Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Suicide Is Not An Option!!

      In 1993, I was in line, waiting to purchase 2 tickets to the Daniel High School Senior Prom. All the students who were in front of me, purchased their tickets, without an issue. I approach, money in hand and request 2 tickets. Glaring at me over her glasses was a teacher named Mrs. O; a teacher who had never taught me, nor knew me personally. She removes her glasses and smirks as she says, “What is the name of the person you will be taking?”. “Her name is Misty.” Mrs. O sticks the ear-part of her specs, into her mouth and raises one eyebrow.
     I instantly review my answer to her question about who I wanted to take. I had not said any foul language; I had not called her a bitch; and I did not say it with any sort of fluctuation in my voice that would be construed as “sassy”. Check, check and check; nope, I am in the clear.
      Mrs. O let’s out an exaggerated sigh and says “Is the student from Daniel High School?” Oh boy, here we go, I thought. “No ma’am. She goes to Liberty High School.” Mrs.O  let out another sigh and another glaring look. “You can’t take a female from a different school to the prom. We don’t allow girls to take girls to the prom, nor do we allow boys to take boys.” WOW, really?
As I stand there at the front of the line, I feel a warm rush of anger race through my body. At that very moment, as I stood there, I had two choices: 1- Walk away or 2- Dig deeper. As the seconds passed, one by one, I chose option 2.
       I didn’t want to take a boy to the prom; I wanted to have fun with my BFF, Misty. I wanted laughter and giggling and snorting…I did NOT want to take a boy! I take in a deep breath, “Why can’t girls take girls or boys take boys to the prom?” Glaring, she replies, “You can NOT take a female to the prom, and boys can NOT take boys to the prom because that is not the type of audience we want to attend. Unless, that is, if you are willing to admit to being a lesbian.” My mind cannot compute…my mind cannot compute!!! (ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS????????!!!!!)
             “Just what “type” of audience is allowed to attend?” Mrs. O, forever Queen Douchebag, opens her verbal vomit infested mouth and simply says “Normal heterosexual couples.”
Poor Mrs. O; always thinking about how important she is…she could have saved herself the trouble and asked me what I thought of her.
“Are you telling me that in order for me to take a female from another school, I would have to say I am a lesbian? Is this a district rule or a school rule or was this a Prom Committee  decision? What is wrong with that? Misty is my best friend but we aren’t a gay couple.” “Well, I am sorry about that. The Prom committee and school administrators have all agreed on the rules. They represent the student body as a whole (on prom related issues).”
                       I swallow what I really want to say to her. Instead, I calmly say, “Thank you, I shall return.” Mrs. O need not respond but felt she had the upper hand replied, “Looking forward to it!!” Seriously, does anyone have a can of gasoline, a blow-torch and some fire-ants????

