Category Archives: GLBTQ issues

Thought For Thursday: Counting Chickens

So, I don’t remember how much, if anything, I’ve told you all here beyond this entry, so if I’m repeating myself, I apologize.

I had another visit to Dr. Wong’s private school (let’s call the place Classical Private School, or CPS for short) last Wednesday.  I arrived in time to meet the social studies teacher and sit in on the opening rituals (the Pledge of Allegiance, the recitation of their school’s creed (which ends in “so help me, God”), and a moment of silence/prayer), and then participated in the first class of the day, which was a lecture in a Western Civilizations class (they’d just covered the Black Plague and were heading into the Italian Renaissance).  I didn’t ask specifically, but I think that all the students in the school (there are currently 17) were attending the class, and all of them were engaged, even the moderate-to-severe ADD student in the front row.

After the class, I had a chance to talk to a student to learn about what her typical day is like, then Dr. Wong took me into the lobby to meet and chat with Dean Michaels, who’s in charge of professional development at the school.  We had a long and really engaging discussion, the three of us, and we covered a lot of ground in terms of what the ladies think the school is lacking (and what my skills can remedy), what the vision and objective of the school is, and how important it is for them to not just be teachers, but to be models for balanced citizenship.

It was right about this time that Dr. Wong looked at me with a bit of concern in her expression and said, “I sense some hesitation from you, Chili.  Is there anything wrong?”

Well, no; not WRONG, exactly, but she wasn’t mistaking some trepidation on my part.

I decided to ease into it with my logistical concerns.  Were I to come on board, I’d be the only staff living farther than about 15 or 20 minutes away (it’s a good 50-55 minutes from Chez Chili to CPS on a dry day with the wind at my back).  Despite our being in the same state, we inhabit very different climate zones, and while they may only get a dusting of snow in the city, I might be buried under 7 inches and not be able to get to work, and we’d need to have a contingency plan for the once or twice a year that’s likely to happen.  I also wanted to be clear that I’d need to have my workday shifted toward the morning (school runs from 8:50 to 5:30).  I can be the first person in the building at 7:30 if they want me there, but I’d like to leave no later than 2:30 every day.  Neither of these things seemed to be an issue for Dr. Wong, so I moved on to what was really worrying me.

You see, I’m a liberal.  There, I said it.  I know; shocking, right?  Well, the entire construct of CPS is very, very conservative, and I knew, going in, that I was going to have to “come out” to Dr. Wong in a way that made clear my values and priorities, and that sooner was much better than later.

I chose to bring my sticker-covered water bottle with me that day instead of opting for the unadorned black one because I felt that leaving my “regular” bottle at home was somehow hiding something.

I told the ladies that, were I to come to work for the school, I would literally be the only religiously unaffiliated (I believe I used the term “enthusiastically unaffiliated”) member of the community.

The issue of abortion came up when Dr. Wong told us that she was still getting her deceased mother’s mail, and that a solicitation for donations to Planned Parenthood came to the house the other day.  Dr. Wong admitted that she used to be pro-choice, but changed her mind after converting to Catholicism.  Dean Michaels said she grew up Catholic (and anti-abortion), and it wasn’t until she became pregnant herself that she realized what an awesome responsibility a child was and changed her position to become pro-choice.  I told the ladies that I steadfastly believe that every human being needs to have full sovereignty over their bodies, and that anything that infringes on that turns them into a slave.

I let the ladies know that being an LGBTQ ally is an integral part of my identity.

I was pretty sure that that was going to be that, but they surprised me.  By the end of the conversation, both women seemed even more excited about the possibility of my coming on board.  Dr. Wong acknowledged that there would likely be parental drama, but that she was fully capable of handling it (she told me a story about an encounter she had recently with an evangelical mother who objected to the fact that Dr. Wong was talking to students about creation stories, and a student went home to report that Dr. Wong said that Adam and Eve is a “made up story” and, well, hilarity ensued). Both women were enthusiastic about the idea that I would bring a new perspective to the party; Dean Michaels said “if we’re going to walk our walk – really walk our walk – we need to be open to a diversity of voices.”

