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Queer students face rising tide of bullying

Debunking insidious notion that LGBTQ identity is controversial

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reparations, gay news, Washington Blade

Two teens walk into a high-school classroom during period change. While the teacher yells at them, they rip a Pride flag off a wall then sprint through a crowded hall.

They outrun the teacher and disappear. Soon after, several students film themselves crowding into a school toilet cubicle as they try to flush the flag. When they fail, one of them drops his pants, squats, and defecates on the flag while the rest of them laugh and shout homophobic/transphobic slurs.

This happened in September at Paso Robles High School outside central California’s San Luis Obispo, which dubs itself the “Happiest City in America.” Soon the whole student body was buzzing. Most of them watched the video, which got posted to TikTok, but administrators did not respond for two weeks, saying they were unaware.

The incident surprised nobody.

LGBTQ students at Paso High say the region’s famed happiness doesn’t include them, writing in an editorial that they feel constantly targeted and harassed at school. They’ve told a reporter at the San Luis Obispo Tribune they don’t feel safe, that they face bullying and hatred every day. Sophomore Eve Barajas, president of the school’s Equity Club, says “micro aggressions” are common but physical violence is a real problem.

When the administration finally responded, LGBTQ students, allies, and teachers gasped in collective shock

They didn’t expect leadership to validate the bullying, but that’s what happened. In an interview, Paso High teacher Geoffrey Land called the defecation video, “an act of hate directed at the LGBTQ community,” adding, “And a lot of students felt it, you know, felt that attack very acutely.” He expected administrators to take the strongest possible stand against bullying.

Defecating on a symbol of inclusion is an act of hatred. The symbol isn’t the problem, the hatred is. Banning the symbol endorses the hatred.

So did science teacher and swim coach Evan Holtz, the man who chased the bullies down the hall. He told reporters he wants LGBTQ students to know they’re safe with him and can come to him for support. That’s why he and a few other teachers used to display Pride flags in their classrooms, a popular custom in schools around the U.S., where over half of all LGBTQ students report being bullied, according to a new survey conducted by the queer youth advocacy organization The Trevor Project.

They report that contrary to popular narrative, anti-LGBTQ bullying in U.S. middle and high schools has been getting worse in recent years instead of better, and that the bullying often equals acts of physical violence.

In a very recent example, 13-year-old transgender student Ian Ring was badly beaten by bullies at his school in Spokane, Wash., while a crowd of students looked on, laughed, and filmed. Local police have charged one student with misdemeanor assault, but Ian’s mother says she doesn’t know how to keep him safe. She’s considering homeschooling.

Back at Paso High, Coach Holtz says he was happy three students brought him replacements for the stolen Pride flag. He hung one on his classroom wall, but that’s when the other shoe dropped. District Superintendent Curt Dubost banned the flag, not the bullying.

Dubost sent a letter to teachers saying he opposes bullying, then ordered them to remove any LGBTQ Pride flag bigger than two feet by two feet, which students say is an effective ban, noting almost all commercially available flags are larger than that.

The ban is the ONLY action Dubost announced. He announced no comprehensive anti-bullying programs and no plans to make life better for queer kids in the schools he runs.

In a later interview, he claimed rainbow flags are partisan like “Blue Lives Matter” flags supporting police officers. He did not cite any incidents of teenage police officers being bullied in school or needing to know where they can find support from teachers. Queer students’ jaws dropped at the inanity of his message.

Jaws dropped harder over Dubost’s statement that LGBTQ Pride flags “mean different things to different people,” which students and teachers say they received as an overt endorsement of anti-LGBTQ hatred. In what world, they ask, should a symbol of love, safety, and inclusion mean something different? To add insult to injury, students say the bullies who stole the flag and posted the TikTok received only “minor discipline.”

The upshot is that anti-LGBTQ bullies sent a message of hate, got a slap on the wrist, and then saw their message validated and actively enforced by the school district.

Paso High Senior Danny Perez reacted like this: “My identity has been politicized. Someone defecated on a Pride flag. So the school takes away the Pride flag, not the homophobia?”

LGBTQ student Ava Hughes added, “We’re minors, and they’re forcing us to hide or protest.”

Superintendent Dubost threw away a fantastic teaching opportunity, but students aren’t letting it slip by

Students have announced that in cooperation with Paso High’s performing arts department, they will hold a “ Coming Out Against Hate” community forum in the high school auditorium. Local news media have cooperated with a blitz of free publicity.

LGBTQ students will “share their experiences and visions for a more welcoming, inclusive educational environment,” in person and via a self-produced short film. They say they will focus on personal stories about bullying they face in school. Superintendent Dubost did not respond immediately to an email asking if he would attend. No students are required to attend the forum, which is taking place after school hours and is not an official assembly.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ and allied students have been plastering school walls with rainbow-themed posters and drawings filled with messages of love and support.

