Now that the big right wing guns have been brought in and the news has spread to local television news andÂ Â the Associated Press,Â it’s time I posted something on the (anti)gay storm brewing in the town of my youth.
I’m interested because it’s a battle over the presence of gay people and conversations about us in the public schools, something that, as of the start of our daughter’s Kindergarten year this fall, will become huge in our lives. Â (And we’ve got it good: we’re going to a school that has an out lesbian principal, a school that has seen some positive work on family diversity curriculum. Â But members of the school’s PTA, when asked about theÂ climate of the school for gay familiesÂ in aÂ prospective parents’Â Q/A about the school, said something to the effect of, “We’ve done plenty of work in that area. Some of us think too much.” Â Another parent quipped once — totally good-naturedly — that it was the “lesbian magnet” school. Â Of over 230 families, how many are out as same-sex headed? Five. This is a good school, in a good district.)
I’m also interested because it’s clear that aside from service in the military, and access to the rights and privileges of state-recognized marriage, family diversity and anti-bullying curricula in the schools are where the battles against (and for) my people are being fought these days. Â
And I’m interested because one of the epicenters of this battle locally is my high school alma mater. Â (I frankly hope that the estimable Dr. Maddow might become interested, too, for a “Holy Mackerel” bit, or more: it’s her high school alma mater, too.)
At issue in Castro Valley
What stirred the (anti)gay storm was this: as they have for nearly ten years, in early March Castro Valley High School hosted its “Days of Diversity,” described thus in the principal’s newsletter:
Days of Diversity, a week longÂ celebration of diversity on our campus and inÂ our community. The week will feature anÂ assembly on Tuesday and a variety ofÂ classroom presentations from communityÂ members, outside organizations, teachers,Â and students on Thursday and Friday.Â ThereÂ will also be lunch activities each day featuringÂ some of the clubs on campus. students may wish to turn their forms in earlyÂ to avoid the possibility of unforeseenÂ problems on the due date.Â
For those interested in colorful details, this event takes place in between the Spring Dance and the Dodgeball Tournament. Not racy stuff, really.
Days of Diversity speakers have addressed topics ranging from Japanese culture, to life as a cowboy, to children in foster care, to Muslim traditions.
Pastor Arlene Nehring, Senior Minister of Eden Church of Hayward, spoke this year, as she has for the past three years (Eden Church is a United Church of Christ congregation). If I could only dig up the clipping my sister sent me when the issue first hit the Castro Valley Forum (links to relevant pages available subscriptionÂ only), I’d be able to provide more detailed testimony about what she spoke of. Â But she’s a pastor ferheaven’s sake. I mean really. Reasonable people can leave it at that. Right?
But not everyone’s reasonable. An anonymous party managed to purloin the e-tree for the high school, and sent a scathing letter condemning Pastor Nehring’s talk as something akin to homosexual indoctrination (the letter’s contents are reprinted here, followed by some equally damning comments at a regional newspaper’s blog for the area, The HayWord). Â A widespread yet increasingly less acceptable fear and loathing of all things homosexual makes it easy for someone to imagine, based on their kid’s account of what the Pastor said, that she was “indoctrinating” the kids. Â If my memory of the clipping my sister sent serves, she spoke about her journey in life, her challenges coming out, her wedding last October to her partner of 16 years. Â And I’m going to repeat it again: she’s a pastor. If Annie Sprinkle came to speak, I think I’d be nervous. But a pastor? From the United Church of Christ, it must be noted, not from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Â Bless their reverentially irreverent souls.
CVHS Principal Pete Alvarez seems — at least from what I can read in these reports — to be keeping a level head about him as he pilots his funding-strapped (bigger-fish-to-fry, people!) school through these churned up white waters:
“My job is to create the safest possible learning environment,” Alvarez said. “One of the groups that is still the target of a lot of bullying and discrimination throughout high schools in the nation are LGBT students. And that’s why we have programs like Days of Diversity to increase school safety.” [from the 3/17/09 Daily Review piece linked below]
All’s I can say is, we’re in deep doo-doo when folks are attacking a pastor speaking for the third year in a row at a nearly decade-old “Diversity Days” event. Â Is this doo-doo surprising? Sadly, no. The more LGBT people become more publicly ourselves — not more sexual or more publically sexual than heterosexual people, for heaven’s sake, just with a different object choice! Â geez! — the more we’ll see this kind of reaction to us. Â Witness the first comment following the republished “e-blast”:
I was born and raised and my kids were born and raised in Southern Alameda County. I am a CVHS/NHS Alumni (CVHS freshman/sophomore year). My parents had to put up with Cinco de Mayo being shoved down my throat. I had to put up with Black History Month being crammed down my kids throat. Now this! When is this â€œdiversityâ€ garbage going to end. My parents, my kids, and I are not biggots or predjice, but enough is enough. I agree with the e-mail sender.
