Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wiener of the week

Sometimes I think I should start an award for the most appalling people in the world. It's a pretty standard feature in lots of blogs, not mention on Keith Olbermann's Countdown. I could give it a cute name like the Oscar Meyer memorial wiener of the week award. But, it's a gag that's been done almost to death and some days the competition is almost too strong. There is not and never will be a shortage of jerks in the world. Plus, what would I do about people like Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, or anyone who writes for World News Daily? Bush deserves to win it every day for the continuing damage he does to world peace, the American constitution, and the English language. Do I deprive less well known, but still vile people of their day in the sun, the brutal exposing light of day, just because the better-known wingnuts hog the limelight? I suppose I could establish a hall of shame for the usual suspects. But that sounds like a lot of work.

If I did give out an OMMWOTW Award, this week it would unquestionably go to Principal Daphne Beasley of the Hollis F. Price Middle College High School in South Memphis, TN. Principal Beasley was the subject of a complaint (PDF) that the ACLU sent to the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners and will probably be the star of some law suits later this year. What did she do to deserve this attention?

Last fall Beasley announced over the school intercom system that she wanted all teachers and staff at the school to provide her with a list of all students who were couples, "hetero and homo." The purpose of compiling the list was that she wanted to monitor them personally to prevent students from engaging in public displays of affection. She posted the list near her desk in plain sight of staff and students. Soon after, a student informed her that two boys, known as Andrew and Nicholas in the complaint, were a gay couple and she added them to the list.

The boys had been quiet about their relationship and had never been observed in an sort of public display of affection at the school. Beasley called both of the boys' parents. According to Nicholas's mother who took notes, Beasley repeatedly asked her "Did you know your son is gay?" and went on to say that she didn't like gay people, wouldn't tolerate homosexuality at her school, and was glad she didn't have kids so she wouldn't have to deal with these problems.

Let's stop and look at the story so far. Why did Beasley really need this list? Are we expected to believe that she was unable to tell who was engaging in improper public displays of affection unless she had a suspect list. Or was the "hetero and homo" request nothing more than cover for her real purpose which was a gay whitch hunt all along? The latter is the belief of most of the commenters over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Even lacking that motive, it's voyuristic, extremely creepy, and possibly a violation of the right of privacy for her to be keeping such a list, as if the students were registered sex offenders.

Neither the ACLU complain nor the news coverage mention her calling the parents of any of the straight couples to report on their attachments. I think I'm safe in assuming that Andrew and Nicholas were singled out for different treatment than the straight kids. This must be an example of those "special rights" that we keep hearing about gays getting. More concrete examples of their special treatment are mentioned in the complaint. The two were prohibited from walking or studying together at the school. Nicholas, a straight-A (pardon the pun) student with a long history of community service, applied to go on a school sonsored trip to New Orleans to take part the reconstruction. He was denied permission and a student who had not applied went in his place. A teacher told Nicholas that some faculty were afraid he might "embarrass the school" by engaging in "inappropriate behavior." It goes without saying that both Andrew and Nicholas had to deal with verbal harassment from teachers and students once word got around the school about their orientation.

Keep in mind that neither student broke any of the rules of the school. They were singled out merely because Beasley heard from another student that they were gay.

The ACLU enumerates the specific laws that Beasley has violated and demands that the school board reprimand Beasley, apologise to all of the students on the watch list "hetero and homo," compensate deal with these problemsfor the harm (no monetary amount or form of compensation is listed), and institute policies to see that this never happens again. The school board, to their credit, have not circled the wagons but are promising to investigate and deal with the issue.

Reprimanding Beasley doesn't sound like enough to me. She has no concept of the the proper limits to her authority and no respect for the students. Anyone who is glad she doesn't have kids so she won't have to deal with these problems has no business being in education because, dealing with these problems is a huge part of her job. Whatever the school district does doesn't rule out personal civil suits between the parents of deal with these problems and Beasley.

The usual result of suits like this is that the victims' lives become a living hell. the news coverage has put a target on their back for every bigot in the county. No last names were mentioned in the news reports, but plenty of students will be happy to point them out. They have shaken the boat; they are now officially troublemakers. Even students and neighbors who are personally neutral on the issue of gay rights will hate them for embarrassing their community. Their lives are changed.

Beasley's life will be changed, too. Bigots and right-wing culture warriors will adopt her as a cause and rally to her defense. They will slander the students and announce that Beasley is the real victim here. She will be transformed into a martyr because she stood up for her (bad) values. Even if she's not religious, they will make this a religious issue. Expect to see the phrase lynch mob bandied about. There are already enough intemperate comments on the blogs that they can pick and choose from the worst to tar anyone who sides with the students. This fits right into the anti-ACLU narrative that portrays the group not as a defender of the right to be unpopular, but rather as the enemy of morality and religion. We will also be treated to the logic abusing argument that the ACLU should be defending her right to use a government paid position to force her narrow-minded religion on a captive audience and that's what the founding fathers wanted. Expect a circus.

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