Monthly Archives: October 2010

Fired Gay Teacher Back In His Classroom

I told you two weeks ago about Seth Stambaugh, the Oregon student teacher who was removed from his fourth grade classroom. A student had asked why he wasn’t married and he acknowledged that it was illegal for him to get married in Oregon. That ended the conversation with the student, but Stambaugh was quickly and summarily fired.

[wpaudio url=”http://blog.mattalgren.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/seth-stambaugh-opb-the-conversation.mp3″ text=”The conversation.”]

For the first time in a looooong string of incidents like this, the good guys won. Six weeks after his removal and following a sizable backlash from parents, Stambaugh has been returned to his classroom, effective this morning. What’s more, the Beaverton, Oregon School Board has unanimously approved a nondiscrimination resolution.

The one-page resolution reaffirms the district’s nondiscrimination and diversity policies, resolves that everyone is entitled to the same rights and privileges, and calls upon everyone in the district and community to “call out discrimination if and when it occurs, and to ensure that all persons in our schools are and feel welcome, valued, respected and safe.”

“I like what we’ve written,” said Lisa Shultz, board member. “But it’s not enough. It will never be enough.”

A couple of board members choked up as they talked about their concerns and the need for change. Over the past month, they have received letters and e-mails with stories of bullying, harassment and discrimination involving sexual minorities in the district.

The resolution “is the minimum,” said Mary VanderWeele, board member. “From here, we need to move to a place where no one has to be in the closet.”

Most people who spoke at the meeting thanked the board for reinstating Stambaugh but reminded the board of past wrongs and the long road ahead.

Troy Lakey, a gay father, said he has two students in the district.

“I want my son to feel safe,” Lakey said, his voice choked. “I don’t want him to be bullied … based on my sexual orientation.”

I’ll close this post with a statement Stambaugh made last Friday after he was reinstated.

At Sexton Mountain I was in a vulnerable position: it was my first week of teaching, I was not a formal employee, I was not a part of the Teacher’s Union. I was never informed nor had any indication that discussions of marital status were “inappropriate” or “unprofessional.” These words are nonsensical and provide no guidance when not supported by dialogue, which never came. To this day, no one has yet explained how these words apply to a discussion about marital status.

The decision to reinstate me is a great first step, but does not address the larger issue at hand, which, quite frankly, is killing our students: that somehow queer is not okay. My hasty disappearance from Sexton Mountain is an express example that sends this message to children, many of whom are perceived to be different, may live in LGBT families, or may be queer themselves. All parents have a valid right to voice any question or concern they may have regarding their child’s public school education. But public schools have a responsibility to ensure that they are not favoring an educational model that discriminates against queer people, or any other minority.

This is precisely what happened when Beaverton School District removed me from that classroom.

Seth Stambaugh, back in the classroom
Seth Stambaugh, back in the classroom

Discrimination comes in many forms and does not necessitate intent; often, in fact, unconscious discrimination can be the most dangerous kind. When there is institutional discrimination, conscious intent is impossible to gauge, but the fact is, individual people make institutional decisions. There is still no clarity about how, why, and by whom this decision for my removal was made. Neither the Beaverton School District nor any administrator has issued any apology to me. Neither the Beaverton School District nor any administrator has acknowledged the harm, the stigma, and the damage to me personally as a result of what they, and everyone, now recognizes as a discriminatory action. Though the decision for my reinstatement is, as I said earlier, a great first step, it is only that: a first step.

It is clear that all communities can learn from this instance, and do the work that still needs to be done to protect our children–ALL of our children.

I am extraordinarily happy about my return to Sexton Mountain and look forward so much to doing what I came here to do: to teach.

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Marilyn Shannon: Oregon’s Professional Bigot

Bigot is a strong word. It’s so strong that I generally stay clear of it except in the most egregious cases. But in yesterday’s post about Oregon student teacher Seth Stambaugh being fired for being gay, I didn’t have the usual hesitation when I correctly described Marilyn Shannon as a bigot.

Just for context, Marilyn Shannon is a former Oregon state senator, former chairwoman of the Oregon Republican Party, and spokesperson of several NOM-esque groups between 2004 and 2007. In 2008, she introduced John “Called His Wife A Cunt” McCain to a crowd of supporters. In her introduction, Marilyn Shannon said a prayer of thanksgiving for an attempted murderer because the victim was a doctor who worked in an abortion clinic.

Marilyn Shannon, Professional Bigot
Marilyn Shannon, Professional Bigot

Then there are her recent arguments in support of firing gay teachers for telling the truth. Here they are in chronological order, as best as I could tell in my two hearings of the program (Audio here).