Well, then, I’m your girl!

For the rest of the afternoon, I was introduced as “Mrs. Chili… she’s a liberal” to staff and students, which was a little weird but reinforced the idea that Dr. Wong was willing to accept – and kind of embrace – the fact of my philosophical position.  I have been invited back next Friday to lead the school in a writing workshop; they want to see me in front of a classroom and introduce me to the students.

As I left the school, Dr. Wong surprised me by giving me a hug to say goodbye (she didn’t strike me as a hugger).  It was a lovely gesture that made me feel I didn’t blow a hole in my candidacy by coming out as a lefty liberal.

I’m pretty sure I’ll have a job there next year if I want it.


Filed under colleagues, concerns, critical thinking, debate and persuasion, GLBTQ issues, I can't make this shit up..., job hunting, out in the real world, parental units, politics, popular culture, rhetoric, self-analysis, winging it, Yikes!

New Class Idea: The Ambiguous Hero

I’ve been captivated, almost forever, with the ambiguous hero; the good guy who does bad things (and, conversely, the bad guy who does good things) and what role he plays in our psyche and, in a larger sense, in our culture.

A friend of mine wants to teach a summer class with film, and we were talking about this idea over dinner the other day.  I haven’t been able to let it go, and here’s what I’ve come up with.  I’m going to need some help zeroing in on the specifics – the assignments, the competencies and objectives, that kind of thing –  but here’s what I’ve got for materials so far:

The Dark Knight: the second of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – this is the one with Heath Ledger as the Joker.  Christian Bale’s Batman is the perfect example, I think, of the ambiguous hero.

A Dry White Season:  This is based on a novel written by a white South African who gets involved in the anti-apartheid movement after someone he knows personally dies in police custody.

Gandhi:  You know this story, and I keep coming back to it as a conversation about civil disobedience and the question of how resistance is characterized on the different “sides” of the debate in question

Gone Baby Gone:  PLEASE tell me you’ve seen this movie!  It’s about a kidnapping, and centers around HUGE issues of “right” and “wrong” and where the law clashes with morality

Harry Potter:  I want to investigate Snape.  The idea of the double agent is always an interesting one.  I’m not sure which film I’d use, though; likely the last one.

Iron Jawed Angels: Another civil disobedience film – this one focuses on women’s suffrage and the outrages that some women suffered at the hands of law enforcement.

Milk:  About Harvey Milk and the early struggle for GLBTQ rights and recognition

Mississippi Burning:  This remains one of my MOST favorite films, mostly because of Gene Hackman’s REALLY complex character.  This scene alone is worth the film:

The Negotiator:  This is the story of a cop who takes hostages in order to reveal corruption in his department – a good guy doing a bad thing for a good reason.

Leon, the Professional:  A hit man who adopts his 12 year old neighbor after her family is killed by a corrupt cop (played terrifyingly by Gary Oldman).  He’s a good guy who does bad things, and we have to reconcile his work with his personality.

Schindler’s List:  You know this one, too, I’m sure.  I think that Schindler started out as a bad guy doing a good thing (though for selfish reasons) and evolved into a good guy.

Shawshank Redemption:  Andy as a wrongly convicted man who becomes a criminal in prison, but who never gives up his humanity.

Tsotsi:  I haven’t seen this one in a LONG time, so I’m not sure if I’m remembering it correctly, but I think it’s about a boy who steals a car and discovers that he’s also stolen a baby.  The film tells the story of what he does after he realizes he’s got a tough choice to make.

Unforgiven:  This is a Clint Eastwood western.  Eastwood is a retired gunslinger who gets called back into the life of crime for reasons that he thinks are honorable.  His character is a tough one to suss out, and the film really makes the viewer work for the payoff (plus, it stars Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, which makes it that much better).

I was also thinking that I would have the kids read Bel Canto (which asks the “terrorist or freedom fighter” question) and, if they’re given permission from their parents, to look at a couple of episodes of Dexter (a serial killer in a Showtime series who only murders murderers who get away from the legal system).

