#AllLivesMatter at Cox High School
For those of you who don’t know, Hampton Roads is a really tricky place to maneuver if you’re Queer. You have a huge accepting community and climate based in Norfolk, Virginia but then you go just 30 minutes out to Virginia Beach and you have folks who are polite and ‘inclusive’ when it comes to using words but would sooner turn their back on you when the chips are down. That’s exactly what we saw from Cox High School and Virginia Beach City Public Schools when they pulled the rug out from under a joint Pride celebration between Cox High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance and Hampton Roads Pride. The event was scheduled for Monday, December 5th and would fill the fourth quarter of classes (roughly the last hour of the school day) with an assembly intended to educate and discuss with students the importance of recognizing, celebrating, and understanding different gender identities, sexualities etc. in a high school environment. So why would such a worthwhile program be delayed or cancelled by the school? Let’s go in depth, shall we?
The event itself had already had a lengthy history, originating from an idea proposed by Cox’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) President nearly two years ago. The idea posited a resolve, that if understanding and education was shared among the student body; that perhaps bullying regarding sexual orientation or gender might not occur as often as it has. As a little Queer kid from First Colonial High School, I can tell you this isn’t something that’s ‘faded away’. From teacher’s subtly sharing their disapproval of my ‘lifestyle’, so closeted teachers fearing for their professional careers, to students who think it’s fun to tease me in the locker room for ‘sneaking peaks at boy’s junk’ this shit isn’t just in papers, plays and movies, it came from somewhere….it comes from schools just like Cox. The event was approved two weeks in advance for date, time, and location with Cox’s principal, Randi Riesbeck and was even celebrated as “the first of its kind” in an article on Friday. It was that article that began everything toppling down.
According to an update by The Virginian Pilot Victoria Manning, a name worthy of infamy for being uttered in the same sentence as ‘public education’ sent an email expressing deep concern from this article. She cited “…this is a controversial subject and I do not believe it is appropriate to hold a gay pride event during instructional time.”
Okay Manning, I’m with you so far girl. We are in the same boat. When I was in high school, the idea of any events like this happening during school was next to impossible. Hell, any assembly at my school was like a special treat. So the idea of something like this happening during school was a farfetched goal to say the least. But see darling, this is where we part ways by the fact that this was established and approved within the school almost two weeks in advance. That means, as much as it may ruffle your sensitive ‘Inclusion’ feathers, it’s going to happen, and the chips should fall as they should. So we’re on both points of view here.
Oh, I’d be remised if I didn’t include the little gem of “I fully support the gay club holding meetings after school but not during instructional time” from her email. Right? That’s like saying “I don’t mind gay people, as long as they act straight in public, hold their meetings in the closet, and keep it out of my face.” I see you Manning…
Now we get to really dicey part, a statement was issued by a Cox High school Media School spokesperson who had the following to say:
“Monday’s assembly at Cox High School has been postponed in order to give school organizers, led by school counselors, an opportunity to involve a variety of student and community groups interested in being part of the conversation about tolerance and acceptance for all people. School administrators agree that these are important topics and wish to include as many voices in the conversation as possible. The decision to postpone was made in an effort to be more inclusive of all groups and students, not to marginalize any particular student, group or organization.
Student-led club meetings and events to raise awareness about their organization or area of interest should be scheduled after school in order to minimize the loss of instructional time. In this instance, it was simply a mistake to allow the club to move forward with planning its event during the school day. School administrators plan to meet with the student organizers Monday to discuss this matter further and apologize for the error.”
Now I’m a pretty impressive wordsmith myself, but even I had to mull this one over for a day to fully grasp the word-play and tom-foolery here. It goes to use some pretty positive words like ‘involve’, ‘variety’, ‘community groups’, and even the big button ‘inclusion’ and ‘marginalize.’ Like hell y’all….even I’m rooting with the school right now, till this thought. When I was in high school, I remember almost always having a heavy history and writing lesson during Black History Month. A celebration of Black music, culture, and heritage. Now I’m sorry, but where was the school board asking for my concern as an excluded white student during this mandatory educational event during instruction time?
