Monday, April 9, 2012

The Many Deaths of Governor's School

Several people have asked me my thoughts about the General Assembly cutting funding to Governor's Schools for 2012, as well as the attempt by the GS Alumni Association to keep them open by soliciting funds.

Obviously, I think cutting funding for Governor's School is a mistake- both schools are programs that deserve to be fully funded, to honor the legacy of Terry Sanford if nothing else. There was a time when GS was the pride of the NC education system and while that time had passed, it could have come around again if the legislature had enough foresight to keep the programs running.

But honestly, as soon as they started charging tuition in 2010, Governor's School was already dead. Arguments that the tuition was nominal and that scholarships were available missed the point; GS worked because it wasn't selling a service. Instead it was providing an education. That the government of NC chose to cover the cost of the school was in many ways the whole point of the school. Attendance was an honor and choosing to accept that honor meant you were also buying into the school on the school's terms. No student had to attend GS; choosing to do so meant you were signing on to the GS model.

But as soon as GS started charging tuition it turned into a less prestigious version of TIPS or any other of the million other education camps that exist. These camps are selling a service, which means they need to respond to the buying public. Henry Ford had to make the Model T in different colors when it became a product that had to win over a consumer. The same thing is true when GS became a summer camp by charging tuition; all of a sudden, parents are buying a product for their student. Introducing students to contemporary Hong Kong cinema trends or the complicating nature of documentary fiction has to help get Little Johnny into the big name college he wants to attend; the fact that it is contemporary scholarship being undertaken by said universities is no longer enough. Students aren't being given a challenging education by the state- they are buying a college application boost from a company and that company now has to answer to its customers ahead of its pedagogical mission. Numbers will have to be generated and explanations for classes and extracurricular activities will be dependent on the numbers they generate. How will this help get Little Johnny into college?

I also think crowd sourcing the next several years of GS is a huge mistake. What motivation does the state have to readopt the program if it still runs under the same name with no financial input from them? Why let the legislature off the hook for its mistake? And realistically, how many summers does the alumni group believe it can raise these funds? Instead of going down fighting and praising what GS did do right, the school now dies, hat in hand on a street corner, begging for alms. The sound you are hearing is Terry Sanford rolling over in his grave.

It makes me sad to write all this because the people that are fighting so hard for it right now are my friends and I know they do what they do because they love GS. I loved GS too, but when I was fired, my heart was broken enough that I got a different perspective. It also makes me sad to write this because I made the same mistake I think they are making now, the mistake that the faculty and administration have been making for years. I loved my job at Governor's School more than I loved Governor's School itself. It really is the best teaching job there is and I did anything I could to keep that job there- I lied to myself and my students, I believed lies that I knew were lies, and I tried to placate hate-driven bully groups. All of those are mistakes and tragically, they are mistakes that many have made and continue to make.

Governor's School is dead. Tell the stories of what the program did right and call on the carpet those that killed it, myself included. But propping the corpse up in the corner with a champagne bottle duct-taped to its hand honors no one and does no one any favors. Governor's School is dead. Long live Governor's School.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tom Winton's Reply

Folks forwarded me probably 15-20 letters they sent to Tom and Mary and maybe 10 other folks let me know they were going to send letters. I was curious to see if anyone would get a reply from Tom and Mary, mostly because I was curious to what they would say.

The only person I know of that heard from them was Jim Dadosky. He was a GSE student who I had in Area III one year. He's a smart, insightful young man with a fiercely independent streak. He heard back from Tom after sending him 2 requests for a response.

The response is pretty standard, but concerns me deeply because its first paragraph is riddled with blatant lies which Tom knows are lies. GS does alter its curriculum and content. As faculty members, we were asked at different times by David Mills, Tom Winton, J. Grymes, and Michael McElreath to either censor content or change the title of electives specifically so they could fly under the radar of the ADF on the public calendar. (David and Tom were the DPI GS directors, J. and Michael were GSE directors.)

