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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Legal Take

here is a legal take on the ADF's bullying and DPI's responding. comes from a blog called the eclectic hedonist.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


i enjoyed talking to the GSA at GSE yesterday. They had a lot of good questions about how to start their own GSA's at their high schools, what their legal rights were as high school students, what troubles they should anticipate, what the real story is about what happened last summer (GSE hadn't talked to them about the other members that were fired for example), what they could do to support GS, whether it was better to take on the ADF or DPI, and some questions about sexuality theory.

they were interested, kind kids and it left me sad and once again surprised that DPI can't just be honest with the faculty and students at GSE. these were kids who quickly got what was going on and why not allowing the ADF to affect the GS curriculum was important. why in the world is DPI and GSE not telling them the whole story? (i understand why the faculty can't, but certainly michael could lay out the situation for them)

i'll say again that the faculty, students, and alumni are GS's greatest strength and as long as the administration of GS keeps lying to them and withholding information from them, they will never be ready to take on the ADF. GS desperately needs leadership right now and it's not fair to ask the faculty and students to provide that leadership- that's the job of Tom Winton, Mary Watson, and Michael McElreath. Someone needs to love GS more than they love their position at GS.

Friday, July 18, 2008


I'm going to speak on Monday to the GSE GSA. I'm looking forward to hearing the students' questions and just hearing about where they are at with everything. I'm also very proud that GSE has put the GSA on the public calendar. I'll be interested to see what comes from that step, but I would also say that step fills me with pride and hope as well.

I'll also be interested to hear about the process of having me as a speaker. I know there was some concern but I don't know what level that was at- faculty, admin or above. I plan to be respectful, responsible, and honest. I feel some security knowing they can't fire me twice. However I did find out that my dean at the college got a note from above him about my presence in the Indy article. May be time to start passing on faculty openings you know about, although I hope not. I enjoy the students at VGCC a lot and would hate to lose them, just as I hated to lose the GSE ones.

I'll try to give an overview of the talk- it will be at 4pm in the chapel on the Meredith campus.

Oh and my response when I sent Marcy a note, asking why the sudden interest in GS now by the N and O? I'll quote in full- "thanks, tanya." Not sure if that means "i didn't read your email" or "yes you are exactly right" or "please leave me alone you crackpot."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

N and O Request

I'm really not a conspiracy theorist, but the timing of the News and Observer's request for GS memories seems suspicious as best. According to its own records, the N and O has written exactly zero (0) articles about GS since 2004. But the week after the Indy prints its article about questioning why the ADF should be censoring the curriculum of GS, a NC public school program funded with state money, the N and O puts out a call for your best GS memories? Hmmm.

In its patheticness, it strikes me exactly as something DPI and Exceptional Children would do to attempt to "combat" the "negative" publicity. Answer the charges? Allow faculty and students to talk to reporters? No. But launch a "counter" sunshine and roses campaign. Yeah. That sounds about right.

Hey, I have long argued that NC should be proud of GS- it's an amazing program that is as pedagogically progressive and sound as I've seen and been a part of (until its administrators started censoring curriculum according to the wishes of right-wing, homophobic, christian groups). But now? Smells rotten to me.

I sent an email to Marcy Smith asking her if the N and O were doing this at the bequest of DPI to counter the bad publicity which it got, as well as if the N and O were looking into the question of the ADF setting curriculum for NC public schools. I would urge you to ask the same.

i love GS. i will always love what GS stands for in its documentation and in many of its years of practice. but now does not seem the time to be burying GS in praise. it seems time to be asking hard hard questions of an administration that is not only remaining quiet, but demanding that its faculty remain quiet.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Jesse Helms died on Friday. No one wants to celebrate the death of any human being. And yet as a North Carolinian, I hate to see the deification of Helms that's occuring. He was a man who was driven by hate. He was given many opportunities to divorce himself from that hate, to find another defining force in his life, and he turned his back on each and every one of those chances. That's hard to find admirable in any sense.

Here is a link to the obituary from the Guardian. I like the way it gives Helms "credit" for all the hate he fostered, nurtured, and carried around his whole life.

Helms was certainly one of the people that made groups like the ADF possible, in multiple ways.

