Another Sad Story With Another Positive Result

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

September 30, 2011

Another Sad Story With Another Positive Result

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

Mary Lou Wallner And Her Daughter Anna

We want to reach back and return to a resource we used before, namely the film for the BIBLE tells me so. There is another sad story there; a sad story that produced a positive result, also something we have done before. This time the cause of sadness is the bible and the positive result is also the bible. The story is about Mary Lou Wallner and her lesbian daughter Anna. Anna committed suicide at age 29. It is also the story how her mother blamed herself for her daughter’s death and began a slow transformation from enemy of LGBT people to ally.

Mary Lou begins her story by telling the camera that she was raised in a strict, fundamental Christian home. She was in church often and twice on Sunday. Her church took the bible literally and, she said: “There were rules everywhere.” What emerges from her story is the portrait of a woman for whom faith and church are an integral part of life. She is steeped in her conservative Christian belief and never questions it.

A Normal Story That Becomes A Different Story

She married and had two daughters. She taught her daughters what she was taught. When Anna was two weeks old, Mary Lou began taking her to the conservative, literalist bible church she attended. At ten months, Anna could hum the melody of “Jesus Loves Me,” she couldn’t talk yet, but she could hum. Mary Lou tells of a normal child who loved to sing and seemed to fit the life her mother had laid out for her. But when she was a freshman in college, Anna came out to her mother in a letter. Mary Lou’s reaction was to become physically ill—“going to the bathroom ill”—and to keep quiet and not tell a soul. The letter she wrote back contained sentiments that were not those of a loving mother. She wrote that: “I will continue to love you, but will always hate [the gay thing in you].” Mary Lou could not accept her daughter’s lesbianism because it was spiritually and morally wrong. Her church taught that not only was homosexuality a sin, it was a sin above all sins. She believed homosexuality a choice and demanded for Anna to get her act together. Looking straight into the camera, Mary Lou says that over the years she had harsh words for her daughter and cited the six or seven biblical passages Christians usually cite as proof that homosexuality is a sin.

A Devastating End

In early 1996, their relationship, already strained, deteriorated even further as Anna became depressed. There was not even a card for Mother’s Day. Mary Lou wrote to ask why and Anna replied that she wanted nothing further to do with her mother because of “the colossal damage your shaming words have done to my soul.” Eight months later Anna committed suicide by wrapping the chain part of a dog leash around her neck, the leather part around a bar in her closet, stepping on a chair and then kicking the chair away. She hung there for 15 hours before she was found.

A Positive Consequence From A Devastating End

After Anna’s suicide, Mary Lou spent two years independently and exhaustively studying the bible to find out what it actually has to say about the homosexuality. She refers to this period as a spiritual crisis, but in the end concluded that the lessons she was taught over a lifetime were wrong. The bible has nothing to say about homosexuality. She and her husband Bob founded the TEACH Ministries (To Educate About the Consequences of Homophobia). They travel the country to advocate for the church’s full inclusion of LGBT people.

This is what we find so remarkable: at no time did Mary Lou forsake her bible indeed, she kept it as her guide to live life. She discovered that the bible does not “say” anything. The bible has words that must read and meaning must be wrested from those words written in a different language, in a different culture, in a different context and shaped into meaning for the here and now. Things change.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

The FAIR Education Act Is Actually About Visibility

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

September 23, 2011

The FAIR Education Act Is Actually About Visibility

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

The FAIR Education Act Is A Different Bill

The bill that Governor Brown signed into law, SB 48, is called the FAIR Education Act. We wrote of this law last week and mentioned the difficulty it would face in getting implemented. FAIR stands for Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, Respectful and is applicable to the law’s stated intent, namely, to include the contribution of LGBT persons to the development of California and America.

It is a different kind of law. It carves out a specific domain. There is no age limit; classes from kindergarten to 12th grade must highlight LGBT contributions in American history. Religion is muzzled: “any sectarian or denominational doctrine or propaganda contrary to law” is prohibited. It is mandatory for all students: parents cannot opt out, that is, they cannot request their child being excused from classes that highlight LGBT people’s role in history. Still, for all its specific do’s and don’ts, questions come up how it should actually be made to work.

Some Groups Normally Pro-LGBT Issues Hesitate Supporting SB 48

Unlike marriage equality, which is straight forward, you are either for or against, the FAIR Education Act has many normally sympathetic to LGBT issues hesitating to give their support.

Organized religion, of course, is against it for ideological and economic reasons. Ideological because they believe that being homosexual is a sin and economical because of the cost of buying new textbooks and providing the necessary teacher training. We understand their ideological reason and the economic reason is thrown in to support the ideological one. But in an April editorial, while the bill was still being debated in our legislature, the Los Angeles Times voiced objection to SB 48 on grounds that education should not be politicized. Writing that the task of writing history is not the province of politicians and should be left to historians, it goes on to say that the requirements for California’s school textbooks has been burdened over the years by a raft of requirements to proportionally represent minorities, the elderly, and those who are disabled while at the same time prohibiting mentioning anything derogatory about these groups. This is tantamount to sanitizing history and not conducive to a balanced education.

