Black Ribbon Day – When Our School Ignores LGBT Students

This morning like every Wednesday morning, I perused the contents of my daughter’s “Tuesday Folder.” Its a manila envelope sent home on Tuesday afternoon full of fliers, completed school work, and promotional materials for activities like basketball clinics and youth softball leagues.

Red Ribbon Week

Today I came upon a bright red flier describing the school’s activities for Red Ribbon Week. If you are not familiar with Red Ribbon Week, it is dedicated to substance abuse awareness, particularly in the public schools:

Today, the Red Ribbon Week brings millions of people together to raise awareness regarding the need for alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention, early intervention, and treatment services. It is the largest, most visible prevention awareness campaign observed annually in the United States.

Red Ribbon Week established in 1988 by Ronald and Nancy Reagan recognizes the torture and death of Enrique Camarena in 1985 and to set aside time for drug use prevention education and drug abuse awareness. Many of us grew up with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign of the late 1980s. Red Ribbon Week was part of the administration’s overall commitment to the War on Drugs.

Please know:

Red Ribbon for Substance Abuse Awareness

  • I believe Red Ribbon Week is important. Recognizing the sacrifices of the law enforcement and Department of Justice, and Drug Enforcement Administration agents is an obligation and honor. Many brave people have risked, and lost, their lives making our communities safer for us and for our children. 
  • I acknowledge Red Ribbon Week and support it.
  • I do not want my daughter to abuse drugs and I am happy that the school is helping me educate her about the dangers of drugs.
  • I put our Red Ribbon Week flier on the front of the refrigerator so next week we can take part in all the activities, including wearing red clothes in recognition of everything Red Ribbon Week observes and stands for.
  • I am fine that the children at my daughter’s school will miss class time  for assemblies about drugs and will complete lessons about it while in class.

BUT . . .

Ally Week - GLSEN

The irony of this was striking. During Ally Week, the week after National Coming Out Day and the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, our school didn’t mention one word about the sacrifices of LGBT individuals or try to raise awareness of LGBT issues. THIS is the week that the Red Ribbon Week flier came home.

Just so you know:

Matthew Shepard, December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998

October is LGBT History Month.

October 11th is National Coming Out Day.

October 12th is the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.

October 17th – 21st is Ally Week.

My daughter’s school recognizes none of this, but my daughter does. Tomorrow, October 20th is Spirit Day and my daughter has her head-to-toe purple outfit picked out to wear tomorrow in celebration and recognition.

Millions of Americans wear purple on Spirit Day as a sign of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth and to speak out against bullying. (. . .)  Observed annually on October 20, individuals, schools, organizations, corporations, media professionals and celebrities wear purple, which symbolizes spirit on the rainbow flag.

Probably her outfit will go unappreciated by her classmates and teachers, since there have been no discussions, bulletin boards, posters, or assemblies acknowledging LGBT history, awareness, bullying, activism, accomplishments, lives lost to make communities safer for LGBT people, or deaths just at the hands of violent bigots.

Ignoring LGBT Students

Black Ribbon Day*

So, I would like to recognize today as Black Ribbon Day at our local school. A Day when we blatantly ignore the contributions and sacrifices of LGBT people.

Couldn’t we just have an Anti-Bullying Day?** Is that so much to ask?

 

 

 

 

*Notes on Awareness Ribbon colors:

All the possible colors already stand for other issues. Black ribbons commemorate September 11th, the Virgina Tech shooting, and represent melanoma awareness. Red ribbons stand for substance abuse awareness and even more commonly for AIDS awareness. In reality the power of the symbolism is already diluted since every color of ribbon stands for many things. My choice of the black ribbon is in no way intended to belittle the loss suffered from the attacks of September 11th or from melanoma.

**Notes on Violence Against LGBT Students:

In case you’d like statistics and facts about what life is like for LGBT kids, especially in school, please peruse the following sites. The the GLSEN site and tell you far better than I can.

2009 National School Climate Survey from GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network)

Dealing with Gay Students, Bullying in Different Ways from CNN – Listen to what Minneapolis Public Schools do – intervention and education can work.

Violence Against Gays and Lesbians from The National Centers for Victims of Crime – Gives a sense of the kind of violence endured by LGBT people in general.

One last note in defense of October:

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Autism Awareness Month, Dwarfism Awareness Month, National Pork Month, and National Cyber Security Awareness Month and they’ve gotten no coverage in school either. I hope somewhere someone is writing angry blogs about how these other issues have been ignored by the public schools! (Well, maybe pork doesn’t need a special day in the schools – we celebrate pork awareness every month in our house.)


Be an Ally

Today is the 13th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard.

Matthew Shepard, December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998

As a parent I want to make this world safer for my own child and everybody else’s gay child.

I won’t be able hide behind trees and crouch behind bushes while she goes to out into the world in order to make sure no harm comes to her.

What I can do is try to engage others in conversation about queer kids. Until she is older I can try to protect her from the ignorance or prejudice of people who know she is out.

I can be an ally and an advocate.

Yesterday I went to Safe Zone/Ally Training. I suggest that anyone who wants to make the world a safer place for members of the LGBT community consider spending an afternoon at a local training. I will proudly display my Safe Zone sticker beside my office door, so that anyone who needs a safe space will have one.

Moreover, displaying the Safe Zone sticker let’s others know they aren’t alone.

One can find plenty of information about being an ally information here.

Many universities regularly offer Safe Zone/Ally Training. Check with your local university’s LGBT Center or Women’s Center to see if or when they will offer a training session.


. . . it’s only a beginning.

October 12th will mark the 13th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard.

I just read a blog which reminds us, in the words of Indira Gandhi that:

Martyrdom does not end something, it’s only a beginning.

Jamie Morris Shacker writes a blog, this positive life and recently published a post Thinking of Matthew. He writes about Matthew Shepard, his own identification with Shepard, and his own life as a young gay man in a small town. I was especially moved by his story,

Growing up, I lived in fear of my hometown; I never felt safe there.  I remember walking home from work late at night wondering who was going to jump out of a car and attack me.  I still dream about those nights.  They were few but impactful nonetheless.  Or the bullying in the halls, on the play ground or just the looks and whispers behind my back, into books, etc…

Being a queer kid in a small town is not always an easy thing, in fact I cannot think of a single instance where it is.  I cannot speak to what it is like in larger cities, that simply was not my experience.  I think it must be the same, I mean no matter how big a city is, if you are ten, your world is your school and you do not have access to others outside of that world.  Well, maybe they do today with the internet.  But in my day, if you will, we certainly did not have that luxury.  Either way for hundreds of kids a computer is simply not enough.

I just wanted to write something, to express these crazy feelings I am having, to emote as I said earlier and to ask all you to never forget Matthew Shepard and to find all of those little queer kids (or any other kid who seems a little alone and isolated) and give them a hug or whatever you believe proper, so they know someone is on their side, that they are not alone.  And, when given the opportunity, speak out against hatred and violence towards anyone;  words do harm and words can be violent. When you hear someone make a negative comment about gay people in general, a specific person or any group, remember it is these attitudes that brought two young men to a field in Laramie, WY to kill.  It is this attitude and ignorance that ended a life.

Everyday I try to let my little queer kid know she is not alone by loving her and celebrating her, but just as importantly I try to surround her with as many vocal allies as possible. Yet for every one child lucky enough to be born into a queer-positive family like ours there are scores out there who are scared and alone. There are scores of children who are being negated and threatened by their own families and communities.

Most assuredly I will remember Matthew Shepard, on October 12th and every day.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers