Tag Archives: Gay-Straight Alliance

“Are you in or out?”

(title credit from a song in the Disney movie Aladdin and the King of Thieves)

It’s a question 90% of us or more never have to ask. People who are both heterosexual and cisgender (essentially, being comfortable in a gender identity that matches the sex written down on our original birth certificate) never have to go in the closet in the first place. For the rest of us, though, the question may be somewhat stickier. And on National Coming Out Day every year, while some people come out or reflect on and celebrate their earlier coming out, others contemplate it, and still others hold tight to the door’s handle to ensure it remains firmly closed.

It’s a given, of course, that absolutely no one has the right to force the door open for anyone else. And it’s equally a given that when a person comes out to selected people, they need to respect if that person wants to remain closeted in other places. Family dynamics, workplace atmosphere, local cultural attitudes, and more can all can make it more or less risky to come out, and none of those contexts is absolutely uniform across all members of a given community.

Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary founded National Coming Out Day on October 11, 1988, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. (Wikipedia) On that date in 2013, The Atlantic published an article by Preston Mitchum entitled “On National Coming Out Day, Don’t Disparage the Closet.” He observed, “The coming out experience can be a precarious time in a person’s life, particularly when one belongs to multiple marginalized communities.” He acknowledges that “Ultimately, coming out is important because it makes the LGBT community more visible, particularly for black LGBT individuals…” but adds that “… focusing so intensely on coming out places the burden on the individual to brave society rather than on society to secure the safety of the individual.”

So how do we secure the safety of the individual? In particular, how can that happen when some religious traditions believe homosexuality is a sin and we also want to respect each person’s individual freedom of religion and their personal beliefs? The question takes me back many years ago to when I was teaching elsewhere, and one of the teachers assigned a project in which kids were to make a poster showing their own personal nine circles of Hell. One student placed homosexuals in her fifth circle, and as several of the students had gay or lesbian parents (no student had, to my knowledge, come out at that point in time), the faculty were concerned. One teacher agreed to talk to her, and it turned out that, while she did indeed hold the religious belief that homosexuality was a sin, she also felt (again, for religious reasons) that every single person deserved to be treated with love and respect.

We have seen the benefits over time of gays and lesbians coming out, serving as examples, and clearing the way for others, and we are currently seeing what seems to be the beginning of such a pattern among the gender non-conforming. Yet, not all of us were cut out to play that role, and we each need to make the best possible decision for ourselves in our own personal circumstances. With that in mind, if our entire country can agree to hold the core values that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and everyone is also entitled to be treated respectfully, that can be the starting point as we move forward toward the ultimate goal that all of us act upon those core values to the very best of our ability.


Filed under Current Events, Gender, Uncategorized

Not One Bit More

Seven middle school students have been volunteering at the Food Bank this term, and coordinator Jared Shuford thought it might be fun for the girls to spend some time at Community Action in Greenfield and see one of the sites that profits from their work and that also helps local youth. Two weeks ago, Sophie and Julia assembled and baked a quiche for the group meeting that evening and also did some raking. Allen Fowler, the parent of one of my once-and-always advisees (now a 9th grader), happens to work there, and later on we would talk about the possibility of Stoneleigh-Burnham students helping Community Action set up for this year’s Transgender Day Of Remembrance (“TDOR”) vigil on November 20. I quickly realized that, because of our alternative schedule during the last week of Fall Trimester, the TDOR work would need to happen at the same time as Dakin volunteering, and I obviously couldn’t be at two places at once. Fortunately, Karen Suchenski, as she does time and time again, stepped up to help out.

One week later, Amanda, Lucrecia, Renee, Valeria and I showed up at Community Action ready for whatever might need to be done. There was a moment of confusion, as the main contact for the afternoon was off site and had not left a list of tasks for us. But Kat, who works with their youth group TREE (Trans* Rights, Education, and Empowerment), kindly rearranged her schedule so she could work with us, and helped set us up to cut out brightly coloured leaves to decorate a tree that would serve as as centerpiece for – as it happened – the group’s upcoming TDOR vigil. This year, Kat explained, it was going to be particularly difficult as a member of the group had died during the previous year, and they had engaged therapists and counselors to be present for the occasion. A stunningly depressing 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at some point in time in their life, vs. 1.6% for the general population, and I would later find out this had been the fate of the Community Action youth.