I think there’s a lot of richness to be mined in this “good guy doing bad things / bad guy doing good things” question, I just need to think about it a bit more before it takes on any kind of substance that resembles a for-credit class.

What do you think?


Filed under colleagues, critical thinking, doing my own homework, Dream Course, film as literature, fun, GLBTQ issues, Holocaust, lesson planning, Literature, Mrs. Chili as Student, politics, Teaching, winging it, writing

First Draft Friday

I love alliteration!

SO!  The first draft of The Paper is done!  It clocks in at 22 pages (plus 5 pages of sources), the conclusion is pathetic, and I still have to go back through and cite some sections, but it is a complete draft.

Who wants to read it?  Email me at mrschili at comcast dot net and I’ll send you a copy.  Be forewarned; I want good, constructive feedback on this bad boy; if you’re going to read this (and I’ll be very grateful if you do), I’m going to ask that you be clear and specific about what I need to do to make it better.

My goal is to have it in front of my professor in second-draft form sometime early to mid next week (I’m aiming for Wednesday, but since she hasn’t given me a deadline, I’ve got some flexibility).  The final is due on the 15th (my deadline, not hers; I think she gave me through the 18th, but I’d rather put it to bed sooner rather than later).

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Filed under about writing, analysis, colleagues, composition, critical thinking, doing my own homework, GLBTQ issues, Local U., Mrs. Chili as Student, politics, self-analysis, writing

I Love These People

“You want to make it illegal to say “gay”?  We’re gonna fuckin’ say it anyway!”

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Filed under Gay/Straight Alliance, GLBTQ issues

Delayed Reaction

I don’t waste energy pretending to be someone I’m not at work.  I know a lot of people who make very clear distinctions between their personal selves and their professional selves, but I am in the fortunate position of not feeling compelled to do that and, as a result, I don’t.  I’m actually proud to be a very what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person; my students would recognize me out in public because I’m exactly the same person at work as I am at home.  It just so happens that this person identifies as a strongly liberal, enthusiastically progressive rational Humanist.

Part of how I express myself in my professional life is through words (no, really, Chili?!).  I have a plethora of bumper stickers and posters and hangings and magnets and quotables stuck on vertical surfaces all over my room, and most of them express decidedly progressive, liberal values.  Clearly, the students see (and appreciate) this, because not long after the school year started, they began coming in with things to add to my collection.

Around the second or third week of school, a student printed out this picture and gave it to me.  I taped it among a bunch of other things in what I thought was a relatively non-prominent section of a filing cabinet.

I was fully expecting to have to take it down in short order.  The image is a little pushy for the classroom, even for me, and even if the kids didn’t object, it is a fact that the school’s board meets in my room.   I know for sure that board members often peruse my collection of sayings while they’re milling about drinking coffee and eating pastry while waiting for their meetings to begin; I was certain one of them would express concern or raise an objection or ask my boss to talk to me about it.

September… October (when a student came back from the Rally for Sanity with the Less Condos / More Condoms sticker for me)… November… December… January… February… March… April… nothing.  No one mentioned it, no one even brought it up.

Yesterday – YESTERDAY – I get a message from my boss asking me to take it down.  Someone complained (I have no idea who – and, honestly, I don’t want to know – but I suspect it’s one of the same kids who’s been complaining that we’re not validating his or her Christian beliefs) and, as a consequence, I’ve been told to take it down because we can’t be “advertising” sex.

My boss, to her credit, made it clear that she has no issue with the image.  She’s responding to pressure from outside the school, and it’s just not a fight worth having.