Others wonder how to approach the historical contribution of LGBT people. People, they argue deserve recognition for what they have done, not for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Is Walt Whitman one of America’s greatest poets because he was gay? Did his being gay inform his poetry? Or will there be a footnote in the text that explains that Walt Whitman was gay? Then there is the whole issue of age-appropriate teaching. When is something appropriate for what age? Even for straight sex-education, this is an issue endlessly debated.

Is It About Education Or Recognition?

Supporters argue that the bill is necessary to counter discrimination and bullying of LGBT students by faculty, staff and other students. Mark Leno, author of the bill, told the New York Times: “People oppose and fear the unfamiliar. When grade-school students understand the arc of the LGBT movement over 40 years, that otherness begins to dissipate. That’s desperately needed right now.” The bill is thus not about education per sé, but about visibility. Senator Leno intents to liberate California education from what Christopher Isherwood called heterosexual dictatorship, the writing of history from a heterosexual, white male perspective.

It is always instructive to read the intent of a specific piece of legislation, its congressional debates, and then the comments, both pro and con. We will continue to read, for it seems to us that SB 48 is a paradigm shift.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www. apifamilypride.org

 

The FAIR Education Act, SB 48: The Latest Battleground

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

September 16, 2011

The FAIR Education Act, SB 48: The Latest Battleground

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

SB 48 Is The Law

We have been watching the FAIR Education Act ever since Governor Brown signed it into law on July 14 this year. It is a game changer and conservative groups have started a STOP SB 48 campaign. Yet the big guns of the Catholic and Mormon churches who were at the front of the Prop 8 war aren’t there to help campaign for a ballot initiative to repeal this one. Did they use up all they had with Prop 8, or are they saving their energy and treasure for another round of the marriage equality fight?

If you liked Prop 8, you’re going to hate SB 48. Sponsored by Senator Mark Leno, the FAIR Education Act requires that school districts teach all their students, from kindergarten up, about the role and contribution to society of LGBT American historical figures. It also forbids school districts from using materials that adversely reflect on LGBT persons. Parents cannot “opt-out” and it fires a warning shot across the bows of private and charter schools by having them “take notice of the provisions of this bill.” Needless to say that among those opposed to human rights, this bill is a dagger aimed at their heart.

Between A Law’s Intent And Its Implementation, There Falls The Shadow

Even though laws are preceded by people agitating for change, it is only laws that can anchor every large social change. But once a law is passed, more work, and perhaps the more difficult part of the work, has to happen. The people who oppose the change from the start aren’t going to go away; their objections must be continuously addressed. We have experience with this trying to implement AB 537, the Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, in our local school district. We were opposed every step of the way by conservative groups who saw the law as advancing the “homosexual agenda.” And six years after the law was passed, a survey by the California Safe School Coalition found that 60% of schools were not in compliance with the law.

What Will Happen To The FAIR Education Act?

SB 48 will fare no better. From the comments on websites it is clear that the same arguments heard against AB 537 and Prop 8 will be used here: unwarranted intrusion of parental rights, need to protect our children from an evil lifestyle, liberal democrats need to be voted out of office. These are direct attacks against an existing law. Then there are the many obstacles erected on the path toward implementation. Local school districts determine what is studied and how it is taught. There are 1130 independent school districts in California that each must write their own implementing programs. Programs to implement contentious issues, and SB 48 is one, are commented on by parents in open meetings. There are about six and a half million students and they have parents. The religions will raise their concerns (“homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God”). Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles called SB 48 an attack on parental rights. Thirty-one percent of Californians are Catholic. The extra expense will be used as an obstacle. The California Department of Education found that the state’s financial crisis precludes buying new textbooks for several years.

The issue is not confined to California. Publishers of textbooks try to publish the same textbooks for as many states as possible. They look toward the big states like California for templates. Some states may end up buying textbooks that include California’s new requirements. They’ll weigh in.

We still need to mention the opposition’s favorite obstacle: implementation must be age-appropriate.

What Should We Do?

For each school district, organize a local group that is willing to fight for the implementation of SB 48. How about, for the majority of districts? Organize a database listing resources to help those activists. Make those resources available. If you have any ideas, we would like to know them. SB 48 is that important.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

Two Dysfunctional Boys Or A Nazi Killer and His Gay Victim

Two Dysfunctional Boys Or A Nazi Killer and His Gay Victim

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

A Crime Is Committed. . .

A boy walks into a computer class at E. O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, California, on February 12, 2008, at 8:15 AM. He sits down, pulls a 22-caliber handgun from his backpack and shoots the boy in front of him in the head. Two times. He throws the gun on the floor, walks out of the room. A few blocks from school police arrest him. The boy he shot dies the following day. The boy who shot is fourteen, the boy who is shot fifteen.

Now the matter moves from the real world to the legal world. The legal world is where we go for justice, that difficult concept associated with our sense of what is fair, where we go to balance moral scales. The trial starts on July 5, 2011, and ends in a mistrial on September 1, 2011.

. . . But What Crime?