On Monday evening, Sasha Fleischman, an agender teenager who attends Berkeley High School in California, had the misfortune to fall asleep on a public bus. Another teenager, for reasons which have yet to emerge, though the police are investigating the possibility of a hate crime, set Sasha’s skirt on fire with a lighter. Sasha awakened and began trying, unsuccessfully, to put the fire out. Fortunately, a pair of bystanders on the bus stamped out the flames. Currently, Sasha is in stable condition with severely burned legs, and is awaiting massive skin grafting that will necessitate a long recovery period (Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times).

As I think about what transgender people go through in this country, the untimely death of the Community Action youth, the unprovoked and sick attack on Sasha, I close my eyes again and again and just hold my head in my hands. Depressing as it will be, I find myself moved to do something more about it and attend the Transgender Day of Remembrance this year in Northampton. As a gender activist, I have worn and will continue to wear nail polish and/or skirts to promote the breaking down of gender stereotypes and the stretching of the gender binary, and in support of various causes. I do indeed plan to be wearing a skirt for the occasion in honor of Sasha.

I will have little to fear, as Northampton is one of the safest towns in the country for LGBT people and those who may be perceived to be LGBT. Stoneleigh-Burnham, like Northampton and indeed much of the Pioneer Valley, is an oasis where people can and do expect to be treated with respect and dignity as they become their own best self. But the list of the memorialized, and the level of anger revealed in their manner of death (including a 16-year-old who was beaten, stabbed, and then run over by a car), shows how very far we have to go. A lot of minds have to change, which will take a lot of effort and a lot of time.

How much will we have accomplished by next year at this time? No more than we set out to. Granted, possibly less. But certainly not one bit more.

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Filed under Current Events, Gender, Uncategorized

Nails in the Coffin?

As many of you may know, and to no one’s surprise who follows women’s basketball, Brittney Griner, a 6’8” Senior from Baylor, was the first player to be chosen in the 2013 WNBA draft and will play for the Phoenix Mercury. With only three rounds and only 12 teams drafting, very few players are invited to attend in person, but of course Ms. Griner was there, all smiles, in a white tuxedo.

Two days later, during the course of an interview with “Sports Illustrated,” Ms. Griner was asked why she felt sexuality was no big deal in women’s sports. She responded, “I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different. Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are.” Asked if making the decision to come out had been difficult, she said, “It really wasn’t too difficult, I wouldn’t say I was hiding or anything like that. I’ve always been open about who I am and my sexuality. So, it wasn’t hard at all.” Though the interview received a fair amount of attention on social media, it received attention more for the low-key “no big deal” feeling to the moment than for the news itself. As Wesley Morris said in his article “Brittney Griner and the Quiet Queering of Professional Sports,” “Maybe it was amazing for its utter whateverness.”

Mr. Morris continued to point out that Ms. Griner had painted her fingernails “a shade of orange that might have been awkward had she been picked up by, say, the Atlanta Dream instead of the Mercury.” To him, the combination of the nail polish and the tux emphasized that Ms. Griner was not playing dress-up but was simply expressing who she is. In his eyes, this is simply the confirmation of a quiet revolution, what he calls “the small but increasing genderlessness in professional sports.” He continues to affirm that “This younger generation of gay athletes — accustomed to degrees of cultural, social, and legal inclusion — better knows the relative personal normalcy of being gay than the crisis and melodrama of telling the world you’ve been living a lie. More and more straight ones have gay friends, classmates, cousins, siblings, and parents.”

The discussion may get a bit tricky when you consider that sexuality and gender aren’t the same thing, though of course, for most people, they are related. And of course, fashion is only significant to the extent that a person deliberately chooses their appearance to reflect their true authentic selves. But Mr. Morris’s fundamental hypothesis – that while we might have been expecting the closet to be smashed open in men’s sports, perhaps the revolution may have already been quietly going on for a while as shown by a certain breaking of gender-based fashion rules – is intriguing. Certainly, if the world of men’s professional sports can embrace gay people wholly and unequivocally, that has the potential to create a major shift in public opinion – one which has also, it must be acknowledged, already been taking place slowly but surely for some time.

And maybe women’s sports are indeed showing the way.