Obviously, I’m speaking sarcastically, of course I didn’t ask anyone to make me feel included because, spoiler alert, I’m not Black. So when Black History Month comes around, I sit back and let my friends celebrate their identity and take in as much knowledge about it as I can. I had a friend who was a practicing Orthodox Jew growing up in High School, and you know when she wasn’t in school for holiday observances…never once did I wonder ‘now why isn’t the school making ME take a holiday’ or ‘why don’t they make her stay? I mean she IS in the minority.’ The simple, in regards to the LGBT Pride event, is this…if you are straight or cis-gendered….you are excluded. You don’t get to live our experiences, you don’t have to go through our bullying, you don’t possibly get to begin to fathom what it’s like to live my experience because it is mine, and you can’t have it.
The sense of ‘inclusion’ Cox High School, and the Virginia Beach Public School System is encouraging here, is a very common form of misguided inclusion called ‘erasure’ made popular in the form of #AllLivesMatter. The idea is, if we make everyone feel included then everyone feels the same and we are all equal. But we aren’t. Considering the size of Cox high school, there is an incredibly small minority of LGB identifying students, and even less Trans* students. Those students are not equal. A majority of the students at most of our high schools are white or Christian. The Black and Jewish students are not equal. Now I know what Cox’s response is, “We’re talking about them; Black, Jewish, Minority students” we wanna include the whole bundle so send them down. Well, that’s wrong too.
It’s wrong because you’re assuming that every student is going to relate to the same oppression. I’m a Queer White Cis-Male Atheist, I’m not gonna have a damn thing in common with the Gay White Christian sitting next to me; or anyone in that room speaking from a place of religion. I also cannot fathom the experience and complexities of a Trans* students, never in my life. So when you put the Black kid next to the Queer kid next to the Trans* kid in front of an auditorium and say “tell us how you feel” not one of them will have the same answer…that is if you can even get them to answer after ponying them around like a show. Your answer of postponing this event to make it ‘more inclusive’ is nothing more than bullshit and fake words. Period. Don’t try and dress it any other way cause there is no way you sell this. Not one.
Our favorite school board gal, Victoria Manning, oh we ain’t done with her yet either. Remember when she said “…this is a controversial subject and I do not believe it is appropriate to hold a gay pride event during instructional time”? Well allow me to ask you if you’ve been living under a rock lately? Have you SEEN who was elected to be our president? Have you SEEN how the country is reacting? Have you SEEN or HEARD the things being said to everyday people who used to have little to fear in this country? We are in controversial WONDERLAND USA and guess what, you don’t get to hide them from it for the 8 hours they’re behind your walls. They live this experience, in this world, every second of the day and you dominate almost ¾ of their day so sorry that we want them to learn about something controversial from a source other than the growing number of fake news articles, or one of our president-elect’s latest twitter tirades.
I say this as a person concerned with our future, and understanding of the difficulties our public school system faces. I’m sorry, but your high school counselors are NOWHERE near prepared to handle dialogues and educational sessions of this size. Not even close. Organizations like The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities spend years learning, strategizing, studying, and developing methods to scrape the surface of these dialogues. They have been an incredible influence on different settings and communities in Hampton Roads. From their Inclusive Workplace Initiative to their High and Middle School tailored Emerging Leaders Institute; these folks are the real deal. They do so because they understand how much time, discussion, and fairness it takes to be intersectional with every element of oppression in a setting as volatile and formative as high school. All of our oppression and exclusion is related, yes, but it is unique to each and every one of our lived experiences. These workshops and tops take days to weeks to really have an effect, and you’re going to task your counselors to handle all of that in one hour-long session? I can probably tell you, having that put in words as your counselors read this; they’re probably quaking in their boots right now.
Cox High School and Victoria Manning I leave you with this question, which future do you want to educate your students with? One where the minority need to give their identity for the benefit of the majority? Or one where diversity is celebrated, learned, and understood amongst all? This is an important question our country is facing now, and those children will be faced with in a few years… the ball is in your court. Victoria Manning, what’s good?