Right wing big guns
Ordinarily, I might be stumped to find something less savory than these remarks, which represent the ugliest faction in the local debate. Â But wait! The disgruntled parents hired a law firm to represent them in a suit against the school district. Â Not just any firm, mind you, but Pacific Justice Institute (here:Â http://www.pacificjustice.org/index.cfm). Â
Do the names Pacific Justice Institute and its founder Brad Dacus ring a bell? That might be because you heard about PJI and its founder Brad Dacus likening marriage equality advocates to Adolf Hitler at a rally in the final weeks of the Prop 8 drama. Â Yes. You read right. Â Now watch:
This man’s organization is now representing (or using?) parents in my former K-12 school district. Â Its interest in squelching diversity and anti-bullying curricula is quite active elsewhere in the county as well, since Â PJI has also insinuated itself intoÂ the fight over neighboring Alameda’s Caring Schools curriculum. Â I had read that busloads of people from Sacramento flooded the Alameda School Board meeting on Wednesday, and now I have a good idea where they came from. Busy times for professional anti-gay groups in the East Bay.
Organizations like PJI claim that religious liberties are under attack by the public schools when they seek to add LGBT tolerance and anti-bullying curricula to existing diversity curricula, and by the government when it recognizes the civil rights of gay couples or includes sexual orientation and gender identity among existing hate crimes statutes (Dacus has testified against the federal Hate Crimes Law currently under review in the senate; take a look at some of the reasoning of his colleagues).
After a point, I am simply speechless in the face of these arguments. Â That “another side” must be presented — to tolerance? to respect? — and that parents should be notified when messages of understanding, tolerance and respect — not sex education! — are introduced in the classroom? Substitute any other group as the object of understanding, toleration, and respect (Catholics? Mormons? Jews?) and the arguments are exposed as utterly appalling. Recall the very, very real effect of intolerance — the recent suicides of Jaheem Herrera and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover – and arguments against understanding and respect begin to feel actively complicit with the very worst elements of human nature. It’s the work of all of us — Christians of conscience, folks of other faith communities, agnostics, atheists, and church/state separation advocates — to fight this fight, to help each other fight it, and to find a way to remain full of loving compassion in the midst of it. I’ll tell you right now that I need the help.Â
I’ll close this with words Pastor Nehring used to close a sermon she gave to theÂ Iowa Conference, United Church of Christ’s annual meeting last year:
Friends, believe the good news of the gospel, God invites us to be change agents, rather thanÂ victims of change. God invites us to learn from our ancestors in the faith, and to discern,Â appreciate, and build on our God-given gifts, and to attend to the spiritual practices of ourÂ tradition for nurture. And as we do, we will discover that Godâ€™s new day has already dawnedÂ around us. Thanks be to God.Â
The Alameda School Board will be continuing its meeting on the Caring Schools Curriculum on Monday night, May 18; a peaceful vigil will assemble at 5pm. (details at my previous post here). Â A court hearing of the suit against the Castro Valley school district has been tentatively scheduled for June 16.
- â€¢ Â Eden Church of Hayward, the United Church of Christ congregation which Pastor Nehring leads
- â€¢ Pastor Nehring’s sermon for the Â Iowa Conference, UCC, 2008 Annual Meeting, Â “A New Day is Dawning”
- â€¢ Â People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch page on Pacific Justice Institute
- â€¢ Â San Francisco Chronicle, 5/17/09, “Uproar in Alameda over lessons about gays”
- â€¢ Â AP story, carried by San Jose Mercury News, 5/15/09: “Castro Valley Schools sued over gay pastor talk”
- â€¢ Â The Hayward Daily Review, 5/15/09, “Lesbian pastor’s talk at school prompts lawsuit from Castro Valley High parents”
- â€¢ Â The Hayward Daily Review, 3/17/09: “Anonymous e-mail blasts Castro Valley High School diversity day speaker”
- â€¢ Â The HayWord, 3/16/09, “E-mail blast criticizes CVHS diversity day”
And finally, for folks with strong constitutions, what this topic is riling up among the most rabid of the right wing and — yes — white supremicists:
- â€¢ Â at Free Republic:Â http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/2247979/posts
- â€¢ at Stormfront (White Pride World Wide):Â http://www.stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?t=599052