I think every human being is capable of change and should be given room for redemption. I hope that fighting for GS can help members of the ADF redeem themselves, find it possible to live a life that isn't defined by fear and anger. But some folks are too frightened to step away from what they know, what they were told to believe, what they choose to believe. It's why places like GS are so important- the world needs more models of how to talk about difficult issues respectfully and responsibly instead of bullying and tricking people into embracing the exact world view you want them to have.

I hope some members of the ADF and the North Carolina Family Council will take advantage of this opportunity and do what Helms never could; let go of the hate.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Double-Secret Probation

Trevor Hoppe (a GS alum who wrote about the ADF and DPI) has a new entry in his blog, including an email he got back from Tom Winton after Trevor wrote Tom about the situation.

It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. Apparently, Tom has super-secret reasons i was fired and no one knows them but him. In fact, I may have been on double-secret probation. But it angers me that Tom insinuates that I'm lying about something, that I secretly know why I was fired and that it has nothing to do with the ADF or homophobia.

When Tom and I met, I told him one thing I found insulting was his implication that I can't recognize homophobia or that I cling to it as some sort of victim. I've been queer, I've been out, I've been in sexuality studies long enough to recognize homophobia when I encounter it either directly or indirectly. Not allowing the word "sexuality" on the GSE website because it might upset the ADF is homophobia. Shutting down the Human Sexuality film series because it angers the ADF is homophobia. Removing films that parents have approved for their children because the ADF doesn't like the films because of the way they deal with human sexuality is homophobia.

They can't deny doing any of these things. So why won't they explain why they are acceding to the demands of the ADF? There must be some reason. Tom Watson and Mary Winton need to say what that reason is.

They also need to stop insinuating that I am lying about why I got fired. I got fired because I'm openly queer, a fact easily found with a simple Google search. I got fired because I teach and write in the area of sexuality studies. I got fired because I identifed homophobic actions as homophobic. If they have anything beyond that, I would love to hear it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Independent's Article

Here's a link to the Independent and the article they wrote about the Alliance Defense Fund and Governor's School's response to their bullying threats. I thought Saldana identified the proper problem and did a very good job overall. I'll try to write my own response soon, but please take a look at the article; the Indy also has a good comments section for their articles.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Alternative Reactions

While the situations are obviously different, I am again struck by how different the responses are between the state of NY and the DPI of NC. Governor Patterson marched in yesterday's Pride parade and had this comment about the litigation threats of ADF.

Earlier this month, on behalf of several state Republican elected officials, a conservative Christian policy group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., sued Mr. Paterson in State Supreme Court in the Bronx to block the governor’s order.

Before he marched in the parade on Sunday, Mr. Paterson defended his order and insisted that a lawsuit challenging it would fail.
“It is the law and it is the right thing to do. I stand by it,” he said. “If someone would like to go to court and waste their money and prove me wrong, they can do that. And I welcome that.”

Again, I am stuck on why NC's DPI would attempt to appease ADF instead of stand up for Governor's School, their faculty, their students, and their alumni.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Independent Article

I'm happy to say the Independent, the alternative newspaper in the Triangle, is working on a story about DPI's attempts to appease the ADF, as well as why calling out homophobia would get you fired. (these are two very interesting questions, although i also wonder why the desires of the ADF trump the desires of student's parents as to what movies they can see, so I hope they'll take that on too.)

I was interviewed by Matt Saldana; he also contacted the faculty members who were fired and then offered their jobs back. I'm not sure if they'll be free to talk to him. Apparently, part of the agreement of getting their job back had to be that they not talk about their firing with students. DPI just becomes a more and more fervent defender of the old First Amendment rights as every day passes.

I also got to do a photo shoot with Derek Anderson at the Indy; he's a great photographer and it was a lot of fun. I have no idea how the whole thing will turn out or what angle they'll take or how seriously they'll take it, but it seems like a start. I still believe DPI has to answer as to why they would allow the ADF to determine an NC public school's curriculum. Perhaps this article can open the door to that discussion.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

DPI Letter

Someone asked me the other day what the 3 sentences were in my letter I got from DPI, firing me. I'll transcribe them below.