  • Seth Stambaugh’s complaint shows bad judgment because:
    • It’s okay for the school district to discriminate against gay people because acknowledging that you’re gay is like smoking in the street on a job interview. You can do it, but then nobody will want to hire you.
    • Stambaugh shouldn’t sue the district because nobody wants to hire a teacher who has sued previous employers.
    • It’s okay for the district to discriminate against Seth Stambaugh because there’s no legal advocacy group like the Oregon Education Association to fight for him.
  • Seth Stambaugh wants to be an activist instead of a teacher because he didn’t stay in the closet when a student pressed several times to know why he isn’t married.
  • Oregon public schools are mandated by law (this isn’t true, by the way) to teach morality, implying that it is immoral to be gay and marry a man.
  • No student should know any gay people before the 7th grade when they have sex education. (Stambaugh didn’t say anything about sex, by the way.)
  • Gay people should lie about Oregon law (that it is illegal for them to marry) because they voted and everything. Nanny nanny boo boo, stick your head in doo doo.
  • “It’s just common sense” for gay people not to say they’re gay. (I actually gasped when she said that one.)
  • More straight kids than gay kids are bullied, so gay kids should just shut up and take a beating, I guess.
  • Marilyn Shannon’s hood began to slip toward the end of the program, when she began referring to gays as “These people,” “That man,” and “This one.”

And then she was shocked, shocked I say, when Dan Savage called her out in the last few minutes of the program.

Marilyn Shannon is a bigot. She fought long and hard for over a decade so everyone would know that she’s one of Oregon’s leading bigots. She bought the label with the tears and the lives of her victims, and now she gets to wear it.

Why We Die: Oregon Student Teacher Fired For Being Gay

Remember the fourth grade? That’s about nine or ten years old, right? That’s the year I finally figured out what made me different from the other kids. (Not coincidentally, it’s also about the time that Greg Louganis was all over the TV in his speedo. But I digress.) It’s an extremely sensitive time for an LGBT kid.

Imagine you’re that nine-year-old kid and you overhear this conversation the teacher is having with another student:

[wpaudio url=”http://blog.mattalgren.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/seth-stambaugh-opb-the-conversation.mp3″ text=”The conversation.”]

It was during a journaling activity and a student asked me if I was married, and I replied that I was not married because it is illegal. And he asked why and asked if it was because I was not old enough. And I sort of chuckled at that point said no, it would be because I would choose to marry another man and that’s illegal in the state of Oregon. And he said “Oh, so you just like to hang out with other guys, then?” I said, “Yep,” and that was the end of the conversation and he went back to his journaling activity.

And for the first time, there’s a ray of hope in your world. It’s not that all of the fear you’d been building up suddenly disappears, but now there’s a positive role model, an adult you already have a relationship with who might be Just Like You. All might not be lost. Can you imagine that? How good that would feel?

Then the next day, he’s gone. Just…gone. The other teacher doesn’t tell you why (he doesn’t tell your parents, either), but let’s face it, you’re ten. You can put two and two together, and you know that he disappeared from the world because he was Just Like You. Can you imagine how that would feel?

Harder question: Can you imagine how afraid you would be that the same thing would happen if they found out about you?

Students in Beaverton, Oregon don’t have to imagine it, because that’s exactly what happened in Seth Stambaugh’s fourth grade class at Sexton Mountain Elementary School.

Seth Stambaugh, fired for being gay
Seth Stambaugh, fired for being gay

Oregon Public Broadcasting‘s Emily Harris had the story on her program Think Out Loud. The broadcast is about 40 minutes long, but it’s something you need to hear. Stambaugh’s attorney is on hand, as are two parents of kids in Stambaugh’s (former) class. Special incentive: Dan Savage is interviewed alongside a stone cold bigot. I’m not even kidding about that last one.

[wpaudio url=”http://blog.mattalgren.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/seth-stambaugh-opb.mp3″ text=”Full Oregon Public Broadcasting interview”]

It’s a tragic story, and so frustrating. According to the Portland Mercury, the school is sticking to its guns while attempting to shift blame.

Beaverton School District spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler stresses that Stambaugh was never technically an employee of the school district, since he was working through Lewis and Clark, and therefore it’s not accurate to say he was “fired.” “It’s not an employee issue, we requested a change of placement for this teacher,” says Wheeler. Lewis and Clark, she explains, made the final call on what would happen to Stambaugh.

Lewis and Clark spokeswoman Jodi Heintz says there’s a “discrepancy” in Beaverton School District’s characterization of the incident. “We categorically deny that we had the final call on what happened with Seth,” says Heintz. Instead, Lewis and Clark received a phone call that Stambaugh had been removed from the school. Usually when there is a conflict between a student teacher and a school, someone from Lewis and Clark sits down and talks it out with the school. In this case, there was no discussion, says Heintz. “The fact that we were completely cut out of the process was an aberration,” she says.