The Humanities 7 class, at one point last Fall, was considering holding a “Come as you are” day. They abandoned the idea for two principal reasons. One, that several people were concerned it might not be taken seriously and become just another excuse to wear sweatpants. Two, that several people were confused as to why anyone wouldn’t “come as you are” in the first place. Their honesty and self-confidence were both refreshing. For Brittney Griner, too, it seems, every day is a “Come as you are” day. Maybe those orange fingernails are helping close the lid on homophobia. Maybe transphobia will meet the same fate soon after.

And maybe my students and their generation will help nail the lid shut.

Once and for all.

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Filed under Athletics, Gender, In the Classroom, On Athletics, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Echoes of Silence

In the echoing silence, I thought I could hear closet doors that had opened a crack softly but quickly shutting again. We were at a faculty professional development session on supporting lesbian and bisexual students, and an earnest young houseparent had just explained to the facilitator that we didn’t have any issues around sexuality among the faculty and staff because no one was gay. Seriously? I thought to myself. How could we even know? Just because no one has dared come out?

We did find a way to end up having a productive session that day, and by the end of the year, the first two students I can remember from my first 12 years at this school had indeed found the courage to come out as lesbian. This was during the years when graduating Seniors offered a present to the Head of School, and following the theme set for that school year, the Class of 1997 each offered Patrick Collins their own “Book of You” as a way to remember their individual voice at the school. In a gesture that showed how far we had come in less than a year, one of those students offered Mr. Collins The Joy of Lesbian Sex.

Seven years later, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, Lisa Ganci, our bookstore manager, and her then-partner were the second couple in line at the Northampton Town Hall waiting to get their marriage license at the stroke of midnight. She shared the overwhelming joy of that moment with the school during Housemeeting, speaking movingly about how lucky she felt to work here in a place where she could feel completely safe and supported.

Seven years after that, one of the Seniors came out to the school in another housemeeting, announcing that he was transgender, explaining what name he was using and what pronouns should be used. We faculty had prepared for that moment, with our Mission and Diversity Statements as a guide, and following that housemeeting met in advisory groups to process the announcement. My own group of seventh and eighth graders took the news completely in stride, perhaps in part because three of their families already knew transgender people who had come out. One of my students asked if we were still a girls school, and I said yes, we were still a girls school – with one boy.

Time and time again, I read that one major contributing factor to the sea change in attitude in this country toward homosexuality has been the increasing numbers of people coming out. Suddenly, from the perspective of heterosexuals anyway, gay people weren’t this strange “other”; they were your neighbour, your uncle, your sister. They were people who led perfectly ordinary lives but who happened to be inclined to fall in love with other people of their own gender.

There remains some confusion about bisexuals, and even more confusion about transgender people. If the existence of gay people challenges the notion that men invariably fall in love with women and women invariably fall in love with men, at least the notion of “invariably fall in love with a specific gender” remains in place. Bisexual people and transsexuals further challenge that binary concept of gender, and of course other transgender people just blow it apart. I often read that, as more and more bisexual and transgender people begin to come out, people will increasingly be able to understand the normalcy of these ways of being, and they will be increasingly accepted in society for exactly who they are.

This is why it’s worth taking some time each year as we observe the Day of Silence to think about how far we’ve come, how far we still have to go, and how we get there. The more we break the silence about the full range of genders and sexualities, the easier it will be for people throughout that range to simply be their true authentic selves in public as well as in private.

That’s not to say that we don’t have a long road ahead of us. Thomas Beatie, a trans man who first gained fame during his pregnancy, recently had an appeal to divorce turned down because his marriage was not recognized by his home state. A gay person was handcuffed and forcibly removed from the hospital bedside of his dying partner. Smith College did not review an application from a trans woman because some of the documents she submitted defined her as male; in that context, note that the crazy quilt of laws in this country mean that some people are considered to be different genders in different states. Furthermore, some marriages that are legal in one state may not be recognized in another, and some marriages that are legal in one state may continue to be recognized in another… until one or both people in the couple take a particular action.

To be clear, I’m not arguing about specific religious attitudes toward LBGT people; each religion of course has the right to define their own values, and I fully respect that. Some religions embrace and support LGBT people, others consider it a sin and love and respect them anyway, and then there’s the Westboro Baptist Church. As for me, I fully support anyone who loves and respects all human beings, and I fully resist anyone who refuses to do so.

And that means speaking out into the silence. I regret to this day that I did not react to that earnest young houseparent’s remark, understanding that she no doubt meant well, but specifically working to create a context where those closet doors might open back up a little. I am relieved that they did, and proud of our school for the progress we have made over the last 16 years.