LGBTQ students, especially transgender students, are facing a rising tide of bullying and violence in U.S. schools. Even on the coasts, queer kids are struggling. San Luis Obispo and Spokane are not as politically liberal as Los Angeles or San Francisco, but they’re still “left coast” communities with reputations for tolerance and acceptance.

They’re not the kinds of places where we expect 13-year-old trans kids to be beaten or school superintendents to endorse anti-LGBTQ hatred. They’re not the kind of places where we expect queer students to write that they feel physically unsafe in school every day. But you know what? This is real. This is happening. Right now.

Nothing is going to get better unless we work together collectively against the insidious notion that LGBTQ identity is or should be controversial. The Paso Robles High School community is doing a great job educating students and parents as they send their superintendent a strong message that he must do better.

What about you and your community? What can YOU do to stem a rising tide of hate?

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, a regular columnist for queer news outlets, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected].

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The future of lesbian bars

Resolve to support our queer spaces in 2022

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lockdown zone, gay news, Washington Blade

This New Year, I hope you wish for more lesbian bars across the country. The story of lesbian bars in the U.S. has been slightly tragic of late: as of January 2021, there were only 15 clubs or bars dedicated to queer women across the country. 

That’s right—only 15. Across all 50 states. 

In Washington, D.C., my hometown, A League of Her Own stands out as the only lesbian bar in the city, dedicated to queer women. Located in Adams Morgan, A League of Her Own, also known as ALOHO, is a small mecca for queer ladies to pass through, socialize, and flirt. ALOHO is a chic gathering point for all queer folk, with posters of softball players dotting the walls and gender neutral signs lying about. 

Several years ago, another lesbian bar called Phase 1 existed in Southeast, where queer women could slam eight balls in pool games and engage in raunchy yet ever-so-hot jello wrestling competitions. 

Unfortunately, Phase 1 shut its doors in 2016. 

So what explains the closure of so many lesbian bars, while bars for gay men continue to flourish? Perhaps many queer women view gay bars as a space for their own as well, whereas gay men view lesbian bars as less of a place for them to socialize. 

Either way, we need to give support to lesbian bars now more than ever. Tokens of support can take many forms. 

For one, make sure to socialize in spaces dedicated to queer ladies. There are three lesbian bars in New York City: Cubbyhole (281 W. 12th St.), Gingers in Brooklyn (363 5th Ave.), and Henrietta Hudson (438 Hudson St.). Next time you visit the Big Apple, make sure to give these three spots some love. Maybe drag your experimenting bi friend to these locations. Or your pansexual roommate. 

Back in D.C., you can buy unisex shirts in A League of Her Own’s merchandise store, available online. 

Proceeds will go toward funding the bar, and making sure it stays afloat, especially during this COVID economy. 

Most of all, I hope you encourage your queer lady friends to keep on frequenting queer lady destinations. After all, there is only one thing that will keep lesbian bars afloat—and that is attendance. 

I, for one, will be frequenting many lesbian destinations this new year.  

Isaac Amend is a Yale graduate and participated in National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ documentary. He also is a member of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, and contributes regularly to the Blade. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @isaacamend.

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Breaking barriers as an out trans ‘Jeopardy’ champion

Amy Schneider’s run inspires us all

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Amy Schneider (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

“When was the last time anybody said ‘wow!’” a friend asked me.

I couldn’t remember the last time anyone I know (including me) had any “Wow!” moments. Until I heard about trans woman and software engineering manager Amy Schneider’s 29-game winning streak on “Jeopardy.”

You wouldn’t think anything could dispel our COVID exhaustion and political divisiveness. Yet, news about a champion on “Jeopardy,” a quiz show that has been on TV since 1964, has broken through our gloom.

In our culture, there are few things that everyone loves. But, “Jeopardy” is beloved by many, from theater geeks to 80-year-old sports nuts. A progressive friend was over the moon when his brother was a “Jeopardy” contestant. A buddy, a hetero (non-Trump) Republican, is a “Jeopardy” fanatic and a gay librarian pal is a “Jeopardy” freak.

Many of us daydream about being on “Jeopardy.” But we know that we wouldn’t have a chance on this legendary quiz show with its deceptively simple format: You give the answer to the (often incredibly hard) clues in the form of a question. You have to have a strategic military commander’s and a world-class athlete’s coordination: so you can press the buzzer to answer the clue.

The game’s categories run the gamut from opera to mountain ranges. Most of us, mere mortals, would be lucky to know even one category in the first round of the game. Let alone in the “Double Jeopardy” round or the “Final Jeopardy” clue. I might jump on clues about Katharine Hepburn movies or M&Ms. But that would be it for me.

It’s exciting to watch a “Jeopardy” contestant become a long-running champion. You marvel at the player’s intelligence, endurance, and nerve. It’s thrilling when the contestant on a winning-streak is part of your community.

Many of us LGBTQ “Jeopardy” fans are thrilled by Schneider’s record-setting winning streak. As I write this, Schneider has won more than $1 million in 29 games of “Jeopardy.” She is the fifth millionaire in “Jeopardy” history, and only the fourth player to reach this milestone in the regular season. She has won more than any other female “Jeopardy” contestant.