While I know admitting there were attempts to appease a homophobic, out-of-state group is embarrassing (I'm embarrassed that I changed the name of the Human Sexuality Film Series and that i shut it down one year), lying about it is to me the first offense that begins to mitigate Tom Winton's dismissal.

(1) Lying about simple things like these violates the ground GSE is built upon. We don't lie to the students and faculty members don't lie to each other. We state our truths or positions and try to find responsible, respectable ways to work differences out. It is what we require in the classroom and in the general GSE community. We ask it of both the students and the staff. It is one of the most powerful models GSE offers to its students, as well as its faculty. If Tom is going to begin openly lying in public about GS policies, I believe he is unfit to hold his position. If he is lying at the request of his superiors, they too need to be removed.

(2) His letter indicates that I am lying when I state that I changed the name of the film series, removed films, and censored books at the request of Tom Winton, Michael McElreath, J. Grymes, and David Mills. Each of them asked me to do one or more of the above actions, specifically so the ADF would either be appeased or would be hard pressed to discover what we were doing at GSE. I said at the time and I restate now, those actions were homophobic and violated basic tenets of GS. It is my great shame that I ever censored or removed material from courses or electives. However, I am not lying when I say that it occurred. Tom Winton is lying when he denies that it occurred.

I also feel Tom plays fast and loose with the truth when he states that there are topics of sexuality on both the GSE and GSW calendars. The link to the GSE calendar is here (I choose not to concern myself with GSW as their response to being asked to censor or disguise topics of sexuality was very different from the GSE response.) There are no electives or activities beyond the GSA that uses any word related to sexuality. (We were asked to use "gender" when we could instead of "gay" "sexuality" "homosexuality" etc.) The GSA is the only thing that we were not asked to censor because GSA's usually win when challenged in court. Very simply, if you allow any electives or groups, you have to allow a GSA and the ADF does not challenge those legally.

This is not to say there are no discussions of sexuality or sexuality theory. There have been and I am sure there will be. It is the attempt to disguise them from the ADF or their removal that is homophobic and needs to be stopped. Therefore, if Tom knows that topics of sexuality are being discussed, he has yet to allow them to use that vocabulary on the public calendar.

Tom's reversion to public denial of well known facts is concerning, but also indicates to me the ineffectiveness of GS leadership. This makes me fear for its continuation. GS is a powerful, progressive NC institution. It needs leadership that is up to the challenges it currently faces, as well as those coming in the future. Tom Winton's inability to speak a very simple, very public truth concerns me, not only for the slander it commits against me, but for his inability to deal with threats to GS existence. If he has read Opening Windows, Winton would have to realize the truth, while difficult at times, is the best weapon against lies.

The letter is below. (Jimbo gave me permission to post this and to use his name.)

Dear Mr. Dadosky,

Thank you for your notes and for your concerns about Governor's School. Your input is valued and appreciated, and I hope your educational career is moving forward well since you attended Governor's School in 2006.

While your points are clear, they seem to be founded on information that is inaccurate, misleading or false. I encourage you to follow the Governor's School model and not automatically believe one person's version of events. In fact, we do not alter the Governor's School curriculum or content in response to the threats of the ADF or any other organization. Virtually every decision on content and materials is made by the faculty and On-Site Director. All pertinent topics, including topics on sexuality, are open for discussion. (Please examine the calendars for both Governor's School East and Governor's School West. I believe you will find them to be very diverse, including sexuality topics.) The administration at the Department of Public Instruction does, however, have the assigned responsibility to direct the Governor's School. We do receive and listen to suggestions from a variety of perspectives, including yours, through the year. We also trust and value the opinions of our faculty. On the rare occasions we make more direct decisions, we do our best to adhere to the mission and purposes of the Governor's School and consider the needs and interests of the wide variety of students who attend. Then we examine those decisions, with feedback from stakeholders, make adjustments and move forward. This is not to appease a group or an individual, but to provide what we believe to be in the best interest of students.