 Understand this is before gay was accepted…even LESS than it is now. This was in the time that kids found it funny to call people who seemed different “fag” “homo””fudge-packer” and “faggot”. I embraced people who were different. I defended the ones who could not defend themselves; I KNEW a lot of the kids who were gay prior to anyone else knowing their truth. However, knowing them and knowing the intolerant era we were in, I never told a soul. I accepted them for being the wonderful, sweet, kind and “boxed-in” people that I knew they were. They were the ones who allowed me, to be myself even if I went against the grain of authority, and found myself in altercations and verbal disagreements. I knew that they all had their personal reasons as to why they did not want to “come out of the closet” and I was ok with that. Being gay was none of anyone’s business especially a judgmental hag like Mrs.O!
              I walk to the payphone located around the corner from the office at Daniel High School. I call my dad and tell him what had just happened. Even my retired Army dad knew that the behavior of Mrs.O on behalf of Daniel High School was unconstitutional. That night, my parents and I, discuss what we should do; calling lawyer friends when we had a question about the law. I did not go to school the next day because we had some chess pieces to move.
We seek the advice of a little known lawyer, in the tiny town of Pickens; Scott Dover. He advises us about the law and has me give him a recorded statement. The main thing I remember about being in Scott’s office were his two small dogs; miniature schnauzers. They were little silver bullets that continually darted, in and out of his office, to let out a random bark. Apparently, the adults have what they need and we leave Scott’s office. On the ride home, I find out that I had AMAZINGLY not been found guilty of doing anything wrong! Yay me!
 Scott was going to file an injunction against Daniel High School. The injunction meant that Daniel High School could NOT have a prom if I were not allowed to attend based solely on my personal choice to take a same sex “date”!!!   The injunction was also filed with the ACLU and insured students of the LGBT to have the same privacy as regular students did. This meant that this case would set the bar for all future rights and privacy for every single student. No student would be made to “out” themselves in order to attend any function represented by any public school anywhere in America! WHOA! Really??  I was moved that this lawyer was willing to take on the School District of Pickens County AND Daniel High School for the rights of gays!!
        I honestly felt powerful! Not a selfish feeling at all…it was more for the gays in the present and future who would be allowed to be themselves. I also thought about the many other students who had stood where I stood and faced the same kind of Mrs.O. The shame they were supposed to carry because some asshole (Mrs.O) thinks they deserve this treatment. I am sure somewhere inside Mrs.O, she went home that night and felt like she had conquered the world. Little did she know, she actually helped the gay community by acting like the asshole she was. Thanks Mrs.O, you’re a peach!
              The next day, I return to school and I went through the day not telling my little secret that I wanted to scream with every ounce of my body. That was a tough day for me, as many of you could imagine. During the day the all-powerful Oz (Scott Dover), had filed the court papers and had the School District promptly served the very same day. By the end of the day, I was busting at the seams. Mom picks me up from school and we have a normal night.
             I return to school the next morning and am greeted at the door by our then principal, Mary Seman. “Oh, shit!! She will not let me attend school…I should wave Mom down and just have her wait…oh crap….wtf!! Um….. Keep walking, Katie!!!” I think to myself. “Hello, Miss Hendricks. How are you today?” I walk past her and continue into the building. (Did she just call me by my name AND ask me how I am??? I am NOT stopping!! Fuck that…she’s off her meds!!)
Later that day, I was paged to the office where some school district big-wig was waiting for me. Ok, this is where I get sent home or expelled, right? Nope, also in the room was my lawyer, Scott and a representative from the ACLU! I feel better as I continue to walk towards the empty chair meant for me. A shoulder pat from Scott and a handshake from the ACLU rep. I sit and am quite, not knowing what I am even doing in this room full of “important” people.
       “On behalf of the School District of Pickens County and Daniel High School, we would like to apologize for anything that was said to you and the behavior of Mrs.O. We did not realize that we were excluding any students based on their sexual orientation; it was not our intention. We would like to offer you the prom tickets you had attempted to purchase for free and any costs or expenses you may have as a result of this gross negligence on our part. We are deeply sorry.” My eyes dart around the room, filled with tears of happiness coupled with not fully understanding the words that had just escaped the school district reps mouth. I look at my lawyer and simply ask “Does this mean we all have won?” Scott returns the teary eyed look and allows the ACLU rep to speak for him. Mr. ACLU tells me that not only have we won but hundreds of thousands of students all over America have too. I am floored and I ask if I can say something.
               “I did not do this for free prom tickets or to wave a gay-pride flag in the air. I did this because I know in my heart that this was not the way any human being should ever be treated. I will refuse any and all free gifts or monies offered to me. I may not even attend the prom. Give the tickets and the money to another student who could not attend due to not having enough money. I just don’t want to become a target for the administration of this school in the future. Thank you very much, but I have gotten the best gift I could have; knowing other students would never have to feel the shame I felt.”
                                  No matter where you came from, no matter where you go in life, you can never change the fact that we are all human beings. The daily shame and bullying that happens on a daily basis for kids is unimaginable. Parents and teachers should pay special attention to any sort of name-calling or maltreatment that is targeted towards any student or child that is potentially different than other students or children. We should not allow our children to feel shame for something that goes against the grain of normality. I have five friends in my life that I knew from the first moments I spent with them, that they were gay. I never told their secret and I never allowed anyone to pick on them because they seemed a little more feminine or a little more masculine than the other kids. Each of them had qualities within them that to this very day, still allows me to love them today and always.
As a parent, I could never turn my back on my child because they revealed their deepest secret to me that they are gay. There is not a religion on earth that I would subscribe to that commands me to shun anyone, let alone my own child, for their personal choices or for a choice that was instilled deep within their soul prior to breathing their first breath.
                         When my oldest was taught that there are “black” people and “white “people, I had to correct her teacher. I wanted her to look beyond the teachings of the misinformed. At home, I had her open a new box of crayons. I asked her to pick the crayon that matched her skin the best. She looked at the box of 64 and studied all the colors. Her small, dimpled fingers choose a crayon and she hides it and smiles. I asked her to show me the crayon and she presents to me a medium shade of brown. She had chosen the right crayon. I then asked her to pick out a crayon that would match the skin of one of her “black” friends. She sets her crayon on the table and again, the little dimpled fingers head towards the box of 64. She again picks a crayon and presents it to me. She had chosen a rich dark chocolate brown. Still, to this day, should she mention a “color” of a peer, she always says “brown” instead of black. She knows that only a couple of shades separate her from her “brown” friends. Lesson learned and instilled.
My oldest will be in 5th grade this year and understands that she will meet a variety of different people. She will meet people who are nice; people who are not so nice; people who will pick on her because she is chunky and super smart. I am very open with her about questions she has about anything she may ask. Should she or her younger sibling ever come to us about any peer issues she or any other student is having, she knows there are no repercussions that would come from us. She knows she should defend others when they are being treated cruel or unfair. She accepts that there are people who have same sex partners and she accepts that. She sees the good in people and wants them to see the same of her.
            Suicide is not an option for anyone. A last resort for children should be graduating from high school ready to conquer the world and maybe change a little of it along the way. I hope one day, my kids can do just that. Their mother started a behind-the-curtain revolt and one day I hope to pass my badge on to one of them. I know they will make me proud…..they do it every day.
            Here is a story from CNN that inspired me to write this....maybe it will make you stand up and take notice....defend the indefensible.

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