirty days of school, or from their fifth grade year when they failed their math class, many students in these schools are branded as “dangerous” or as soon-to-be criminals.

Where were organizations like Lambda Legal and the HRC while Willie Campbell was being sentenced? While Campbell's sexual orientation and sexual practices are unknown, and HIV cannot be considered an exclusively “gay” disease, HIV/AIDS activism has been a cornerstone of LGBT culture and recent history. After wealthy white gays initiated HIV/AIDS activism when the pandemic broke out in the United States in the 1980’s, all of a sudden they can’t seem to find the time, money, or energy to help communites grappling with HIV access resources. In more ways than one, the refusal of HRC and other LGBT organizations to lift a finger to combat HIV stigmatization and improve access to care in impoverished communities – where many severely underresourced schools are located - hurts students like mine.

Gay marriage is a pressing issue for only an elite subset of LGBT individuals. For mainstream gay groups to fail to address the dehumanization of people with HIV/AIDS by the criminal justice system is an utter tragedy. Many of the individuals - some LGBT-identified, some HIV-positive - whose lives are in the crosshairs of this issue attend public schools in the United States, right now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What is "Safe" in Middle School?

Making it through two years teaching English at a public middle school in Brooklyn hardly qualifies me to define what it means to be a radical or queer educator. However, one lesson I have quickly learned is that for teachers anecdotes can be crucial building blocks of community and direction. Keeping that in mind, I’m sharing my experiences and reflections as a 23-year-old, white, dyke-identified, visibly genderqueer, recent Ivy League graduate oriented towards social justice and educational equality.

What my queer and social justice sensibilities have fostered in me over the past two years, more than anything, is a desire to shift away from traditional pedagogical power dynamics. My school’s student population is overwhelmingly non-white, and over ninety percent of students receive government subsidized lunches. My school is also one of innumerable public schools in the United States in which obedience or “being good” seems to be among the most emphasized traits. These facts are not coincidental, as anyone who has taken a glance at the New York City public education system can glean.

Ultimately, I am happy to have landed at my school. It is considered a better place to be, both as a teacher and as a student, than many schools in Brooklyn. But this fact itself attests to the infuriating discrepancies between white- and upper-class-dominated schools pushing their students to challenge what they learn and underfunded schools in which students who are mostly low-income minorities are applauded for forming straight lines in the hallway. The silent lunches imposed upon students at my school when they are disobedient is one manifestation of the overwhelming segregation – in terms of class, race, and the allocation of government funding – of schools in New York City.

Thinkers like Michel Foucault and Angela Davis have gone into detail explaining how schools can serve as pipelines either towards or away from the prison industrial complex. As it stands, even relatively stable schools like mine end up channeling a shocking number of children of color into the criminal justice system via ACS, juvenile detention facilities, or high schools with abysmal graduation rates. Even well-meaning teachers, deans, and assistant principals end up feeling pressure to “get rid” of “problem students.” Threats from teachers, along the lines of “If you don’t sit silently, you’ll be thrown into In-House” or “If you don’t shape up, I’ll have you out of this school before you know it” are commonly heard by students. It is crucial to also consider the disadvantages faced by LGBTQ students in such a culture of condemning “deviant” behavior.

I want to resist these trends to rule by threats and prison-like punishment, but I’ve recently found myself resorting to some teacher authority trips that mortify me. My hope that an individual teacher can affect change, despite being mired in such a convoluted web of oppression, ebbs and flows. I constantly struggle with so-called classroom management in part because I am unsure what a “safe” classroom looks like. The models I have seen of ideal classrooms show students as robots who are terrified to step out of line, let alone shake things up with a controversial opinion.

This lends me to believe that “safe” isn’t a particularly useful word unless its meaning is clearly delineated. I want to push students, and I want every single one of my students to feel “safe” to intellectually challenge themselves and each other. Clearly, I must not allow some students to ruin other students’ learning opportunities, or to discourage other students from participating in class – but how do I do this? Simply banishing students from my classroom to sit in the hallway is not ultimately effective. Tactics such as this and sending students to In-House Suspension only perpetuate the deeply problematic myth that students who are “bad” (and whom the teacher self-authorizes to designate as such) should be weeded out, isolated, and deemed hopeless. One of the most horrifying thoughts I have ever had as a teacher is “I wish that student would just disappear.”

I have begun to notice recently that many of the classroom management “problems” that occur in my classroom have more to do with my attitude and reaction than with student behavior. If I feel particularly impatient and defensive on any given day, I sometimes make the mistake of taking what a student does or says as a personal attack on myself. In these moments, I have lost sight of the fact that though the way I comport and present myself in my classroom has a profound affect, none of what happens in the classroom is about me. I need to be conscious of my own positioning in my classroom, and the fact that my responsibility as a teacher is to meet my students where they are intellectually, emotionally, and developmentally.

When I was able to address a students’ use of the word “faggot” in the hallway without taking it personally, I discovered that he had no idea what the word actually meant. Due to the popularity of “faggot” as an all-purpose insult, I conducted a language study of “faggot” with my classes. The study confirmed, for the most part, what I had already suspected: Most of my students did not associate “faggot” with homophobia but simply recognized it as the most potent insult society-at-large had provided them. An overwhelming number of my students thought that it was specifically an insult to “fat people” because of the linguistic similarities between “fat” and “fag.” Tracing the history of the word “faggot” provided a window into the way words change over time that my students appreciated and paid a great deal of respect.