I have chosen not to make a stink about this, but it is a very near thing.  I think, if I hadn’t just spent the last month raging and despairing about the state of our culture, I would likely have the energy to protest.  I’m just tired.  I’m tired of people being too closed-minded to understand that the KIDS brought this in, that this is an image that expresses positive ideals.  They would understand that this isn’t about sex; it doesn’t represent an advertisement for sex but rather is a First Amendment right to dissent, and that the message the image is sending is that while the closed-minded and ugly have a right to free speech, so does everyone else.  I would fight for this if I thought it wouldn’t give my boss any more stress than she’s already getting from the person/people complaining about it.  I WILL fight for this if a student notices it’s gone and raises questions.  As it is, I’ve transferred the image to the other side of the cabinet where I can see it, and where students who come to conference with me will see it.  I like the positive message it gives (notice who’s smiling in the picture?), and I want the kids to know that I support fully their right to dissent, but not to silence those who have something to say.


Filed under Civics and Citizenship, critical thinking, debate and persuasion, dumbassery, ethics, failure, frustrations, Gay/Straight Alliance, General Griping, GLBTQ issues, Learning, out in the real world, parental units, really?!, rhetoric, self-analysis, Student Activism, student chutzpah, You're kidding...right?

The Way We Think About the Struggles of Others

I’m hoping that you’ll all be open to engaging me on a question that I’ve been pondering for a while now.  I’m pretty sure you are all aware of this by now, but I am an GLBTQ ally and have been for years.  I’m also a fellow at a center for Holocaust studies and am actively involved in outreach and education about the Shoah.  These two activities have given me the opportunity to contemplate issues of equality, personhood, and compassion, and I find that the question of how people understand the struggles of others continues to come up as a primary element of the work that I do.

My husband returned home from an extended business trip last month.  When he’s away on business, he tends to read a lot of USA Today.  This trip was no exception.

One of the first things we talked about over his welcome-home dinner was the question of the intersection of gay rights and civil rights. Mr. Chili got all worked up about these pieces in an issue of USA Today and made sure that he set them aside for me to see.

This is the first article, an opinion piece from November:

Black leaders called on to confront homophobia

Gary E. Kaminski – Buena Vista, Pa.

My great joy at the election results has been severely tempered by California voters’ passage of Proposition 8, which effectively denies gays the right to marry (“Where’s the outrage?” The Forum, Wednesday).

(Rights fight. In Los Angeles this month, 10,000 same-sex marriage supporters march to overturn the state’s anti-gay marriage law Proposition 8.David McNew / Getty Images)

What makes this so tragic? Although many whites opposed the measure, blacks supported the denial of an existing right. It’s appalling that a group so familiar with discrimination could vote to strip rights from another minority.

I urge leaders of the black community to face head-on the blight of homophobia that, as we see in California, has real-world consequences. I urge our new President-elect, Barack Obama, who is uniquely qualified to confront issues of bigotry, to do so strongly and emphatically.

This was a response to that piece, and the article that got Mr. Chili (and me) all worked up:

Race, gay rights don’t mix

Paul Scott – Durham, N.C.

James Kirchick questioned the lack of support among African Americans for gay-rights issues. As an African American, I am tired of folks who seem to think that black civil rights issues should be mixed with the issues of others. To compare gay rights with the transatlantic slave trade is an insult to the millions of my ancestors whose bones rest at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

It must also be noted that since the civil rights era, our movement has been hijacked by every other group that has a beef with America — from gay-rights to animal-rights groups — so much so that many issues that pertain specifically to black people get lost in the shuffle. The freedom of African Americans has been paid for with our own blood, sweat and tears. We do not need gay-rights activists or any others to co-sign.

Okay, so here’s the thing; I’m coming to you with my thinking about this because I feel under-qualified, as a white woman who was raised and continues to reside in a predominantly white environment, to speak with authority about the intersection of race and GLBTQ rights.  Does Mr. Scott, in your opinion, have legitimacy in claiming that “our movement,” as he calls it, has been co-opted by others seeking equality and justice?  Does his argument have firm foundation in the legacy of slavery, or is it less a question of the (relatively) distant past and more about the efforts of recent leaders (and, not for nothing, ordinary people of literally every race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, and faith) who stood up and spoke out?  I would hasten to remind Mr. Scott that Dr. King’s widow spoke often of the very solid connection between the work her husband did and the work that GLBTQ activists are doing now; her premise was that the oppression of ANY group dehumanizes and degrades us all.  That, of course, is the message that all civil rights leaders, past and present, highlight in their work and is, I think, the foundational idea of any struggle for equality.  Race has nothing to do with that; it’s about humanity.

