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.
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.” “Itâ€™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.