It used to be that, in speaking of puberty, we would say “Oh, she’ll be getting interested in boys,” and most girls would expect that would happen. We’re getting to the point when most people realize that outcome is the most likely – but not certain; as I’ve written before, fully a third of our students reported in a survey given by Life Skills 8 students that they “weren’t sure yet” of their sexuality. I sense, too, that students are aware that it is possible that another student will come out as transgender during their time here. In all cases, I sense various levels of confusion around what all possible genders and sexualities mean but also a sincere desire to work through that confusion in order to be able to accept everyone who is a part of our community.

With all that, though, I am well aware that every single member of the community has their own perceptions of the climate of our school, and they may not match. Do echoes of silence remain here and if so, what can we do to fill that silence? And how will this play out for our students once they’ve graduated?

This, then, is the ongoing work we must think of not only on this Day of Silence, but also throughout the year.

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Filed under Gender, In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Who We Truly Are

Several weeks ago, one of my Humanities 7 students approached me, a smile on her face but a furrow in her forehead. “The questions just don’t stop,” she said. “There are too many to answer.” “I know,” I responded. “It’s both fun, because you love the questions and they help you learn, and frustrating, because the more questions you answer, the more questions you have.” We went on to discuss a unit from the 2006-2007 Humanities 7 course, “Is it better to have more questions than answers, or more answers than questions?”

Earlier today, she shared a list of questions with me that she was considering developing into independent writing pieces. Among them:
• Who would I be as a boy?
• What would be the same, what would be different?
• Are the similarities who I really am?
• Was I born me, or do I create me?
• If others weren’t around to influence you would there be less of a separation between characteristics of boys and those of girls?
• Is it possible to change that separation and stereotypes so that it everyone is mixed in every way?

Immersed in her search for identity, as seventh graders tend to be, she has focused in on several fundamentally important issues: how we define gender and how in turn gender defines us, how it relates to our true selves, and what to do about it if gender is indeed limiting who we are allowed to be. She will continue to face those questions in eighth grade, high school, college, and indeed – most likely, however frustrating that thought may be – throughout her life.

For me personally, the most intriguing question is, “Are the similarities who I really am?” It’s not an easy question to answer, for one thing because there are some areas where it is much easier and more widely accepted to blur the binary gender line than others. So by definition, some of the similarities between her girl-self and her boy alter-ego would be facilitated by society’s acceptance of those traits in various genders. Yet… would they exist as similarities if they weren’t part of her to begin with?

Along the same lines, the parts of her that are the most personally important regardless of how they are tagged in a gender-binary world are precisely the parts she will work the hardest to preserve and bring out, perhaps even finding herself emboldened by a world attempting to make her play a part she was not born to play. In that case, of course, the similarities are indeed who she really is.

Where it becomes trickier is trying to figure out what parts of her may have been attenuated or accented, perhaps without her ever knowing it, by a culture that quite literally sees gender first and foremost (“It’s a girl!”), and how that would affect similarities between her girl-self and her boy-self. This is where her question about what would happen if others weren’t around to influence you becomes fundamentally important. While in one sense, we are born ourselves in that our genetic heritage most definitely shapes who we are, and in another sense we create ourselves in that we are defined by our actions, neither of those events happens in a vacuum. Babies, a recent study shows, are sensitive to gender expectations before they even learn to speak. Indeed, gender expectations form around them before they are even born: mothers use different language to describe their baby’s movements in utero depending on whether the child has been identified as a girl or boy, or not identified by gender.

So is it possible to change these expectations? Having spent my entire life chafing against, resisting, and working to expand gender constructs (first within the gender binary, and then beyond), I can only hope it is. For one thing, if this wonderful young person gracing my classroom is to be able to truly be her own best self, we need to be open to the full range of possibilities for what that best self is.

Earlier this week, I read a Facebook posting from “TowardTheStars” that quoted Emma Watson as having said, “You know, I feel like young girls are told that they have to be this kind of princess and be all delicate and fragile, and it’s [crap]. I identified much more with the idea of being a warrior, and being a fighter… I think women are scared of feeling powerful and strong and brave, and I think that’s something they’ve got to embrace.” I can’t help but connect that to my student. Of course, there are different kinds of power, strength, and bravery, and what’s right for her might or might not be right for another. But identifying and developing her unique brand of strength and bravery to be who she truly is will bring her a power like no other. I am sure she will find many kinds of success this year. But if I could guarantee just one venue for success, that is the one I would wish for her. It is one toward which I work every day, not just for her of course, nor even for her class, nor even for the entire middle school. For all of us. Including myself.

