Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Openly Gay, Niagara Falls High School Student Inspires Protest After Being Told to Remove his High Heels

'High heels' photo (c) 2010, Markusram - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Why is it the moment a child appears to be gender non-conforming that the status quo always attempts to force change by claiming that the child in question is a distraction? Tyreese Maye likes wearing what he refers to as, "girl shoes," and thought that it would not be a problem for him to wear high heeled shoes, because the girls wore them.  Well what is good for the goose is apparently not good for the gander.


"I wore some high stiletto red heels and I had many girls wear them, too, just to see who they would pick out first. I didn't even last a period because I went to breakfast and they told me to take them off. It was an administrator and he told me to take them off and I told him, 'Tell this girl to take her heels off.' And he said, 'No, I'm making you take yours off first.' And I said, 'That's not fair,'" said Maye.

He first refused to take them off, but gave in after he says he was threatened with suspension in the principal's office.

Student Autumn Gotel said, "I had on heels yesterday all day long; they let me wear them walking up and down the stairs all day. There's about five or six of my friends had on heels they didn't say anything. They say the reason Tyreese couldn't wear his heels was because it was distracting."

Maye argued, "How is this a distraction? There are girls that are half-naked in school. That's a distraction."

Administrator James Spanbauer says it was partly a safety issue in case of a fire in the four-story building.

"I would say there probably are some students who go through the day without us addressing, but our intention is to keep everybody safe and administer the Code of Conduct equally across the board and we do the best we can with 1,900 students and when we see things that are inappropriate we address it," said Spanbauer, who denied there was a double-standard for boys wearing heels.
Anyone else surprised that it quickly moved from a distraction to a health and safety issues when Tyreese Maye pointed out the uneven application of school standards?  If this were really a health and safety issue, the administration would have long ago addressed the young women who wore high heel shoes.  I am quite the sure the fact that Tyreese Maye is both Black and gay had more to do with their sudden adherence to school policy.

Tyreese Maye could have folded to the pressure but instead he chose to fight back.  This was a courageous thing to do because not only did Administrator James Spanbauer have privilege on his side, he had the power of his position which he used very specifically to intimidate. Tyreese was taken into the principals office and threatened with suspension, and yet none of the girls who he asked to where the same shoes as him were. Education like any other institution is designed specifically to enforce conformity and ensure that marginalized people stay in their place.

One of the things I loved about this story was the support that Tyreese received from his mother Jenyne Powell.  "I'm proud of him that he wants to stand up for himself and defend what he feels is right," she said.  As an openly gay Black teen, life will not be easy for Tyreese, but I have no doubt that the support of his mother is in part what helped him to fight for what he believed is right.  There is a mendacious meme that Blacks are uniquely homophobic and this story not only showed that Tyreese had the support of his Black mother, but many young Black teens who showed up to support him and to sign the petition that he started.  We need to support the GLBT members of our community.  Their sexuality serves to increase the bigotry they face because they have to negotiate two sites of oppression. 


I cannot imagine what it is like to be Tyreese but I certainly do admire his courage.  It would have been much easier for him to take off his shoes and conform and instead he chose to stay true to who he is.  His actions will make it easier for the next gay teen on that campus and the kids that follow him all owe him a debt.  Each small act of resistance is one step towards equality.  Remember that in part oppression exists because marginalized people are complicit.  I don't think that Tyreese intended to become a role model when he stood up for his rights but I am certain that his actions will go alone way to inspire gay teens of colour across the North America.  As a straight woman, I know that I am impressed by both his ingenuity and his strength.