While I will not engage in debate on individual points and assumptions you have expressed, please know that we are on the same side in these matters. I look forward to the North Carolina Governor's School continuing to be a pioneering educational program, the first of its kind in the country and the model against which other states' programs are fashioned. Thank you again for your dedication to Governor's School and your advocacy for its success.

Tom Winton
Section Chief, Instructional Support & Related Services
Exceptional Children Division
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

Monday, June 1, 2009

Summer 2009

The Governor’s School 2009 session starts June 8th, with students arriving June 14th. This summer I am asking people to contact GS administration and insist that faculty and staff no longer be asked or forced to (1) edit any part of the Area I, II, III or elective curriculum according to actual or anticipated requests from the Alliance Defense Fund. The ADF is a homophobic group in Arizona. As such, they should not be determining the curriculum of a North Carolina public school program. (2) remove any words relating to sexuality from the curriculum when those words accurately reflect content. Disguising content associated with homosexuality (accurately or not) with word play is homophobic and as such is dangerous to faculty, staff, and students.

You may contact Mary Watson, Director of Exceptional Children Division, or Tom Winton, Director of both Governor’s Schools any of the ways below.
Mary Watson. 919-807-3969.
Tom Winton. 919-807-3982.
The postal address for either is Department of Public Instruction. 6356 Mail Service Center. Raleigh, NC 27699-6356.

Many of you are aware I was fired from North Carolina’s Governor’s School program just before the 2008 session. (I taught at Governor’s School East. Read more about the program here. Five of us that were fired for expressing concerns about homophobic policies from the Governor’s School administration and issues of academic freedom. The other four were quickly offered meetings to explain why they were fired and were reinstated after they promised not to talk about their firing, their meeting with administration, or what was happening between Governor’s School and the Alliance Defense Fund. I am the only one of the five that is queer. I publically identify as so and was out to administration and faculty.
Governor’s School has been under attack from the Alliance Defense Fund since 2003.

The ADF is a legal group primarily funded by Focus on the Family and is based in Arizona. The ADF is openly homophobic and they file lawsuits across the country that support their homophobic agenda. (You can read about the ADF here. Each year since at least 2005, the ADF has threatened Governor’s School with litigation and demands that GS post curriculum on a public board so it may be “monitored” both from Arizona and locally by the John Locke Foundation and their monthly, the Carolina Journal. (You can read some of the CJ’s work on Governor’s School here.

When the ADF objects to books, films, discussions, activities, they both send out an alert, asking members of an email list to flood GS offices with both written protests and phone calls. Then they threaten litigation unless the content they find objectionable is removed. Almost all content the ADF has found objectionable has been because of perceived homosexual material, although they did object to both the films, American History X and Pan’s Labyrinth at Governor’s School West because of violence.

The response of the administration at GS has been threefold. (1) Content has removed at the ADF’s request. The only movie I know that ADF objected to that was shown anyway is Ma Vie En Rose in an elective I ran, the Human Sexuality Film Series. Other than that, films, books, speakers, electives, and activities the ADF objects to are removed from the curriculum. (2) Faculty have been asked to choose curriculum and materials according to what the ADF might find objectionable, despite the academic importance of the topic or material. (3) Faculty have been asked to disguise electives and materials the ADF might find objectionable. This has most often been done by removing the words “sex”, “sexuality”, “gay”, “lesbian”, “homosexual”, “transgendered”, “bisexual”, and “queer”. While the administration has not objected to the material, they have been concerned that those terms might draw the attention of the ADF if they appear on the public calendar. (For instance, I was ordered to change the name of the Human Sexuality Film Series. I changed it to “The Film Series That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Or Show Films”. I was later told one reason for my firing was because of this change, despite the fact it was approved at the time and it fit the criteria I was given- remove the word Sexuality from the title.)