Dear Ms. Olson:

Thank you for your service this past summer with the Governor's School East program. In reviewing your position, the Exceptional Children Division has decided to move in a different direction and open this position to other applicants. We hope you consider your time with Governor's School valuable and wish you good fortune in your future endeavors.

Then it is signed by Mary Watson. You would think they would at least have had the good manners to address me as Dr. Olson, seeing as it is official correspondence.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Civil Rights Movement

I am just returning from the Mississippi Delta where i have spent a week with the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute meeting participants in the Civil Rights struggle, visiting landmarks of the movement, and hearing lectures about Freedom Summer and the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike.

We ended the week at the National Civil Rights Movement Museum; it's a great museum and no matter how much you know going in, a little or a lot, you will absolutely learn something. In one spot, they show clips of students learning how to do sit-ins and people responding to the sit-ins. One woman explains how her civil rights are being violated if she has to be in a store or restaraunt that serves blacks.

This clip is in the loop to illustrate how absurd the defense of hatred can sound; we are supposed to see it as dated and hateful and illogical. However, this is the exact argument the ADF often fields- if you make us act as if homosexuals are humans with human and civil rights, then you are violating their rights to practice their religions.

I have no doubt that homophobia is a dead-end game. In many ways, it already seems simple minded and out dated and I wonder when we will see clips of people expressing ADF like ideas. This makes it all the more confusing that anyone, especially members of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, would give this hatred any power, allow it to shape curriculum decisions in any way.

The most important things I learned in this workshop were how many things, how many infrastructures have to be in place for any movement to find success. The Civil Rights Movement only succeeded because it started long before 1954 and because there were lots of failures before.

I was also struck by how many people it took for the movement to succeed and many of these people weren't big names or became famous. They were people who, time and time again, identified hatred when they saw it, stood up to intimidation, and continued to speak what they knew was true. Fannie Lou Hamer is a famous example of this- a sharecropper with a 4th grade education, she became a powerful member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party who called Hubert Humphrey out on what his ambition would cost Mississippi citizens and who spoke so powerfully she terrified Lyndon Johnson.

The most powerful person I met this week (out of many who I have so much respect for) was L.C. Dorsey. Read more about her here

People need to know about the Civil Rights Struggle because it continues, but also because we currently need models of people and organizations who stood up for their rights and were willing to pay the cost to free not only themselves, but their oppressors of their hatreds.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

ADF Tactics

The ADF is very focused right now on stopping California from allowing same-sex couples equal marriage rights. Interestingly, we can see familiar tactics in how they address that. From the Friday June 13th paper with a link to the whole article.

"In a statement, County Clerk Ann K. Barnett announced that her office would not solemnize any wedding vows after Friday, a move that she said reflected administrative and budgetary concerns, but that gay rights activists think reflects Ms. Barnett’s distaste for same-sex marriage. The decision does not affect the ability of any couple in the county to obtain a marriage license. . . .

Ms. Barnett did not return calls seeking comment. On Monday, The Bakersfield Californian published e-mail messages between her office and a conservative legal group, the Alliance Defense Fund in Arizona, which had unsuccessfully argued against same-sex marriage in front of the State Supreme Court."

So in this case, the ADF has found someone on the inside of the issue and has guided/directed/supported their homophobic actions. But again, we are left with the question of why an evangelical Christian group based in Arizona should be denying California citizens the rights of their state?

Similarly, why was the ADF allowed to overturn the rights of NC parents? These parents had already given their permission for their children to see the films in the Human Sexuality Film series? Why would DPI allow ADF's homophobia to overrule the rights of parents? Was this a decision made by Tom Winton? Mary Watson? June Atkinson? And why are they not being called to task for denying GS parents their rights?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

No Child Left Behind and Free Speech

Today in the New York Times there were side by side articles about the First Amendment and free speech issues and the worth and continuation of No Child Left Behind

Their side by sideness got me to thinking about them together and their relevancy to ADF's attack on GS and why the administration of Governor's School is acceding to the demands of the ADF.

The Alliance Defense Fund often uses First Amendment and religious freedom arguments in their litigation. Part of their argument is that is you don't allow them to say vile things about homosexuals you are violating their First Amendment rights. (They may have a point about this. like it or not, in this country hate speech is covered under the First Amendment up to the point where that speech may reasonable cause acts of violence.)