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Filed under Gender, In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

The Right Thing is Easy to Do

“A good friend of mine who used to be Head of School here,” I began, “used to say, ‘The right thing is easy to do.'” I segued to a description of a 7th grader, the day’s recipient of the “Shining Star” award, who found the courage to go up to an adult who was smoking outside our gym, someone she didn’t know, and tell that person we were a non-smoking campus. A friend of hers who was proud of her had originally told me of the moment, something which this girl readily acknowledged she had done but which she also felt was no big deal. From my perspective, of course, finding the courage at the age of 12 to go up to an unfamiliar adult and let them know they are breaking school rules is a big deal. The right thing to do, absolutely. But easy?

Of course, in general it’s much easier to do the right thing than the wrong thing. We make that kind of decision probably hundreds of times a day, from the moment we first wake up and decide that yes, we will get dressed and go to school to the moment when, with the day behind us, we finally decide to return to bed and get some much-needed and necessary sleep. Even hitting the brake at a stop sign is a conscious decision to do the right thing. Indeed, my sister-in-law has observed that four-way stop signs restore her faith in human nature.

Where it becomes more difficult is when doing the right thing carries some sort of a risk. Context is everything here. What are you going to do about that stop sign if you’re racing someone and your pride is on the line? If your friends in the car are relentlessly teasing you that you couldn’t break a rule if you tried? If you’re running late for work and have been threatened with being fired? Or, much more seriously, if you’re being pursued by someone who has physically threatened you?

Often, too, it’s harder to do the right thing when the alternative is to do nothing and stay out of it. My college’s honor code meant that faculty members were not allowed to supervise exams. Instead, we students signed a statement that signified that we had “neither received nor given any information on this test.” Additionally, we were required to report any instances of cheating we observed or, under the rules of the honor code, we were equally guilty. I always kept my eyes glued to my test papers lest I inadvertently see anything I would have had to report. Technically speaking, I was honest and true to the honor code. Ethically speaking, too, you can argue I was in the right not to be hyper-vigilant and out to get people. But ultimately, if everyone had done as I did, we would not have been a community attempting to live up to the ideals of our honor code; we would have been individuals living in separate worlds. And this situation is much less serious than standing by and watching bullies taunt an innocent victim, as at least I could argue I didn’t know if anything wrong had taken place.

And what if doing the right thing carries a serious risk as opposed to remaining uninvolved? Malala Yousafzai took a bullet to the head for having stood up for the education of girls, and she is just one of countless thousands who are taking that risk every day. Tell me it was easy for any girl in Pakistan who knew what had happened to Ms. Yousafzai to wake up the next morning and go to school as if nothing had happened. For that matter, what civil rights would now exist in this country if people from early suffragettes to desegregationists to gay rights activists had not stood up for what was right despite potential risks to life and limb?

The key is where to find the courage to do the right thing when it’s not necessarily easy to do. External rules and motivation will be next to meaningless here. It’s got to come from deep inside you, from an internalized sense of right and wrong which may for some of us be infused with religious and/or spiritual beliefs. Often, it helps to consider the alternative. Reaching out to others of like beliefs for support and comfort can also help. Periodically, most of the visionary and innovative educators I know suffer from self-doubt when faced with strong resistance, and turn to others for reassurance that we are not rushing headlong down a path that will cause serious damage to our students but rather are lighting the way to a more responsive, humane, and ultimately effective educational system.

In the end, if you strive always to do the right thing, you can go through life with your head held high knowing you are truly being your best self. And, considering the alternative, maybe that means the right thing truly is easy to do. Perhaps my friend, Patrick Collins (Head of School from 1995-1998), was right after all.

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Girls School Advantage

From the Inside

My apologies in advance for including original quotes “as is”; sometimes, softening ugly words obscures the true ugliness of the message they were meant to convey.