The Ventura County prosecutor tries the 14-year old (17-year old when the trial begins) as an adult and charges him with premeditated murder and adds two enhancements: one for discharge of a firearm, another for a hate crime. Later the judge rules that the jury can also deliberate for voluntary manslaughter. The jury deadlocks: seven support voluntary manslaughter, five support premeditated murder. One juror says that the seven couldn’t get their mind around the notion that a 14-year old is as responsible for his acts, no matter how heinous, as an adult.

      You know this case. The boy who pulled the trigger is Brandon McInerny, the victim is Larry King. The hate crime enhancement was added because they found Nazi paraphernalia where Brandon lived and Larry was openly gay.

How Is Justice Found?

We wonder what justice or fairness looks or feels like in this case. Brandon grew up in a totally dysfunctional family; an alcoholic father with apparently Nazi sympathies and a mother with a criminal record in drug rehab. Some of the Nazi paraphernalia found was his for a school term paper on tolerance, some belonged to his brother. From whom and from where could this boy learn about boundaries?

Larry’s father abandoned his family and at age two Larry was adopted by the King family, because his drug addicted mother could not properly care for him. At age fourteen and with a juvenile record he was placed in a group home. From whom and from where could this boy learn about boundaries? He came out when he was ten and took to wearing high heels and women’s accessories to school. He taunted Brandon, sent him valentines and told him, “Baby, I love you.”

Brandon’s lawyers used the “gay-panic” defense, a despicable tactic that should be banned. They painted Larry as a sexual predator and that Brandon eventually snapped under Larry’s repeated and unwanted sexual advances.

Some believe that the prosecutor overcharged Brandon. Had he been tried as a juvenile, he would have been found guilty, but then he would have been released at twenty-five.

Is This Case Straight Forward Or Should We Be Looking For Bigger Issues?

A young boy is dead, and there is no doubt that another boy not old enough to shave killed him. But a jury couldn’t decide what crime was committed. So, where is justice? Can it be found by just looking at the facts as the prosecutor suggested when she said to leave feelings at the door? Or is there another reason for the blindfold the lady trying to balance those scales is wearing? Many asked if this case caused so much attention because Larry is gay. Really? Is it otherwise normal when children kill? How do we teach that taunting is offensive, but that ultimate violence is not the way to respond to a taunt? But beyond those questions, how do we tackle the challenge to teach children that it is all right to be different?

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

Bullying: The Constant Companion Of LGBTQ Students

 

Bullying: The Constant Companion Of LGBTQ Students

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

School has started. Children walk past our house shouldering serious backpacks. Early in the morning, streams of pre-teens and teenagers make their way to our town’s 40-odd schools. We wish that whatever school students go to, when they enter it will be a safe place to learn. But we know differently. Bullying was, is, and will remain a problem for American schools; especially for LGBTQ youth and for LGBTQ teachers and staff as well.

What Exactly Is Bullying?

Bullying is the underappreciated, constant companion of LGBTQ youth. Underappreciated, that is, by the people who bully, teachers, and parents. Children are bullied when they experience, repeatedly and over time, aggressively negative actions from one or more bullies against which they cannot defend themselves. Its impact is devastating: depression, low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades, and suicidal thoughts. The impact is for life. People in their fifties relate that the consequences of bullying they received while in school is with them still. In their 2009 National School Climate Survey, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reported:

Nine out of ten LGBT students reported experiencing harassment during the school year. Nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation and over three quarters of students were harassed because of their gender identity. Almost a third of LGBT students were so worried about their safety they skipped at least one day of school each month.

National statistics are informative, but they hide more than reveal and they certainly don’t convey the pain and despair.

The Fremont Unified School District Safe School Survey

Back in the late 90s and to the middle 00s we founded and led the Coalition to Assure Respect in Schools (CARS), a local organization to make Fremont schools safe places to learn. After several years of arguing and making presentations, we were finally successful in convincing Fremont’s Board of Education to do a system wide survey. Called the “Safe-School Survey” it was administered to all district senior and junior high school students in May 2001. We had a 55% response rate and the results mirror those of the national 2009 GLSEN survey. A mild surprise was that when it came to bullying “Physical Size or Shape” was a close second to “Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Orientation.” Students call each other hurtful names all the time, but the survey also revealed that nearly ten percent of students heard teachers use homophobic slurs. Far more instructive for us were the interviews we did with students in preparation for the survey. Tearful histories of bullying for all kinds of reasons; emotional scars still present in people who graduated years ago.

The Survey Was Useful? Was It Successful?

What was the result of the survey? New policies, diversity training, open meetings with parents. Was the end goal achieved? No, though CARS has not been active for four years, we still hear of bullying and LGBTQ youth is still at risk. Our experience suggests that to eliminate bullying requires time, perhaps generations, and: an awareness that bullying exists and can leave lifetime scars, a system wide policy, procedures to implement the policy, training for teachers and students, enforcement, and a safe avenue to register policy violations, follow-up and resolve. But most of all what is needed are good people relentlessly dedicated to the idea that all students have the right to a safe place to prepare for life.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org