Another stance they often take though is simply talking about homosexuality in any way that doesn't directly reflect their religous standpoint on it violates their freedom of religious expression. This makes no sense, particularly in combination with their above argument.

So why doesn't Governor's School and DPI simply allow ADF to file litigation then and take them on in court? This is where NCLB becomes important. DPI fears that if GS became more well known, had attention called to it, that it wouldn't be able to get funding through the NC legisature. (That may be true but i doubt it- this is where you call in the long arm of the alumni and put them to work.) One reason they think they would not be publically supported is because we don't create any numbers.

GS has no grades, no rankings, no tests. We produce no numbers beyond numbers of people that attend. We don't track the alumni to see how "successful" they are. And of course, this is what most faculty and students like about GS. A successful summer looks different for every single student. One student may have a successful summer by making friends, another by mastering ideas behind game theory, another by writing and directing a theatre performance, another by experiencing what a life of the mind looks like. Every single student has to define their own version of success and work towards that. As a program, we simply provide the tools, space, support, and safety for that work to take place. Most of thos successes are not reproducible in number, only is narrative and often not until years later.

And that's what I fear is getting lost, why GS will no longer truly work by these and other GS values. It seems unlikely (although not impossible) that there will be a movement towards the production/business model of education in which GS has to prove it's worth each summer by documenting how students are "better" at the end of the 6 weeks than at the beginning. But if you treat an entire academic discipline as if it has no value, if you don't illustrate to students how to vigorously think about and interrogate what makes up themselves and their world, if you present to students that one class of people is worth less than another, then GS isn't GS.

It becomes an actively dangerous place for queer studnts, queer friendly students, or students who wish to think about what it is to be a person with a sex, a gender, or desire. You present to students the idea that there are some things that should not be talked about or thought about. "Question everything. Accept nothing" (a popular GS motto) morphs into "Question the things that won't attract the attention of bullys. Accept the things that will help you hide from yourself and from others in the world." (That will not fit as well on a t-shirt either.) You model for them that there are topics that are so hard that they can never be talked about or disagreed about with a level of respect and reponsibility by people.

And in the end that's not GS. It's CNN and talk shows and most other public schools and a growing number of universities. It's what the students swim in each and every day. Why would they have to go to Raleigh or Winston-Salem to spend 6 weeks being exposed to that? They already know that. It's what bashes them over the head, every single day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Another GSE Alum Response

Here is a response from a GSE student from 2000, before my time, on his blog.

It amazes me that the adminstration of GS can't figure out how to co-ordinate, encourage, and use the brilliant students that have come through Governor's School doors. Talking to alumni and hearing there many thoughtful responses across the spectrum of responses makes me very proud of them.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Learning From The Civil Rights Movement

i've been reading about mississippi and the civil rights movement. the thing that struck me in both books is how civil rights activists there were successful not because the federal government supported them, but around that lack of support. they knew what they had to and could do. so this meant mississippi focused a lot on voter registration over direct action. local people started freedom schools and had parallel elections and ran parallel parties.

no matter what the administration said, they were often selling out these activists that were fighting for what they knew was right. for example, the kennedy administration would verbally say they supported the freedom riders and would never work against them. then they would make a quiet deal with the local sheriffs, promising if they would let the freedom riders get to jackson, the federal agents would allow the riders to be arrested.

there's also the interesting aspect that many black teachers and principals were against integration and initially signed on to the mississippi governor's offer to "voluntarily segregate" schools in exchange for increased funding. those teachers and principals had a lot to lose- their jobs, their standings, their economic position.

i know that thinking about thinking about sexuality and the civil rights movement together is controversial for many people. but i am learning a lot about how to resist homophobia, what state and federal administrations will do to protect the power they have, that people who have any kind of power will present one face publicly while viciously defending their power in secret.

i think this is exactly what is going on at DPI. I have long said someone has to love Governor's School more than they love their administrative position at GS. So far, we have seen no one who feels that way. No one is willing to stand up and question why a openly homophobic, evangelical Christian group in Arizona should be determining or effecting the curriculum of a public school program in NC. And I doubt anyone in a position of power will anytime soon.

