Monday, December 13, 2010

The S in GSA

The S in GSA
Supporting people that are different than you is SO GAY!  Guys that stand up for women’s rights are such girls.  The white men and women that marched with King and the NAACP were so black, and standing up for the handicapped is a crippling experience.  But nothing is more socially crippling on our campus than being a heterosexual student, teacher, or administrator that supports the Gay-Straight Alliance, because that is just plain GAY.  At least that is the perception of many students on our campus, for there are students that support the GSA in spirit but would never attend a meeting for fear of social repercussion.  There are straight students and staff that support the GSA and are labeled queer as a result.  Ironically, most people don’t realize that the momentous strides in rights for the LGBT community that have occurred in the last forty years have only been possible by the ever increasing support from heterosexual allies.  Indeed, if it were not for the S in the GSA, the GSA would not and could not exist.
In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the narrator Scout famously gets into a fight whit her cousin Francis when he called her father Atticus a “nigger-lover.”  Though fiction, the moment speaks a truth that permeated our nation—to support the black community during their struggle for equality was to be as detestable as they were.  Klansmen and your run of the mill racists had no problem turning their considerable and violent wrath upon the whites that dared support blacks as if they were black themselves.  One of the most familiar and infamous cases was dramatized in the film Mississippi Burning which was based on the murders of three young civil rights activists—two of them white.  The violence committed against those young men speaks to the fluidity and indiscriminate nature of prejudice.  To be different is offensive enough, but to be tolerant of difference is equally if not more offensive.  To be supportive of the other makes you a traitor to your own.
If it were not for “traitorous” white men, no minority group in the United States would have any of the rights it has today, and every last vestige of power and privilege would remain solely in the hands of white, heterosexual men.  Consider for a moment the fact that it was not until 1920—144 years after the American Revolution—that women in the United States were given the power to vote.  Until there were enough men that agreed to share the power of the vote with women, all the laws that governed women, that granted them rights, that denied them privileges were decided upon primarily by men—several states granted women the right to vote before the 1920 passage of women’s suffrage and that the first US congresswoman was elected in 1917.  This bit of history shows us that the have-nots will only gain power when those that have either concede a portion of their power willingly or it is taken by force.  While the latter is possible when those that have not outnumber those that have such as the struggle between the “wretched poor” and the aristocrats made famous in the novel Les Miserables, when a minority has not, they rely upon the kindness and support of those that have.  And so it has been that one downtrodden sub-group of our great nation after another has slowly received a trickle down of rights, recognition, power, and privilege over the many years of our existence.
Homosexuals are a curious minority, because they are both a minority within the majority and a minority with minorities.  The percentage of people that are homosexual has been widely debated as comprising anywhere between three and ten percent of our population.  On the one hand, the higher end of the estimate speaks to a population that is numerically significant—more so than some ethnic subgroups—yet at the same time, the number belies the true power of the LGBT community because it does not take into consideration the most significant setback of the community—the LGBT community has no cultural, historical, or geographic shared identity beyond the one it has attempted to create for itself.  The LGBT community is an invisible minority that has become visible in our recent history on as a result of their own struggle and their coming together out of a desire to belong and a yearning for the safety of numbers.  LGBT communities have a common bond that extends only so far as their sexualities and the prejudice they have all faced on account.  At the same time, there are divisions of race, gender, and socio-economic status even with the LGBT community and a lack of family support—especially as so many who are LGBT are still shunned by their own families.
The LGBT are an invisible minority, because unlike race or gender, an individual’s sexual orientation is not readily visible to the average onlooker.  While there are some that may seem “obvious” the attempts to assess a person’s sexual orientation by their appearance—and the need to do so by the societal need to label those around us—oftentimes still leads to mistaken labeling of heterosexuals as homosexual and shock and disbelief that some women that are so feminine and guys that are so masculine are indeed queer.  Ironically, it is oftentimes the LGBT that make themselves the most visible that are the greatest targets of violence and receive the most ire from their adversaries who say “They wouldn’t be so bad if they would just keep it to themselves.”  Yet in order for a minority to gain rights, they need to first come together as a community, and in order for the LGBT community to form, the invisible had to become visible. 
It is the invisibility of the LGBT community and the inability to recognize all homosexuals by sight alone that acts as a deterrent to many potential allies.  It was one thing to be a white person supporting the black community, because at the end of the day, you were still obviously white.  However, a straight person that speaks out on behalf of the gay community inevitability calls into questions his or her own sexuality.  Due to the fact that the LGBT come in all shapes and sizes and some even enter a heterosexual marriage and have children before they come out, there is little that can be done to convince a source outside of your head about your orientation one way or the other.  It is even more of a conundrum if you consider the fact that there are many people who are still struggling to figure out their identity themselves.
Thankfully, over the years there have been enough supporters of the LGBT community to make significant strides in civil rights.  In the past forty years, we’ve seen homosexuality removed from the list of mental illnesses by the American Psychiatric Association, anti-sodomy laws stricken down by the Supreme Court, a variety of hate crime and anti-discrimination legislation passed, openly gay individuals elected or appointed to local, state, and national offices as well as various levels of our judiciary, and domestic partnerships and same-sex marriage rights passed in a number of states.  None of these accomplishments would have been possible without overwhelming support from the heterosexual community.  While some of the achievements were advanced by so-called “activist judges,” even they are an extension of heterosexual support for the LGBT community.  Without its straight allies, the Gay-Straight alliance on our campus would not even be allowed to exist, as it was the passage of California Assembly Bill 537 in 2000 which added actual or perceived sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination policy for schools.  It was this law that gave students the legal right to form Gay-Straight Alliances on public school campuses, and in many cases, it was necessary.
Though many advances in civil rights and social justice have occurred over the past few decades, the GSA on our campus still has its work cut out for it.  “That’s so gay” is still the most common slur on our campus, and when seeking an insult, most boys call each other fags.  There are students that do not feel safe on our campus.  There are students that are bullied, harassed, or intimidated over their actual and perceived sexual orientation.  These students cannot protect themselves alone; they rely on the strength of their straight allies to make the campus a safe place for everyone.  Sadly, it is these allies that also come under fire for stepping up to defend their friends.  Many of them are called gay and are subjected to the same bullying, harassment, and intimidation as the students that are actually LGBT. 
There is nothing gay about taking a stand for equality.  Standing up to protect the rights of the LGBT no more makes you queer than supporting the NAACP makes you black.  To suggest otherwise is utter foolishness.  The people that come out as LGBT during their high school experience, that become a visible part of an oppressed minority are brave; the allies that subject themselves to the same harassment and intimidation in order to support them are heroes.  Anyone that is so vested in their own bigotry and so insecure with their own identity that they feel the need to label everyone around them and attack anyone that is different—or people that support and accept their difference—is a coward.
I am grateful for my allies.  It has been with their help that our nation has slowly become and continues to become a more tolerant place for all our citizens.  With each advance in civil rights and social justice, another battle looms on the horizon, and it is with the help of our allies that those on the side of equality will emerge victorious.  Every day, the tide shifts further towards the left, and the number of those that have that concern themselves with those that have not swells.  I feel sorry for the unenlightened bigots that still stand in the way of social progress, because at the end of the day, they are the true minorities.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