Sometimes, you have to make empty gestures in the hope that in the long run, they will add up to something meaningful. Thus, I put on my purple tie to accent the black shirt and pants I wore as a participant in our Family Weekend performance a few weeks ago. I had no idea how many people knew it was Spirit Day of Ally Week, when one might choose to wear purple to take a stand against bullying, especially of LGBT youth, but I knew I couldn’t in good conscience completely ignore the day, and I knew I would be able to reflect on it and share my thoughts once the intense and rewarding busy-ness and fun of Family Weekend was behind me.

The gesture seemed especially puny given recent commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of voter registration drives of 1962. At a time when lunch counters had only recently been desegregated due to the Greensboro sit-ins, when pernicious and vicious segregation of schools persisted in many regions of the country, and when tension was high as the country was forced to confront relentless demands for change, members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), their supporters, and of course Black people who attempted to register to vote, were literally risking life and limb. Sam Block reports that on his arrival in Greenwood, Mississippi, “The sheriff came up to me and he asked me, he said, ‘Nigger, where you from?’ I told him, ‘Well, I’m a native Mississippian'” He said, “Yeh, yeh, I know that, but where you from? … I know you ain’t from here, cause I know every nigger and his mammy.’ I said, ‘Well, you know all the niggers, do you know any colored people?” (Block) In looking back on that fall, Block goes on to describe how a pervasive fear among Black people of being fired, evicted, beaten, bombed, and murdered gradually gave way to a sense of solidarity such that when the sheriff would spy and pursue Block and other “race-mixing agitators” (Block), they knew of places in every block to which they could retreat in safety to watch the fruitless search for them out the window. Gradually, the voter registration drive began to take hold and bring about positive results.

Me? I wore a purple tie.

John Gorka’s version of Eric Andersen’s song “Thirsty Boots” came up on my phone today, and as I listened to the words meant to comfort friends who had recently returned from the front lines of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, images of those days and images of my own students mingled in my head. I saw my Humanities 7 students asking, “Why are people racist?,” “Why are children’s minds so advanced?,” and “Why do some people not care about their children?” and I saw images of federal marshals escorting Ruby Bridges to school in New Orleans as virulent segregationists shook their fists and shouted epithets. I saw Sophia, the leader of the school’s Gay-Straight-Alliance, smiling at me with special warmth the day after I emailed her about an upcoming GLSEN event, and I thought back to the Stonewall riots, often cited as the birth of the gay rights movement, with the key role of transgender people occasionally though much less often recognized as well. I saw Alissa, one of my Humanities 7 students from years past, affirming, “Oh, I am so going to change that!” upon learning of the gender wage gap, and I thought of Gloria Steinem helping to launch “Ms.” magazine. I thought of the Middle School Parents’ Meeting when parents’ intense love for their daughters merged with my own deep caring for my students in a mutual understanding of the strong network of support we were building for these young adolescent girls, too often misunderstood and belittled. And I came to feel a resurgence of hope. “Then tell me of the ones you saw/ As far as you could see / Across the plains from field to town / Marchin’ to be free / And of the rusted prison gates that tumble by degree / Like laughing children one by one / They look like you and me / (…) Where the voices drift up from below as walls are bein’ scaled / Yes all of this and more my friend your song shall not be failed / Oh take off your thirsty boots and stay for awhile…” (Andersen)

Ruby Bridges has written and spoken of a conversation with her teacher, who had noticed her student’s lips moving as she navigated past the crowds of protesters. Asked what she was saying to them, Ms. Bridges responded that she wasn’t talking to them, she was praying for them: “Please be with me, and be those people too. Forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.” (Bridges) Her teacher gave her a big hug, with “this look on her face like my mother would get when I’d done something to make her proud.” (Bridges) Small gestures of solidarity do matter, after all, to those who understand them as such. And small gestures of solidarity do not, moreover, preclude larger and more significant actions.

“And all my instincts, they return / and the grand facade, so soon will burn / without a noise, without my pride / I reach out from the inside” (from “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel).  I could choose to berate and belittle myself for doing so little during Ally Week. Or I could choose to acknowledge my good intentions and use the day as a springboard for more significant actions. As images of my students, so strong, so curious, so happy, so passionate about seeking justice, passed before my eyes, I knew what course of action I would choose. Perhaps I could begin by reaching out to other people involved in the struggle. Let’s see. “Sometimes, you have to make empty gestures in the hope that in the long run, they will add up to something meaningful…” Yes. That is a step in the right direction. One step. But a step nonetheless.

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Filed under Gender, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School