I understand, as a Holocaust scholar, that a lot of people who have been brutalized and dehumanized and denied their basic rights by a larger and more powerful group feel an ownership to that crime.  It is true that a great many Jews will still deny the importance of the other minorities who were victimized in the Shoah – that countless Gypsies, handicapped people, political activist, gays, lesbians, and trans people and who knows who else were slaughtered with the same vileness of spirit that the Jews were is secondary to THEIR suffering.  I understand that they feel that to acknowledge the suffering of others somehow diminishes their own.  I do not understand WHY they feel this way, however; I just know that they do.  My thinking about this as it relates to the question of gay rights and race is centered around this idea; do you think Mr. Scott is operating from a presumption that “his” movement needs to be kept separate and inviolable from others; that to open the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement to encompass the struggles of others for recognition of equal personhood somehow diminishes the work that was done in the 50s and 60s?  Does equating gay rights to civil rights – or, more specifically, to the capital-letter Civil Rights Movement – somehow erode or threaten the progress that’s been made on the issues of race?

I would appreciate anything you can offer me in the way of furthering my thinking about this.  I recognize that there’s a big piece of this puzzle that I, by virtue of the nature of my environment and upbringing, can’t come to on my own.


Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, ethics, Gay/Straight Alliance, GLBTQ issues, Holocaust, Holocaust fellowship, Learning, out in the real world, politics, Questions, self-analysis

Is This Hate? **EDITED**

I got this memo through the mass-email system at Local U. the other day:

For the past several years the L.U. Library has been finding fake $100 bills with religious messages like “This is counterfeit but Jesus is the real thing” and bible verses on them.  These bills have been found in books all over the stacks on level 4 and 5, but have often been heavily concentrated in specific sections, like books about the Holocaust, books about gender, and sexual orientation.  We’ve removed them each time but they reappear; most recently the section of books about the Holocaust were stuffed with them again.  We also found out that we are not the only library who has seen this; there are several colleges in Nearby State that have experienced similar vandalism/littering with these bills.”

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I got it, and I can’t decide if I would consider this an act of hate or not.  The message on the “bills” doesn’t seem to fit the criteria I would establish for a hate-motivated act, but the fact that these things are being left in the books that they are – and not in, say, the ecology section or in math books – leads me to a different conclusion.

The memo ended with this message from the “Bias Response Team:”

While we do not consider this behavior to be a threat, it does appear to be “pre-meditated and created for public display and attention.”  We are asking that you pass this information along to colleagues.  We are optimistic that the more this gets out, the more likely someone who knows who is behind this will either come forward with information, or will disclose something that the University Police can use to find the persons responsible.  The goal is to stop this behavior.

I’m a little mystified by this.  What do you think?  Harmless play for attention, or a gateway activity to hate crimes?

**Edited to include**

Since we’re starting the “debate and persuasion” part of the course, I brought this question up to my students the other day and asked them to come to a determination of whether or not these things constituted a hate crime.  They’ve got some work to do yet on formuating a solid argument – a bunch of them didn’t bother starting with a defintion of what “hate crime” means, but the general consensus was that, in its current form, this action does not constitute hate.  They were quick, however, to point out that where these bills are being left leads them to believe that it wouldn’t take much for them to change their minds; they’d be less likely to consider it a hate crime if one could find these things in math or science books in the library, too.

One enterprising young lady went to the library the next day and came to the following class with one of the bills, which she generously gave to me.  Here’s the front:


and here’s the back.


Call us crazy, but we all agreed that’s Al Gore in the portrait on the front.  We have NO idea what that means…


Filed under book geek, compassion and cooperation, concerns, critical thinking, dumbassery, ethics, GLBTQ issues, Holocaust, Local U., out in the real world, Questions, Yikes!