Governor’s School is also under attack from the governor and legislature this year. Part of the budget recommendation is for one GS campus next year. That will result in 400 fewer students having the GS experience. While this threat is real and meaningful, the administration’s desire to shape GS curriculum is line with ADF’s homophobic agenda seems the greater threat. Whether there are 1 or 2 GS campuses is a moot point when GS has moved so far away from its stated goal- to “acquaint these future leaders with the latest theories and techniques in their chosen fields – introduce them to some of the present thorny problems in the field- . . .” (Opening Windows Onto the Future: Theory of the Governor’s School of North Carolina. You can see the full text of this document here.

Why any public school in North Carolina should attempt to mollify a homophobic group in Arizona is a crucial question. Why GS in particular does is a question that must be made public and answered by its administration. Their current plan seems to be to remain quiet, get rid of any problematic staff, and hope all issues will remain under the radar of the public, the legislature, and the ADF. Saving GS from budget cuts is important; saving it from its current leadership is essential. Your letter, email or phone call will remind the administration there are many voices. Neither the curriculum nor the faculty of any NC public school program should be set by the loudest. It is their job to defend the stated goals of GS, not to attempt to hide the important work GS does from a homophobic bully. Hearing from people other than the ADF is really important to Governor’s School as a whole, but particularly for faculty, staff, and students this summer. The administration needs to know not everyone thinks homophobia is acceptable and that they are accountable to all of the citizens of North Carolina and not just the ADF.

Monday, December 15, 2008


This summer, a GSE alumni suggested I should read Kenji Yoshino's Covering: The Hidden Assult on our Civil Rights. She was reading it for the 2008 UNC-CH summer read for new students and she thought it related directly to GSE's homophobia, their resistance to their behavior being identified as homophobic, and their efforts to differentiate their behavior from ADF's homophobic behavior.

In many ways, this has always been the strange part of this whole ordeal. Why in the world would GS repeatedly as a faculty to not use the words "gay" "lesbian" or "queer", encourage all contemporary academic work except for sexuality studies, and fire me and then keep insisting none of that was related. Why would ADF and GS not wear what they are with pride? Why work so hard to distance themselves from the label "homophobic" when wearing that label is not illegal and would actually ingratiate them to the audience they have chosen?

Yoshino's book (which I finally got to as this semester was winding down) does provide an excellent explanation for this type of behavior. It also places the responsibility for homophobic behavior back on the homophobes, no matter how much they may attempt to resist that label. Yoshino offers that queer equality (and most civil rights struggles) has three stages- conversion, passing and covering. Conversion involves attempts to deny an identity or "correct" that identity; passing involves an admission that the identity is there but hiding or disguising the identity; covering involves an acceptance of the identity but controls on how the identity is expressed.

"Don't Ask/Don't Tell" is the perfect example of covering behavior; it is not being gay that is the problem. Instead it is "acting gay" or performing gay in an unacceptable way. Or as Yoshino puts it, "Individuals no longer needed to be white, male, straight, Protestant, and able-bodied; they needed only to act white, male, straight, Protestant, and able-bodied." Doing is what is under attack, not being.

And of course, this defines exactly GSE demands. GSE and the GS administration doesn't ask its faculty to be straight or not to teach queer subjects. What it asks is that its faculty or their subjects not be obtrusively queer, queer in such a way that the ADF might be able to read it as queer. They had no trouble with me teaching the Human Sexuality Film Series. What they objected to was the word Sexuality because that would draw the attention of the ADF. What they objected to was my academic work on queerness because it is easy to find and identify. "We aren't like the ADF" they want to insist, but of course, it is the same homophobia reflected from a slightly different angle. As Yoshino puts it, "In the new generation, discrimination directs itself not against the entire group, but against the subset of the groups that fails to assimilate to mainstream norms. This new form of discrimination targets minority cultures rather than minority persons. Outsiders are included, but only if we behave like insiders -- that is only if we cover."