Schneider, like so many of us, doesn’t want to be defined by her gender identity or sexuality. Schneider’s life is multi-faceted; she has many interests. Schneider lives with her girlfriend Genevieve. They have a cat named Meep.

Yet, Schneider doesn’t want to hide that she’s trans. On “Jeopardy,” Schneider brilliantly dealt with this dilemma. She didn’t make a big deal about being out. She just wore the trans Pride flag pin.

“It was something that I wanted to get out there and to show my pride in while not making it the focus of what I was doing there,” Schneider told the New York Times. “Because I was just there to answer trivia questions and win money.”

As a cisgender lesbian, I can’t speak to how Schneider’s record-setting “Jeopardy” streak feels to transgender people.

But, as a trans ally, I’m cheering for Schneider. Kudos for her bravery! At a time when many states are passing anti-trans laws, it takes guts to be out on TV and the Internet.

Few things are as mainstream as “Jeopardy.” I bet that many “Jeopardy” viewers who are frightened at the idea of trans people, will become more comfortable with transgender people after watching Schneider on the popular quiz show. Because folks on TV come into our living and bedrooms and we feel as if we know them after watching them for a while.

“Amy looks like everybody else,” my neighbor said when I told her Schneider was trans. “She doesn’t act odd. She’s not strange.”

Transgender people encounter violence and discrimination in everything from housing to health care to employment.

I know Schneider’s “Jeopardy” triumph won’t end transphobia. But her winning streak will go a long way toward jumpstarting a change in hearts and minds.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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SCARY: Tucker Carlson now the conscience of GOP

Cruz bows down, kisses ring of Fox host

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Tucker Carlson (Screen capture via Fox on YouTube)

The Republican Party has sunk to a new low, hard to do, when a sleazebag like Tucker Carlson is now their conscience. Seeing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) groveling before him is laughable, disgusting, and frightening all at the same time. 

As reported in Rolling Stone, Cruz said, “We are approaching a solemn anniversary this week. It is an anniversary of a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol where we saw the men and women of law enforcement demonstrate incredible courage, incredible bravery, risk their lives to defend the men and women who serve in this Capitol.” Then “Cruz was lambasted by Tucker Carlson that night, prompting him to hop on Carlson’s show Thursday and beg for forgiveness. “The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb,” Cruz said before Carlson cut him off and said he didn’t believe him. Cruz took it up a notch, stammering through an absurd bit about how he wasn’t talking about the “patriots across the country supporting President Trump,” only those who assaulted police officers, and that he’s always described anyone who assaults a cop as a terrorist.

Carlson has made a career of being a pompous commentator. Interestingly he worked at CNN, PBS, and MSNBC, before finally landing at Fox in 2009. According to his Wikipedia page he went to Trinity College where he earned a bachelor’s degree and Carlson’s Trinity yearbook describes him as a member of the “Dan White Society,” an apparent reference to the American political assassin who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. After college, Carlson tried to join the CIA, but his application was denied, after which he decided to pursue a career in journalism with the encouragement of his father, who advised him that “they’ll take anybody.” Reading this clearly raised my opinion of the CIA and based on what we see in some media today I agree with Carlson’s father on his view of journalism. 

When you have a moment of silence in the House of Representatives to honor those who lost their lives on Jan. 6 and only two Republicans show up, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and her father Dick Cheney, the former vice president, one understands the influence Carlson has on the GOP. The rest were afraid of being criticized on-air by him or lambasted by Trump. 

Dick Cheney remarked on the GOP, “It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.” He spoke to ABC News saying, “I’m deeply disappointed we don’t have better leadership in the Republican Party to restore the Constitution.” 

There is a leadership void in the Republican Party today. Their so-called leaders are afraid to say what they think if it differs in any way from Trumpism or Carlson’s view of the world, which requires total fealty to Trump. He found a home on Fox where he can lie with impunity and have millions believe his lies. 

President Biden said, in what many think was the best speech of his presidency so far, these people are “holding a dagger to the neck of democracy.” He went on to say, “For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol.” 

Tucker Carlson and his ilk have never bothered to answer a question the president threw at them, which is how they can accept all their down ballot victories, governors, and members of Congress, which occurred on the same ballots, cast by the same people, on the same day, as those for president. Of course, Carlson has no need to make sense, tell the truth, or speak rationally because of his platform on Fox, which doesn’t require that.

My question is whether Carlson is as dumb as he makes himself sound or is he brilliant and this is all a big act? Either way the acolytes that follow Trump don’t seem to care and are bowing down to Carlson’s big audience. It’s as if he can tell any Republican senator or congressperson, or Republican candidate for those jobs, to just ‘bend over and take it’ and they do. All we can do is mourn for the GOP of Lincoln and Eisenhower. Non-Trumpers will have to work hard and speak out if they ever want to resurrect a GOP that can be respected.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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