Which leaves those of us who are powerless or have less power to use what we have. Faculty. Students. Alumni. Those of us who have been pushed outside the GS community. Power at the bottom often gets overlooked or undervalued, if recognized at all. But it is all the little things that begin to add up. Calling out homophobia where we see it. Resisting when basic tenets of academic freedom are violated. Labelling hypocrisy hypocrisy. These things matter. They mattered in Mississippi in the 1960's. They matter in NC in 2008.

Friday, June 6, 2008

ADF Loses Court Appeal

New York Times. June 5, 2008- "The California Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay its landmark decision allowing same-sex marriage, clearing the way for gay weddings to begin statewide later this month.

Two conservative legal groups and attorneys general from 10 states had asked the court to stop the same-sex ceremonies until a ballot measure intended to ban such unions was taken up by California voters in November."

Note the idea of allowing the ADF to follow through on their threat instead of acceding to their demands. Note how the ADF loses the appeal. Novel ideas, eh?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

ADF Overview

It's always good to know who objects to you and why. Here is some nice background info on the Alliance Defense Fund, where they get their money from, who supports them, and what their goals are.

Here is a place to track what the ADF is currently up to

The ADF also is very open about what they want to accomplish. You should be sure to check out what they are doing, in their own words, as well.

ADF also sponsors a group called the Center for Academic Freedom that deals specifically with colleges.

If they get more friends, they will have a page on Facebook

Monday, June 2, 2008

Another Player in the Game

While the ADF is the biggest player attacking GS, there are other players in the game. One on the scene in the North Carolina Family Policy Council.

They also like to "monitor" what goes on at Governor's School and seemingly, threaten litigation. (At the very least they like to have their lawyer send letters.) They specifically complained about Me Vie En Rose that I showed for the series and Tarnation that I showed in Documentary Fiction class. (They seemed to have last years syllabus though or they were just shooting blind that I would show both again. Ma Vie En Rose I did kick off the Human Sexuality Film Series with, but Tarnation had been part of the 2006 Area I class and I did not show it in 2007.)
2006 was the year the film series was censored and shut down; Tarnation was shown in class.

The links between the ADF and the NCFPC are made clear here and again the question is why DPI would allow either of these groups to set curriculum for an NC public school program.

What You Can Do

There are any number of things you can do to express your thoughts about this situation.

(1) Contact any faculty members you might know at GSE. They face a very challenging summer. Ask them what kind of support they want or need.

(2) Contact Mary Watson. She is the head of Exceptional Children at the Department of Public Instruction. EC is the section that includes the Governor's School program. or 919.807.3969

(3) Contact Tom Winton. He is the head of Governor's School at DPI. or 919. 807.3982

(4) Support any students you may know attending GS this summer. Allowing homophobia to shape curriculum, either explicitly or passively, sends a very dangerous message to any student who is thinking about his/her sexuality, feels alienated in any other way, or publicly identifies as queer, gay, lesbian, asexual, bisexual, transexual, or transgendered. All students at GS must be safe this summer to do the very hard intellectual and personal work the GS program demands of them.

What the ADF is up to Now

The ADF is currently very active in NY and California, battling against the recognition of marriage rights for same-sex couples. All of these actions reflect ADF's desire for any mention or recognition of homosexuality to be removed from the public discussion and are particularly troubling because DPI seems to be going along with this request by removing the Human Sexuality Film Series, censoring materials at GSE, and firing me. The Alliance Defense Fund is founded in part by Focus on the Family.

My Meeting With DPI

I was informed on December 21st that I would not be rehired by GSE for the 2008 session. A 3 sentence letter was sent to the house that indicated my position was being "taken in another direction."

On May14th, in response to requests from the GSE Council (Area I, II, and III directors, along with Chuck Sullivan, my direct boss as the head of the English Department), I met with Tom Winton at DPI. He informed me I had been fired/not re-hired for the following 4 reasons

(1) failure to return my contract in a timely matter
(2) changing the name of the Human Sexuality Film Series to The Film Series That Dare Not Speak It's Name. (I was asked to change the name of the series so that the word "sexuality" did not appear. The new name was a nod to Oscar Wilde.)
(3) a complaint by a student that his/her viewpoint was having trouble being heard in my class. (This may have been more than 1 student, but was at least 1. I forgot to ask Tom for clarification on the number at the end of the meeting.)
(4) appearing in an Area III student film about the ADF's attack on GSE. In the film, I indicated that I felt Tom and Mary were responding to homophobic demands from ADF instead of supporting the faculty and stated values of Governor's School. Tom's comment at the meeting was that there should be no public criticism of GS administration.