mr alger what does cock taste like?

The saga continues...

So today, a student accessed another student's account and posted "mr alger what does cock taste like?"  However, this time the posting happened on the 10th grade Echo page as opposed to the 9th grade, so I didn't have the opportunity to respond.  The teacher in charge, sadly, deleted the comment before I was able to send him my response.  Nevertheless, I would have said:

It tastes like chicken, only more masculine and gamy.  My favorite preparation is authentic Coq au Vin.  Try it.  You might like it.

Bon appetit!
Mr. Alger

In this case, the student was caught and has been suspended.  I look forward to speaking with him upon his return.  Naturally, I cannot truly answer his original question without crossing the line into the seriously indecorous, but I am nevertheless curious about the root of his curiosity.  I was wondering the exact same thing when I was his age.

Friday, November 19, 2010

mr alger is a fuckin fagget

One of the classes I teach involves an online classroom tool called Echo.  On this website I can post agendas and assignments.  There is a place for journals as well as a discussion forum, and there is a place for shared resources and ideas.  It is this shared space that is oftentimes used, to my dismay, for mindless banter.  However, this past Wednesday, one student accessed another students account and posted "mr alger is a fuckin fagget" (sic).  Normally I would merely delete inappropriate threads in our shared space, but I felt this posting warranted a response.  I posted the following:

Actually, the word I believe you mean is "faggot," and yes, I am gay. You will find it hard to intimidate or shake someone that is fully comfortable with his own identity.

