Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Students Rally Around Homophobic Principal in Tennessee

I have written quite a few posts about social justice parenting, and how difficult it is, and I believe that this next story illuminates exactly why this is such a necessity.

Dorothy Bond was a principal at Haywood High School in Brownsville, Tennessee, who recently received some very strong critique, after she allegedly told students that "if you're gay you're going to hell, and if you're pregnant, you're life is over."  She allegedly further went on to threaten gay students who showed any form of affection with expulsion, because they are "not on God's path."

Tony Snipes, a parent of one of the Haywood students alleges that this was not the only incident of intolerance by Bond. 

“A couple of years ago when she was principal over at Sunny Hill one of my children had his hair in braids. At an assembly she told the young men if they're sitting between the legs of a girl getting their hair braided for a few hours, that they must be gay,” Snipes said.

Snipes was ticked then and is even more so now with the newest claims about controversial statements from the Haywood High principal, which he says boil down to “If you're pregnant or homosexual, you're not welcome to Haywood County High School.” [source]
When this incident first occurred, there were parents and students who supported former principal Dorothy Bond. This support recently led to a sit-in, in which 300 students demonstrated their support for Ms. Bond.
"Some say they don't agree with the comments she made, some do.  I do personally," said Haywood High Freshman Bryce Young.

"She's just teaching us life.  That's how I feel about it and I really agree with her," said Haywood High Senior Errick Wilson.

"She did say something about gays and homos, but she didn't mean to offend anybody.  They twisted her words around," Wilson said.

"It's not so much that the comment is wrong, but the time and place that matters," said Cassandra Flagg, a Haywood High School parent.

"Part of the reason America was founded was freedom, freedom to make choices," said Brownsville resident Paula Lara.  "It's okay to have beliefs, but you can't force them on other people.  Even though these are minors, you still can't force it.  You have to control yourself and let them make their own decision."  [source]
The support of the clearly homophobic Bond is disturbing on so many levels.  The fact that 300 students decided to demonstrate on her behalf, and a few took this issue to the ACLU, tells me that there is a real problem with homophobia in this community.  Nothing Bond said was even remotely acceptable, and the damage was amplified because she chose to make these statements to impressionable youth.

I think of all the statements of support, Paula Lara's bothered me the most.  She suggested that Bond should have let the kids make their own decisions about gay rights.  The problem with this approach is that GLBT people have been written out of the history books, they're erased from the media, or shown in stereotypical roles -- which do nothing to assert their humanity.  It is extremely easy in a heterosexist society for a child to receive nothing but negative information about gay people, thus leading them to conclude that they are damaged in someway.

No parent can afford to be neutral on social justice issues.  An absence of real and meaningful conversations, teaches children to internalize harmful isms as normal and good, because each day kids are bombarded with messages that enforce and support privileged bodies.  It happens in schools, their exposure to media, interactions with friends, churches, sporting teams etc,. Silence means acceptance, and this is why there can never ever be a neutral position when it comes to human rights.

I know without a doubt in my mind, that no amount of peer pressure could have convinced my son to participate in a sit-in to support this woman.  I know this because teaching my child to respect all people has been a principal mission of ours since they first started to talk and express ideas.  My children have zero tolerance -- just as their father and I do -- for homophobic commentary.  They have spoken to their friends, and made their positions clear.  When you social justice parent, not only do you have an extremely positive influence on your child, you have a positive influence on their friends.

These children, who decided to hold a sit-in and contact the ACLU in support of Ms. Bond, did so because they weren't taught the most basic lesson in life - all people matter.  As parents, we cannot afford to trust that the education system will teach them all of the lessons that they need to learn in life, because as Ms. Bond clearly illustrates, teachers and principals have been reared in a society that teaches them to ignore their privileges and to actively oppress historically marginalized bodies.

Even if Bond had not been as direct in her speech, such a hateful belief pattern would have been impossible to hide, and most certainly would have leaked into her interactions with others. I can say this because even someone who is socially aware, and is actively fighting their privileges, is more than capable of showing their ass to the world, because decolonization of one's mind is lifetime journey.  If as parents we hand our children over to the education system without actively ensuring that they are receiving balanced information and supplementing their education with information that is inclusive, then we are not doing our job.

Social justice parenting will always mean being attacked by others, who will claim that you are indoctrinating your children.  People will make this claim because bigotry has become so normalized that they are unable to see it for the indoctrination that it really is.  There will always be social pressure for you to stop, and raise another bigoted automaton, but I encourage you to persevere. What happened in that Tennessee school was not just a failure of the administration, it was a failure of parenting.  We owe our children a better world than we were raised in, and this begins by teaching them to be better people than we are.