POMPANO BEACH, FLA – The nation’s sixth largest public school district has cleared a high school principal accused of lecturing and threatening two female students with suspension for holding hands on campus. The students say the principal also “outed” them to their parents. (source)
This little news story needs a little unpacking….
Because while Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach’s Principal Karlton Johnson is most certainly a particularly aggressive heterosexist jerk, it would be easy to stop there and think dang that dude has a real problem.
But that would miss what I see as the main point here. Which is when the complaint was forwarded to North Area Superintendent Sharon Airaghi. On May 13, she sent the student a letter stating Johnson was within his rights and had violated no district policies by his warning to them. (same)
So there’s that.
The entire system is intent upon these two girls being isolated from one another, from their families, and from the school community. In fact the ultimate leaders of the educational community in this case are managing that isolation themselves and are more than happy to defend that management.
Now I don’t want to get too personal on this little blog. I mean I do… and I don’t…
Because all of the stories I share on this blog are personal to me. The things that happen to LGBTQ youth, families, and faculty in schools certainly feel personal to me. But inserting my own story into these horribly cruel and all too common homophobic, sexist, and in this case racist educational situations is generally not my style.
I mean I learned a long time ago what could happen to me if I told my personal truth.
I learned at a young age what might come of my connections and relationships with the majority of people if I held hands in public.
I learned a long time ago how to abstract myself out of the social world. How to be both personable and distant.
I learned how important it was to my safety, to my attachment to my community, and to my reputation to avoid ever publicly touching people I cared about. I too learned the lesson Principal Johnson and Superintendent Airaghi want to get across to these two high school girls. The lesson / example they wish to set by repeatedly targeting a young couple in public and ultimately ‘taking them in’ for questioning and punishment.
The lessons they are teaching by calling parents with alarm and with the intent of making sure these girls are punished at home as well as in the school for caring for one another.
I got all that years ago. So I keep generally my personal stories to myself here on the old blog.
I just move around the wreckage and describe what I see. But in this instance the story really touched a chord with me.
The thought of the innocent pleasure and terrifying danger of hand holding carried me into my own history in a way I find interesting and I thought you might too.
Anyway, I think this slice of my personal history might offer a little window into how powerfully this sort of hostility and policing of another person’s affection and emotion can impact the inner life of the target of this sort of lesson. It certainly did so for me at the time.
So here goes…
Some twenty odd years ago, when I was already 26 years old, the woman I was in love with and I took a vacation to a gay haven (Provincetown) for the 4th of July.
And while I had a community of friends at home which consisted of both LGBTQ folk and of accepting straight folk, I had never been in a public setting where anything close to the majority of people around me had that particular politic about who I loved.
And so this little road trip turned out to be quite an inner trip as well where I found that being surrounded by acceptance and open affection was nearly intoxicating.
I recall the first morning of that vacation we got up early to walk down the main street in search of breakfast.
And as we were walking in the morning sunshine I took my girlfriend’s hand in mine.
Walking among a crowd of strangers.
And I was not afraid.
I was 26 six years old and had never had this experience before in my life.
This was now nearly 20 years ago. And I can still picture that street, that moment, that touch, and that sunshine.
I am now 44 years old. I have been married to that same woman now for these many years.
And even today I have to remind myself that I am allowed to touch her in public. And even when I do so, I am conscious of everyone around us. I feel her touch and our connection along with a feeling of concern and calculation about who might be around us and what they might do to us.
When we hold hands, I am alert for danger.
And I am aware of risks.
All to simply hold a hand. To experience touch. To live a little in the world.
It is such a modest goal.
It truly astounds me that the pure evil of barring it can be missed by so many.
The final seconds of this video give me a squeeze right in the heart. Sure it’s overboard. But the last scene… wow…