Meanwhile, anonymous poster, you are clearly afraid of both me and yourself. Perhaps you have a deep fear of an identity that lies within, in which case, I feel deeply sorry for you. Perhaps you have a legitimate concern but lack the maturity to express it--again, I feel sorry for you. 

One day, perhaps you will have the strength and courage that I have, and perhaps on that day, you will be a man (or a woman), until that time, you are but a scared little boy (or girl) and I believe we all feel sorry for you.

Mr. Alger

Ps- "Mr." should be capitalized and should be followed by a period. "Alger" should be capitalized, and f**king has a "g" on the end. Additionally, all sentences should end with a period. I'm less upset about what you wrote and more upset with the abysmal way in which you wrote it.

I hope my reply taught the poster a lesson--at the very least a lesson in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  I hope it also served as an inspiration to any of my students that face harassment over their own identities.  It was met with a rather enthusiastic show of support from my students, and I even got a supportive e-mail from a parent.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Decide

What gives already?  On the one hand, we have the President and the Defense Secretary calling for the end of DADT, while we have the head-honcho of the Marines and the Chaplains say to keep it in place.  Meanwhile, leaked reports of a survey of military personnel as well as widely available civilian polls show that the majority of people are in favor getting rid of DADT.

We nearly did.  Then the Obama administration messed it up.  Yes, Obama, I blame you.  I hold you personally responsible not only for killing the repeal effort but for every service member to be discharged from here on out. Some people try to come to Obama's defense and claim that it is his defense department and not him we should blame, but I say BS.  Obama was the one that wanted Congress to repeal DADT and insisted that the appeals court issue an immediate stay on the federal judge's overturning of DADT while surveys were conducted and meetings were held.

Meanwhile, what happened?  Obama lost control of Congress!  Sure, he's not personally responsible, but on the other hand, his bullheaded tactics were like political torpedoes to the democratic party and he admits that he sunk quite a few of their ships--and with them, hopes for congress to repeal DADT.

We have two hopes now.  Hope one is that the appeals court will uphold the ruling that struck down DADT as there is no good reason why it should remain in place when just about everyone (that doesn't have a religious vendetta against homosexuals) is opposed to it.  Hope two is that Obama does what he should have done from the get-go--sign an executive order striking down DADT (Or if that's not legal at least an order halting dismissals until the matter can be otherwise resolved.)

DADT ruins lives.  I guarantee you that a LGBT soldier is more afraid of being discharged than heterosexual soldiers are afraid their neighbor might be queer.  I can certainly say that our LGBT soldiers show more bravery every day of their lives than their commander and chief has ever shown in standing up for their rights.  And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that bigotry will never make our Armed Forces stronger.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Napkins come out to support youth

Napkins come out to support youth
                October 11th is National Coming Out Day, a day for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals to come out of the closet and openly and shamelessly accept their identity.  However, this Coming Out Day, it was the community of Napa that came out—in support of our LGBT youth.
                A candle light vigil was held Monday night in Veteran’s Park to shed a respectful light on the youth throughout our nation that have recently taken their own lives after being bullied over their actual or perceived sexual orientation.  In attendance were members of community groups, youth, and passersby that were drawn in by the power of the event.  Event coordinators estimated upwards of one hundred people in attendance at the event’s peak.
                Notable speakers included Brad Wagenknect and Bill Dodd from the board of supervisors, Ian Stanley from VOICES, Reverend Tamara George, and Deb Stallings from Unity League.  While the speakers touched on the recent tragedy of LGBT suicides, the predominant message was one of hope and reassurance to our community’s youth—“You are not alone.  We are here.”  In a powerful moment, instigated by Stanley, members of the crowd broke an observation of silence by repeating the message as they felt called to.
                In addition to the speakers, attendees wrote personal messages on white paper bags which were filled with bird seed and votive candles to make luminaries.  The luminaries were placed along the sidewalk to share the purpose, message, and power of the event with pedestrians.  Numerous passersby shouted words of encouragement and support, and several even joined in the festivities.
                The festivities, while somber at times, were kept largely upbeat by the musical stylings of DJ Rotten Robbie.  Far from being disrespectful to the serious nature of the gathering, the positive energy from the music reminded those gathered that there is love and a celebration of life at the core of the community, and that no matter how bad it gets, “It gets better.”—a phrase made popular by columnist Dan Savage and embraced by the community.
Clearly, with such loving and caring citizens, it will continue to get better for LGBT youth, and Napa will be a community where all children feel welcome and accepted.  Attendees of the event made it very clear—No one is alone in their struggles.  Resources are available.
To learn more, visit:
Unity League :
PFLAG North Bay:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Breaking the Silence

