Katy Bourne

It’s personal (a follow up)

POSTED ON April 29, 2013 | POSTED IN: My Blog | 12 Comments

Last week, I posted an open letter to Bill Mathias and Tod Howard of the Lake County School Board in Leesburg, FL. These two dingdongs played a key role in preventing a 14-year-old student by the name of Bayli Silberstein from forming at Gay Straight Alliance at Carver Middle School. I was appalled by what I viewed as an act of institutional bullying and wrote this letter to voice my outrage. I sent it in the form of an email. Mr. Mathias responded and over the course of a couple of days, he and I went head to head in an email exchange. Mr. Mathias answered some questions but avoided others. Some of his explanations were fuzzy and seemingly random.  However, one thing was clear:  Mr. Mathias was trying to make an outright act of bigotry look like something noble. It was the old lipstick on a pig routine. To view the email exchange in its entirety, go here.

Bayli Silberstein

Bayli Silberstein

Blogger Mike Kavey of LGBT Youth Allies has also been involved in an email correspondence with a member of the Lake County School Board. It should be noted that Mike did not identify this board member by name on his blog or in any communications with me. Mike and I spoke on the phone today and compared notes on our respective email exchanges. Mike’s conversation with his school board member, whom he refers to as “S.B.M.” on his blog, was equally whackadoodle.  S.B.M was vague in statements to Mike and fired back with a kooky barrage of rhetorical questions that were off-topic and irrelevant to the issue at hand. S.B.M. also claimed that the school board did not block the formation of the G.S.A. Mike posted about this exchange on his blog. Mike has also just written a post about my exchange with Mr. Mathias. Mike is a ferocious writer and is doing great work on behalf of LGBT youth. While you’re on his website, please take a few minutes to look around. I’m super honored to be working with Mike to put the squeeze on these reprehensible individuals.

At present, the ACLU is evaluating whether or not to take legal action against the board. I have not heard from Mr. Mathias since last Friday. For now, it appears that he’s left the conversation. I might add that because Mr. Mathias used his school-district email address in his correspondence with me, our exchange is a matter of public record under the Freedom of Information Act.

 It is hard to say if my efforts (or those of Mike) will have any impact on this situation. However, while we can’t always stop men like Mr. Mathias from engaging in bigoted behavior, we can certainly make it extremely uncomfortable for them to act out. We have the power to keep the heat up, shine a light on miscreants and create a culture in which it is unacceptable to harm, harass or violate the rights if LGBT people, especially youth.

 As the mother of a gay son, this fight is deeply personal to me. When I hear stories about LGBT kids getting bullied or hurt, I can’t fucking stand it. It keeps me up nights. Adolescence is hard enough. But in a world where the playing field is uneven for sexual minorities, coming of age as an LGBT person is particularly vulnerable. I feel that my role is to protect these young people to whatever extent I can. If you hurt one LGBT kid, you’re hurting them all. I can’t let that happen on my watch.

I know that I am aggressive sometimes. I make no apologies for that. A friend who read my email exchange with Mr. Mathias suggested that instead of referring to Mr. Mathias an a homophobic bigot, I should have said something to the effect that his actions were bigoted. Sure, I could reframe it to read something like that. But we all would know what the subtext of that is, so why not cut to the chase and say what I really mean?  As I said to Mr. Mathias, sometimes there are no euphemisms for people who do things like he does. If the emperor is naked, then I’m going to call it as I see it. We all have different roles in this fight. Let’s compare it, for a moment, to a criminal investigation. When tracking down a suspect, law enforcement utilizes a variety of resources. They have forensic teams. The have street patrols running down leads. They have detectives interviewing witnesses. I am the police dog that chases down the bad guy and bites him in the leg, ass or wherever I can get my teeth into. (Analogy aside, I have never advocated for physical violence of any kind.) The point is that there are many ways to be effective. Obviously, the goal is a measured and productive dialogue. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, especially in this particular arena. Typically, the haters are not intellectual giants. Throw in a little rabid fundamentalism and all bets are off. At this point, it comes back to making it damn uncomfortable for them to pull off their bigoted shenanigans.

