Monday, April 26, 2010

Last weekend, part 1

I didn't really go anywhere this weekend, because we were supposed to have rain and wind and tornado weather, so I got into doing laundry and reading and stuff instead. As such, my weekend pretty much looked like this:

Tuesday night excitement

with a little bit of this:


and a dash of Jeannie's kid thrown in for good measure. Not really exciting, I know, so let's talk about last weekend instead.

On Friday night after work I went down to the World's Fair Park for the 2010 Breaking the Silence event. Breaking the Silence is a local even organized by area LGBT organizations as part of the National Day of Silence, which fights anti-gay bullying and harassment in local high schools. Even though I don't know any LGBT high school students, or really many high school students at all, I think it's incredibly brave to come out in high school. My high school didn't have a Gay Straight Alliance, and if they had I wouldn't have joined because I was still working that out for myself, but maybe it would have been a little bit less of a struggle if they did.

The event started with a period of silence lasting several minutes, during which we stared at the people on stage and read the signs the front row was holding:

moment of silence

If you click that photo, the signs will be big enough to read, and you'll see things like, "I am afraid to hold my boyfriend's hand", "I found death threats in my locker", and "No one is proud of me". It's incredibly heartbreaking to read those things, and to know that they are true. LGBT youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than straight teenagers, and the most terrible thing about that loss is that it's preventable. Those suicides, which are estimated to number in the hundreds, are a direct result of discrimination, hatred, and an appalling lack of equality in our society, and they are the reason why LGBT youth need every ally they can get.

After the moment of silence was over, a chorus sang "True Colors" (everybody loves the "Glee" arrangement of that now; I hear it everywhere and have it on my own iPod) while the kids out front turned their signs over:

reversing the signs (1)

reversing the signs (2)

and that's why I think they're so brave. Even in the face of oppression, there's always hope.

The whole experience was a little odd for me because I spent a good part of last week in an email dialogue with my high school about issues related to this. Two weeks ago they emailed everyone who had listed themselves in the old alumni directory and asked if we would go re-register at their new, updated page, but when I went to do so I found myself somewhat put off by the "married life" section. The name caught my eye first, and then I got more annoyed as I read the section and discovered that you could be married or not, and could only list the name of a spouse. What if you were widowed? Divorced? Unmarried, or unable to get married, but in a committed relationship? Where were the boxes for those people?

Rather than complete the survey, I sent an email to the webmaster:


I started to update my contact information on the new webpage, but was a little put off by the "married life" section. As one of many gay IRC alumni, I feel that it would be more representative if the section included a space for partner information and maybe a more inclusive title, like "family life". You may get more of a response that way, as all of the alumni could feel included.

I think that's a little bitchy, but not terrible. I waited a week without a response, and mentioned it to my mom on the phone. She got all kinds of irritated, especially since the current superintendant was the assistant principal when we were students and she never liked him, and wanted to go to the school board meeting to make a complaint, but I told her to cool her jets and at least let me send a followup email before she went into full nuclear offensive mode.

I emailed the superintendant directly:

I’m not sure that you’d remember me, but I am a member of the class of 1993, and think that you were Assistant Principal when I was a student. I’d double check, but my yearbooks are at home with my parents, who still live and pay taxes in the district. While I’ve traveled pretty far from Philly since graduating, I still visit often, and have watched the changes and expansions at the high school with interest.

I’m writing to you because I received an email from the IRC webmaster last week, inviting me to sign up for the new alumni database. I followed the link provided to fill in my demographic information and discovered a problem: the “married life” section. The only options given are for alumni to be married or unmarried, which is not inclusive of all alumni. As one of four gay or lesbian alumni that I know of in my graduating class alone, I’m disappointed that the survey does not allow me to list a partner or to reflect that I may be in a partnered relationship. Thinking of my other classmates, several of whom I am still in contact with, this section also does not allow them to reflect a divorced or widowed status.

It is disappointing to see that a directory that is supposed to include all alumni seems to casually disregard the family status of so many of them. I replied to the webmaster’s email with this feedback last Monday, and am even more disappointed to say that not only did I not receive the professional courtesy of a response of any kind, but when I reviewed the survey today before sending this email I noted that no changes have been made. While I always remember Indian River as a welcoming place for a diverse population of students, I am saddened to see that this no longer seems to be the case, based on the way that the alumni are viewed.

That last part is a bit of a fabrication, as I actually remember my high school as having some pretty severe issues with racial tension, but I wanted to try to end on a positive note after using the word "disappointed" about three hundred times in one email.

This finally provoked a response, but not from the superintendant himself. Instead, he delegated my letter out to someone in the business office who spent two paragraphs explaining that they were all gone for spring break and that I should have used the "Contact Us" button rather than replying to the webmaster, and then went on to explain that they had used an outside vendor for the alumni form, that they agreed that my concerns were valid, and that they would contact the vendor to see about making changes. I sent him a nice response thanking them for their attention, and then he wrote back to say that the vendor actually can't make any changes at this time, but would consider it for future updates to the software.

My reaction to this is mixed. On the one hand, it's really nice that they responded to my concern and attempted to find a solution. On the other hand, it's kind of sad that when the school district was looking for an updated product to begin with, nobody read this and thought, "Hey, this isn't really inclusive". Maybe next time they work on something like this, they'll think of that.

Like I said before, there's always hope.


strong cookie. said...

so much to comment on!

1. I love your couch
2. I am consistently amazed by HS students who come out at such an early age in places that are not NYC (not that it's easier here, but you know).
3. Your HS alumni association should have that changed immediately. How alienating for so many people!!!! I am glad you spoke up.

JMBower said...

in that style,

1) That is a rocking couch set.
2) I remember one or two of my IRC friends coming out to me in HS. I hope I handled it well. In retrospect I think I did, but also in retrospect, I can only imagine , given where we went to school, how absolutely brave as hell they had to be to say anything.
3) The vendor can't change a simple feature? bull. That's not an excuse. I guarantee that's a five minute fix. I've seen that new site. Cutting edge it's not. Unless they spend their days lovingly handcrafting the 1's and 0's, any standard web software package allows for easy changes like that, especially if it's something like a selectable list of title text, which are inherently placeholders that are designed to be edited. If you have techie friends, I'd have one of them take a look at it, and see if they can figure out what it's built on, and then you'll be armed with more info.
4. I'm so writing to their system admin on this too.

Sadly, I think I was pretty sheltered from the less progressive aspects of our high school...we had some fantastic friends who couldn't have been more open and warm to pretty much anyone. But that's the sheltered part because as a white heterosexual guy who was blindingly handsome (ok, so maybe not that last bit) I didn't have to deal with a lot of the negatives.

Jeannie said...

Wow, Joel. I went to an All-Girls Catholic School and in our alumni newsletter last month there was an article about a distinguished alum who is happily living with her partner after a committment ceremony in downtown Memphis. If the most conservative of schools can handle this, why not a large public one?

And I have never seen your apartment that clean! I am sad PR is over and I will not be able to see this in person soon - we need to have a party.

Joel said...

Jeannie, that photo is from the day my furniture was delivered. It looks slightly more lived-in now.

jaysays said...

Our youth will lead us. Love this event ao much.

jg2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.