Teachers who assert that middle schoolers are “too young” or “too immature” to handle complex discussions of identity are either out of their minds or determined to repress students’ intelligence. This belief is the crux of my attempts at radical and queer pedagogy, which involve more than simply inserting LGBT or minority authors into curricula. Queer pedagogy entails pushing students to think critically about issues of power, identity, race, sexuality, gender, and class, and opening (rather than shutting) discourse. This requires a certain amount of respect for students that is difficult for any teacher to maintain due to the threat of having one’s authority undermined.

Therefore, the question is: Is this even possible to attain while simultaneously preparing my students for the standardized tests that determine so much of their educational future?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Hazing gone awry?! What’s that?!

Have you ever been so stunned you could barely speak. I’m over it, but that’s how I felt after reading an article just now from The Buffalo (New York) News. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. Just staggered.

To begin with, the
headline speaks of “Hazing Gone Awry” … instead of “Hazing By Rape.” In defense of the newspaper, rape was not the charge. The article explains that three high school varsity athletes are accused of what amounts – in my mind – to anally raping two junior varsity players on a team bus. In New York State, you get 12½ to 25 years for forced intercourse but only 2⅓ to 7 years for forced insertion of a foreign object. Go figure. Could it be that the crime more often perpetrated on one sex is taken many times more seriously than the one more often perpetrated on another? But don’t worry; it was just hazing gone awry.

Not angry yet? OK. Further down, the article explains that, in addition to the students, “Two coaches aboard the bus were charged with endangering the welfare of a child” for failing to intervene. Excuse me? These were the chaperones! Not conspiracy to commit rape? Not even accessory? What kind of court system would let this unconscionable behavior pass for a misdemeanor? “Endangering” is what people have been charged with for cursing in front of a child or driving recklessly with a child on board. Allowing the rape of a child is just “endangering”? Oh my.

Chances are, neither the adults nor the student offenders will get jail time anyway. The reporters did a good job of citing the outcomes of similar cases. Generally, offenders have gotten away with pleading to a reduced charge and doing a little community service. Some will say they shouldn’t go to jail. In fact, the article quotes professor and psychologist Doug P. Jowdy’s opinion that “healing … those responsible for the incident” (whom I would call offenders, but he doesn’t) is more appropriate than their incarceration.

But, if it were possible, it gets even more disturbing the further you read! Susan Lipkin, a psychologist and author is quoted as saying, “There is a tradition to initiate new members on a team, particularly on male athletic teams … It normally involves older team members taking steps to humiliate and demean the boy at the lowest level … The common trend over the past five years or more has been basically to turn a boy into a girl by penetration ... In other words, they get engaged in homosexual play and then they call the victim gay because he’s been sodomized. Ironically, it’s the perpetrators that are committing the homosexual act.”

Where do I start? Let’s begin at the end: “homosexual play”? Since when is rape playful? Who was feeling playful, the haters? One presumes they were feeling, instead, entitled, contemptuous, blood-thirsty and possibly aroused. Or is it the bystanders we should think of as feeling playful? One hopes that at least some of them were feeling nauseated, terrorized, and as helpless as the targeted youths. Were the adults on the bus feeling playful, perhaps? More likely … God, I have no idea what adults who stood by and let this happen could have been feeling. At least the psychologist goes on to point out the irony of the whole equation.

But just as troubling as the rape-as-play concept is the notion that turning a boy into a girl is the worst possible humiliation. Not turning him into a pig or an object. A girl. Could the psychologists and the reporters please give even passing mention to the need to address misogyny starting long before high school, please?

And the equating of female with gay? I know I’m supposed to feel insulted … but as a woman or a gay person? Where are the conversations with students about both “accusations” being compliments, at least according to some families’ values? Have schools in upstate New York been having those conversations this week? Because we need so much more than lectures about the rules. Or even in-depth classes to teach skills for standing up to bullies and to explore the value of breaking a code of silence. We need classes that speak to the awful, ugly prejudices that lead to such horrific acts. Through literature. Through history. Through civics and geography. We need for schools to take on the misogyny and the homophobia that consummate their relationship in rape.

Finally, let’s revisit Dr. Lipkin’s use of the word “tradition.” If this is a tradition, and I agree that it is, then there are victims of last year’s hazing and the year before’s walking among us. Those who have not yet resorted to suicide have undoubtedly begun self-medicating, dropped out, and/or run away to the streets. We need a community commitment to track them down and offer them wrap-around mental health services at no cost. It’s our institutions that allowed – even facilitated -- their being tortured. I suspect most of them have at the very least given up sports, but they are in our homes and in some cases our schools. And still on most teams are the bystanders: a whole lot of young people carrying huge burdens of guilt and shame for not intervening. We need to work towards their healing, to stop the cycle of this incredible “tradition” today.

How will early and meaningful prevention education happen? How will mental health services for targets and bystanders happen? Only with, as Dr. Jowdy suggests, courageous leadership. From the superintendent, the principal and the athletic director. From the school board, the mayor and the governor. From the parents and guardians. From student government and the clergy. And from the prosecutor and the legislature.

One last thing: Wilson High School in upstate New York is hardly unique. This sort of sexual assault in the guise of hazing has happened this year in every state in the union. It usually isn’t held in the light by brave targets and their families or by the press. So thank you to these young men and to Buffalo News reporters Paul Westmoore and Aaron Besecker and their editors.

But considering that it happens in your back yard, too, what are you doing for the walking wounded? And what are you doing to help your staff and students to explore the values that could make your school district (or your state or university) the next home to what someone will call “hazing gone awry”?