Ralph, Phoenix and I have just returned from attending “Erase the Hate”, a community discussion project curated by the Matthew Shepard Foundation. The event was less of a discussion than I’d thought it would be, but was nevertheless a great presentation and talk delivered by Thomas B. Howard, Jr., Ed.M.
During the introductory video I cried silently and rather fluidly.
Howard’s subsequent speech and presentation kept me on the edge of my seat (not so much for Phoenix, who after two hours flagged a bit). I was also very pleasantly surprised to see how intersectionalist the Foundation’s work is – the stated missions as expressed on their site’s FAQ are rock solid and were borne out tonight.
Dr. Howard made it clear his personal eschewal for the “kids will be kids” excuse in response to bullying activity and resultant harm and suicide in our nation’s youth population; he emphatically stated, “Kids will be the kids we teach them to be.” Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. I found myself fervently wishing for more strong, compassionate and proactive leaders of Howard’s ilk in the lives of our young people.
He also expressed his opinion the “athletic white male” and white males in general have incredible privilege they can leverage to make things better for marginalized and abused populations. Yes, again. Another strong point in a very strong presentation.
But there was deep sadness for me in this event, too.
I knew schools were oppressive for marginalized groups but I didn’t realize how much. Near tonight’s conclusion one young white man stood up and after thanking Howard profusely announced his intention to start a GSA at his own high school – Hoquiam. He also said he was the only out gay male in the school. This bothered me quite a bit. I went to this same school and graduated sixteen years ago; at that time we had one “out” male student (who was mistreated horribly). Sixteen years and youth still aren’t safe?
A handful of other young people stood up and told part of their stories. It was clear that although the college campus is generally experienced as a bit more inclusive, the problems in our public schools are quite severe. In support of my impressions Howard said today’s conversation at Hoquiam High School had been a good one but Aberdeen was “the worst school he’d been to.” He said he was not so upset at the disrespect of the students but because the adults in power did nothing to stop it. This is very grievous indeed, but is substantiated by other experiences I’ve read about regarding this school (see: “ALCU Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Harassed Student” ; you can read the school district’s response here, where sadly and predictably they deny they did anything wrong or have any responsibility for Russell’s experience.)
It seemed like everyone left smiling and relaxed – in one attendant’s view, “empowered”. I felt quite disturbed and sad. First, I would expect most attendants tonight to be those who already supported many aims of the Foundation – and it was hardly a full house. If this small populace does not take their inspiration tonight and continue to meet the rest of the world with strength and compassion and an improved listening ability, I worry change will continue at a glacial pace. Secondly, I feel anger and sadness about the larger community that does not task themselves to do better. And I was and am rattled to hear the testimonies from within school.
I did take some comfort: it appeared many of the young students there (Phoenix was the youngest but there were students from age thirteen and up) took a lot of strength from what they saw. This is a good thing, probably even an essential one. At the end of all this, for me, I simply have to believe people who said they found the work helpful. I can’t let myself get cynical or apathetic.
And on that note, today I stumbled across “Born This Way” and read through a few entries. Not quite enough, not yet, to feel better. But a good start.
In additional news: today the Hogaboom kids announced their intentions to convert to vegetarianism (they haven’t quite grasped how near-impossible this is to do if eating out, ever, in Hoquiam and Aberdeen). I am not super-surprised as we’ve been watching the typical glut of nature films lately and both kids have been expressing a high degree of compassion and empathy for animal life; for quite some time they’ve also been aware of big agriculture processes (as opposed to our happier chickens, for instance). I am a good enough cook with regards to vegetarian fare but – three meals a day for four people! Yikes! Recipe sources that don’t suck and aren’t boring are highly appreciated!