In the last two days, another two LGBT teen suicides have come to light, bringing my unofficial tally to eight in four weeks. None of those suicides happened simply because of the last abuser the victim faced. No, the suicides were the product of a lifetime of fear, self-loathing, and unnecessary shame brought on slowly but continuously by events such as Seth Stambaugh’s firing.

I can only pray that in another few years we don’t hear of a suicide in Beaverton, Oregon, but that’s exactly what this kind of psychological warfare produces.

And no, I’m not being dramatic.

UPDATE: In the cruelest of ironies, the front page of Beaverton School District’s website currently features a suicide prevention PSA.

Seriously.

Why We Die: Comedian Kevin Hart on “Preventing” 2-Year-Old Son From Being Gay

So I was tooling around Facebook the other day and found this video from a guy named Raymond Miller. (Here are links to his youtube channel and his blog.) I don’t know him, but he’s thoughtful, his Mom is fabulous, and the fact that he’s adorable doesn’t hurt either.

Anyway, the video’s a powerful one that comedian Kevin Hart tried to stifle by getting it pulled from youtube, so I got in touch with Raymond to see if I could run it. He said yes. Woo and hoo.

Prepare to say “What the fuck?!?” like ten times in the span of three minutes.

 

Yeah. I know.

Here’s a dad whose message to his TWO-YEAR-OLD is that he’ll beat and utterly reject the boy if he’s gay. Straight people, this is exactly the kind of bullshit that causes gay people to attempt suicide.

And assuming that Kevin Hart’s story is only a joke and not based on a real experience (which I’m totally prepared to assume), he’s still telling an audience that it’s normal and good to reject their kids. He’s still selling a DVD that will (potentially) be seen by thousands of American LGBT teens as they struggle to reconcile the truth of their sexuality with the hate coming from the world around them and the fear of their parents’ reaction.

Seriously. That shit ain’t funny. It hurts.

It doesn’t just hurt, it kills.

If you’re in a bad way and you feel you might hurt yourself, please call The Trevor Project at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR. A whole world is out there full of people who want to know you and love you for who you are.

Why We Die: So Many Suicides

It’s been a really, really shitty month in LGBT America. In the last 30 days, at least seven gay male American teenagers have completed suicide. Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana, Cody Barker of Chiocton, Wisconsin, Tyler Clementi of Ridgewood, New Jersey, Asher Brown of Harris, Texas, Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California, and Raymond Storm Chase of Providence, Rhode Island all died at their own hand because of a lifetime of bullying abuse. I haven’t been able to verify two others, but they may be added to the list.

Billy Lucas, 15 years old Cody Barker, 17 years old
Billy Lucas (15) and Cody Barker (17)

I’ve been stunned (not really) by the difference between responses to this story between my straight friends and my gay friends. With rare exception, the reaction of straight folks has been sympathy, followed quickly by questioning of motive and defense of the abuser before shrugging of shoulders and moving on to discussion of the weather.

With equally rare exception, the reaction of gay folks has been sympathy, followed by concern for the deceased’s family and other kids in similar situations, followed by memory of their own abuse and the mostly impotent desire to stop it from happening again.

Tyler Clementi, 18 years old Asher Brown, 13 years old
Tyler Clementi (18) and Asher Brown (13)

After these latest child victims have been eulogized and buried, I think it’s time to start shining a light on the abuse heaped on LGBT youth and adults. This abuse against LGBT youth is widespread and systemic, ingrained in our families, our churches, our schools, and our relationships. Often, straight Americans don’t even recognize the abuse.

To help correct this problem, I’m beginning an open-ended, periodic series called Why We Die, which will look at often casual abuse that cause LGBT youth to choose death over the lifetime of hatred and condemnation that they’ve been told is inevitable. Look for the first installment of Why We Die on Monday morning.

Seth Walsh, 13 years old Raymond Storm Chase, 19 years old
Seth Walsh (13) and Raymond Storm Chase (19)

I’ve also started a Google map plotting the hometowns of gay suicide victims. You can find a link to information about each teenager by clicking on the yellow map pins. I plan to keep it up for the foreseeable future, hoping to show that LGBT suicides aren’t isolated or regional incidents. If you know of someone that I have missed, please drop me a line and I’ll add them.

If you’re in a bad way and you feel you might hurt yourself, please call The Trevor Project at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR.

Note: An earlier version of this article included Felix Sacco of Saugus, Massachusetts in the above list. It has since come to my attention that Felix did not identify as gay, though bullying did lead to his death. I’m leaving his name here because removing it gives the impression that only gay kids matter, and that is far from my intent.