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.
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