 One conundrum that I come up against has to do with compassion. As a Buddhist, the cultivation of compassion is a core value for me. Still, I struggle to feel compassion for those who create pain and difficulty for LGBT youth. The irony is that such people are suffering themselves. How could anyone who carries around that much hate be happy? Surely such wretched souls are desperately in need of compassion. But I’m not there yet. So instead, I turn my compassion towards the beautiful young souls who are sorting through the complexities of their sexuality and finding their way in a world that isn’t always hospitable. For every bigot that I bring down, I hope to elevate an LGBT kid. We clear out the weeds so the flowers can grow. And we water the flowers.

It is my responsibility to speak out on behalf of, to protect and to celebrate LGBT youth. They deserve the same rights and privileges as their straight brothers and sisters. They also deserve to live free of shame, fear and intimidation. I am optimistic that we can ultimately make this world better for them. We’re on the right side of history. We’re on the right side of the law. We’re on the right side of humanity at its highest. This is simply a matter of doing the right thing.


“I’m a 34-year-old N.B.A. center. I’m black and I’m gay.”

– Jason Collins


12 responses to “It’s personal (a follow up)”

  1. Patrick says:

    I wish this young lady all the success in the world. She’s shown so much courage and fortitude for being so young. Unfortunately, I grew up in a different day and age. Back in my junior high days, for a kid to publicly come out as either gay or bi, would basically been a sentence of having your ass kicked everyday after school by a multitude of kids. I grew up in a rural farming community in the Pains. I knew what homosexuality was but I didn’t know about bisexuality, had I known, my life would probably turned out differently. From the time I was a little kid I knew that I liked both boys and girls but knew that wasn’t anything I should say to anyone. By the time I got to junior high and hit puberty, my attractions to both sexes really increased. My biggest problem was that I thought I was the only one in the world like this, that I was somehow a complete freak of nature. That combined with my Catholic upbringing left me with some complete and unresolvable guilt along with other issues. As I entered high school I became completely out of control and ended up dropping out in my junior year and joining the Navy. From that time until my late 30’s, I’d pretty much had a death wish and had put myself in so many dangerous and stupid positions throughout my life. I became a drug addict and am really surprised that I never OD’d. It wasn’t until I finally reached a tipping point one day when I decided that I could no longer go on like I had been, hiding this “secret” from the world. Religious leaders had beat into my head that if I prayed hard enough, God would deliver me from this curse I had. 30 plus years of praying and nothing ever changed. I finally decided that I’d had enough it I was going to end my suffering once and for all. This isn’t what I wanted, but I felt I had no other choice. As I lay on the floor crying with a bottle of pain pills in my hand, I decided that I would pray one more time, basically our of desperation. Only this time, I wouldn’t pray to be straight and normal like every one else. This time I only asked for one thing and that was for God to show me the path, to show me what He wanted from me. In an instant, my prayer was answered. It was like my head was filled with the knowledge of the universe and I suddenly understood so much about the world, things I hadn’t know up to that point. Most importantly, I knew as sure as I’m writing this, that I am *exactly* who I am supposed to be. That I am exactly as God intended me to be, and that despite what religion tells us, He does love me. That was the most galvanizing moment in my life nearly 15 years ago, and I can say that my life has never been the same.
    Once I understood all of this, I decided that I had to come out, publicly. I was living in a small town of 16,000 in rural Tennessee at the time, working for an ultra conservative manufacturing company. Needless to say it wasn’t long before the whole town knew about me. I was sitting in a bar with a friend one night and I overheard a conversation that the booth next us, four people I’d never laid eyes on before were talking about me. Not long after, the HR manager where I worked did everything she could to get me to leave my job and she eventually succeeded.
    During this time, I had a gal friend, someone I’d met through work who was bisexual too was instrumental in helping me along my journey. I’ve learned over the years that there are so many myths and misconceptions regarding bisexuality that it’s almost impossible to believe.
    I am very proud of this young lady and appreciate your email exchanges with the school board members. I hope that with more acceptance comes more education and understanding for those who at the time use their religion to demonize those of us who are outside the “norm”.
    Thanks for a great article!

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Katy Bourne is a Jazz Singer and Writer.