When it comes to voicing my opinions, I am far from silent.  However, it has been far too long since I've turned to the blogosphere.  I am breaking that silence today because I have been shaken to my core by recent events and feel compelled to act.  I, like so many others, have been moved by the death bully-induced suicide (bullicide) of Tyler Celementi.   As a teacher, a GSA advisor, a gay man, and former depressed-to-near-suicidal gay teen, I want to inject my two-cents into the discussion about gay bullicide.

I was privileged to grow up and come out in the liberal Bay Area at a school of generally accepting and supportive peers.  It was a terrifying and liberating experience, the likes of which can never truly be described by the insufficient power of words.  I say "fortunate" because I had fully prepared myself to 'fight the good fight" and stand up to the bullying and harassment that was associated with being and out gay teen in the late 90's.  Yet despite my fearing for the worst, I received much of the best.  I daresay, coming out only made me more popular.

Mine, sadly, was the exception more so than the rule.  It is sometimes hard to fathom what life is like in other parts of the United States--places where a young man can be beaten and left for dead on the side of a dark, desolate road for being gay, or a young man can be driven to suicide by by the pressure of the closet, or a young woman can be denied access to the prom for being a lesbian, or a school boy can have the word "fag" carved into the flesh of his arm.  These were the places I read about in the paper or heard about on the television, and though I could not fathom them, I was terrified of their reality nonetheless.

I can still remember so clearly hearing the news reports about Matthew Shepard--who was murdered just before I came out of the closet my junior year of high school.  I was so afraid because the hate and violence that took his life were directed at an identity I felt was a part of me.  In short, I felt his fate could be my future, and I had no one to share these fears with.  That's what makes the bullied LGBT teens so different.

A bullied, scared, confused, depressed, or even suicidal LGBT teen often feels they have no one they can talk to because the source of their difficult emotions, feelings related to their emerging identity, may be something they haven't told anyone about.  At least a teen bullied because of weight, gender, race, or religion can oftentimes find solace and support at home, but a queer teen may find nothing at home but more hate.  

Too many LGBT teens are still kicked out by their families for coming out.  The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reports that, "According to one study, 50 percent of gay teens experienced a negative reaction from their parents when they came out and 26 percent were kicked out of their homes."   How can a teen in trouble get help when the people whose job it is to protect them when no one else will turn their backs on them?  Shame on these parents.  They have blood on their hands.

Everyone that has an opportunity to help a youth in need and turns their back has blood on his or her hands.  Teachers that do not address bullying in their classrooms, administrators that do not take decisive and considerable action when faced with reports of bullying, and fellow students that stand by in silence ALL have blood on their hands.  Too many of us have blood on our hands.

Why don't we all stand up to bullies every time we see them?  Why don't we confront our own bullies?  Why don't we confront people that bully others?  What are we so afraid of?  It all comes back to this question of fear.

We are afraid to protect ourselves because we feel alone.  We are afraid to stand up to bullies and protect others because we feel we will be alone in our efforts and will become a target. It is beyond time we take a stand.  The bullies need to be the ones to feel alone.  The bullies need to feel scared.

Next time you find a bully in action, do something about it.  Whether you are the bullied or a witness, tell someone that can help.  Additionally, tell them to stop.  Stand up to them.  Too often a bully is met with only permissive silence or encouraging laughter by onlookers.  They need to be met with a loud chorus of "LEAVE HIM/HER ALONE!"  Together, we are strong.

Until we are all ready to stand up together, our youth will continue to be victims of bullicide.  Until we show them with actions, not just words, that they are not alone, the bullies will continue to win.  Until we find our strength and our voice and loudly proclaim as one, "WE WILL NOT BE BULLIED!" we will all have some blood on our hands.