For the administration at GS and GSE, they like to believe that gives them enough distance from homophobia that they don't have to be tarred with its brush. But of course, to a young student who may be thinking about his/her sexuality, who wishes to be reflective about the sexual choices s/he makes, the message is the same either way and just as dangerous. "There's something wrong with you. Your behavior is deviant and it will be punished and brought into line or else you wind up like these we have exiled. You are so deviant we can't even bring ourselves to talk about te topics you are interested in." That responsibility lies on the heads of Mary Watson, Tom Winton, and Michael McElreath whether they feel comfortable with that or not. The question is, which, if any, of them will be brave enough to say what they know is true, for themselves, for the program, for the students?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Gay Marriage and DPI

I've been away from this blog for a few months, mostly because it's been nice to have a break from thinking about DPI and homophobia. But of course, that hasn't mean that things haven't been going on. Some kids from 2008 GSE contacted me about starting GSAs in their schools; one student was denied by their high school, despite the fact the school has other non-curricular clubs. Other kids have had more luck and I was happy to run into some of their GSA's at Pride this year. And I am looking forward to speaking to some student groups next semester.

And perhaps most importantly, Focus on the Family, the group that funds the Alliance Defense Fund, led the charge to add state constiutional amendments banning gay marriage in Arizona, California, and Florida. Prop 8 in California is particularly an interesting turn because homosexuals could be married in California previously.

What this means is that we have allowed an individual's right granted to them by a state to be determined by a majority decision, not the decision of the state's court system. Of course, ADF and FotF are both always bent out of shape about "activist" judges and see these votes as the will of people, as if that should be what determines what rights people should have.

But of course, we don't determine human rights or civil rights by popular decision. Women and blacks didn't get the right to vote by popular acclaim; schools weren't desegregated by a majority vote; we didn't legalize mixed race marriages through the "will of the people." In fact, it is the job of state and federal judges to determine rights and responsibilites of citizens not through a majority or based on what a certain religous group might think, but based on an understanding of the Constitution or other appropriate documents and translate it into law if necessary. We strictly don't ask churches to determine what state laws should be.

In fact, the great shortcomings of the courts have been when they don't interpret a legal document but act as if all possible meanings and definitions were carved in stone the day they were written. See the Dred Scott case (which the evangelical conservative right equates to Roe vs. Wade interestingly) where the Supreme Court decided blacks couldn't have rights of citizenship because they weren't part of the "We" when "We the People" was written.

So what does all of this have to do with DPI and Governor's School? FotF and DPI argue that if enough people are homophobic, they should be allowed to enact homophobic policies or set homophobic laws. They detest when courts, judges, or administrators, who are specifically there to set policies and make laws, follow stated values or guidelines instead of putting everything up to a vote. So in California, where marriage was thought to "be a fundamental right of free men" when anti-miscegination laws were overturned, it doesn't matter that queers are "free men", just that there are a lot of homophobes.

And the DPI has of course allowed this kind of majority opinion hate to overrule the stated values of Governor's School. GS doesn't promise to teach what the largest or loudest number of people want GS to teach; GS states it will set a curriculum based on an "exploration of the latest ideas in various disciplines". (Really-it's right there on the front page of the website.) But when the ADF says GS can't teach anything containing the word sexuality, they have no legal or rational grounds to stand on. What they threaten GS with is a lawsuit that GS will lose in the court of public opinion. And DPI is scared of this and responds to stay out of a public discussion.

Homophobia is wrong. It doesn't matter how many people are homophobic. It doesn't matter that Barack Obama is homophobic when he speaks out against gay marriage. (At least he admits that there may be a possibility that he is bigoted and short-sighted.) It doesn't matter that there are homophobic laws in place. Homophobia is still morally wrong. And it violates the 14th Amendment.

Homophobia is wrong for GS too. If human sexuality is a latest idea in a discipline, then it can be taught at GS. It doesn't matter that the ADF or the Carolina Family Council or any other group doesn't like it; they aren't academic groups and don't determine the curriculum for NC state schools. And it doesn't matter how many homophobes they can rally to write or call. It doesn't make homophobia right. And pretending that it does, is and of itself, homophobic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

For The Bible Tells Me So

I was really excited that the students and faculty started a GSA after the Indy article came out. I was even more excited that they listed it on the calendar; it will be interesting to see what results from that.

Unfortunately, the censorship continued this summer. The faculty wanted to show For The Bible Tells Me So, a documentary that looks at the dialogue between homosexuality and religion. The reason given was that there were better choices and because it didn't portray both sides well enough. I'm not sure what the missing side was, but I always think that's the default excuse that holds no water.

It isn't the job of GS to show all sides of any issue. It is the job of GS to present contemporary work in academic areas. When we would talk about global warming, students would often accuse the program of not showing "both sides" (as if there were only two positions on the topic). I would point out we give them access to CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and other cable channels. We gave them the New York Times each morning. They had access to the internet. What did they feel like we were hiding from them? And mostly, that statement meant we weren't telling them what they wanted to believe; we were in someway challenging their beliefs.

I haven't written here for awhile because I've been trying to take a break from resisting ADF and DPI. It was hard all summer and strangely got harder when GS ended. But classes are back in session and I am feeling ready again. But I'm also going to try to do a better job of saying how and why this process has been really painful, as well as being able to say when it is now.

Thanks to everyone who asked how I was or talked to me about what this fight meant to them personally or said nice things. That all really helped and I'm going to try to be better about thanking folks for that and asking for it when I need it. It makes me feel much less alone.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


One thing i haven't talked about is the effect DPI decisions have had on me, personally. There's a couple reasons for that; I am really worried about GS and its existence and I am really worried about students and future students. It is dangerous to send a message to these students that there is something wrong with them if they want to be reflective about their sex, gender, or desire.

But getting fired is also been detrimental to me. That's important too. The decisions that Tom, Mary, and Michael make don't just harm some hypothetical future student. They did and are doing real harm to me, right now, in a real way.

First of all, getting fired somehow indicates that i did something wrong. Tom has sent emails to people who have contacted him (and said in other situations) that they don't know all the facts of the story, as if there is some crime i committed that, if they knew, would make them agree that I should have been fired. This is a lazy and cruel strategy often taken against queers. Put forth some vague suggestion of impropriety and let people draw their own conclusions.

Michael told the students that I didn't get fired for being queer or for calling homophobia homophobia. I understand he feels contractually obligated to say this, but it also indicates that I did get fired for some real reason.

I didn't. I got fired because a homophobic group in Arizona wants there to be nothing resembling homosexuality on our curriculum, because the administration of GS decided to acquiesce to that instead of stand up and fight, and because I insisted on labelling those actions as homophobic. Lots of other faculty did too, but they aren't queer or can't be identified as queer in a simple Google search. Until DPI starts admitting that, they are doing harm to me every time Michael, Tom, or Mary tries to act like it is something else.

Secondly, i don't get to teach at Governor's School any more. Being at GSE was a great pedagogical and artistic inspiration to me. Being around my colleagues and the students made me a better teacher and writer. DPI has removed me from that community against my will and for no good reason. That actively hurts me as a teacher and writer.

The third thing it does is send a clear message to me that I am deficient in some way. Not only was I fired, but DPI had no intention of ever talking to me about it at all. I understand why- they had to make up ridiculous reasons for firing me and then Tom has to look like an idiot when they trot him out to repeat them. But not even having the integrity to talk to me, to tell me the truth, indicates a real lack of respect on DPI's fault. The truth is, Tom should have been down on his knees, begging me to come back and to forgive them.

Finally, it is insulting to insinuate that I do not recognize homophobia when I see it. I've been queer and out for a long time now. I've taught gay and lesbian, queer, and sexuality studies for a long time now. I've been a victim of homophobia and homophobic violence before. What, in the long and storied personal lives and careers of Tom Watson, Mary Winton, and Michael McElreath indicates that they would be better at recognizing homophobia or its lack better than I? What leads them to believe that they will be better off fighting a homophobic group without me than they were with me?

Tom, Mary, and Michael are actively hurting and oppressing students,alumni and the institution of GS. That is important. But they are also actively hurting me for no reason then their own convenience. And that's important to say as well.

Let's see if any of them are brave enough to stop and to start telling the truth.