I indicated I felt these reasons were probably the reasons to be publicly stated for my firing, but there flimsiness and the fact that we had discussed none of them during the session meant they probably were not at all the real reasons behind my dismissal.

Tom and I went on to talk about how you deal with groups like ADF, how they work and what these types of groups respond to, what the strengths of such groups were and how GS could use its strengths to respond to the bullying of ADF, and how one unites a community to respond when attacked.

I felt that Tom and I had a productive meeting in the sense that we were able to talk about the "real" issue of ADF's extended and increasingly hostile attacks. My concern then and now are with the faculty at GSE and the position they are being forced into (censorship of anything that might upset or attract the attention of ADF, no information being shared between the administration and faculty, the moving away from the stated values of GS) and the actively hostile atmosphere ADF's attack and DPI's response creates for openly queer students and faculty.

I went into expecting that we would only be able to talk about the public, surface face of the situation and I appreciate that Tom was able to talk about the problem on a deeper level. I ended then and will restate now that I would be happy to help GS take on the ADF in any way possible.


Here are some links to letters between the ADF and DPI. While far from complete, they do indicate a negotiation and an ongoing response to ADF's requests by DPI.

Student Response II

Here is a senior thesis Jessica McDonald, GSE '07, wrote about the situation. I'll include links to some very important documentation she found that indicates the dialogue that is ongoing between the ADF and North Carolina's Department of Public Instruction. This dialogue is important because it indicates a openly homophobic group from Arizona is directly shaping the curriculum of a NC public school.

Governor’s School of North Carolina: Opening Minds or Violating Rights?

Jessica McDonald
Ms. Darden
English IV
25 April 2008

Governor’s School of North Carolina: Opening Minds or Violating Rights?

Thesis statement: The Governor’s School of North Carolina does nothing illegal by exposing students to new ideas through its academic curriculum and optional seminars.
I. Background
A. History of NC Governor’s School
1. Beginnings
2. Expansion
3. Attendance to date
B. Purpose of NC Governor’s School
C. Governor’s School today
1. Nomination/selection process
2. Academic curriculum and electives
II. “The New Gay Teenager” Seminar in 2005
A. Seminar presentation, instructors, and attendees
B. Basis in The New Gay Teenager by Ritch Savin-Williams
C. Effects of seminar
1. Burrows family problems
2. Letters between family and Department of Public Instruction
III. Alliance Defense Fund involvement
A. Description of ADF
B. Letter and findings in ADP examination of legality of seminar
1. Human sexuality education programs in public schools
2. Parental review and consent
3. Constitutional rights
4. Abuse through emotional damage
C. Response of State Board of Education/Department of Public Instruction
1. Not a “public school”
2. Did not break any laws or violate rights
D. ADF response
IV. Continued Alliance Defense Fund pressure and recent controversy
A. June 2007 letter from ADF
B. DPI censorship at 2007 GSE
C. Faculty response
D. Faculty fired and rehired
V. Personal commentary: my GSE experience
A. Presenting ideas versus endorsing them
B. “Your truth is not my truth”
C. Future of Governor’s School

Jessica McDonald
Ms. Darden
English IV
11 April 2008

Governor’s School of North Carolina: Opening Minds or Violating Rights?
The Governor’s School of North Carolina, a residential summer program for high school students, was founded “to explore ideas at the cutting edge of our intellectual and cultural lives” (North Carolina 1). Many people misinterpret this progressive exploration as liberal indoctrination, and one family has even challenged the legality of one particular Governor’s School experience. However, the Governor’s School of North Carolina does nothing illegal by exposing students to new ideas through its academic curriculum and optional seminars.

Established by Governor Terry Sanford, the Governor’s School of North Carolina is “the oldest statewide summer residential program in the nation for academically or intellectually gifted high school students” (North Carolina ii). The state-funded program began at Salem College in 1963 and grew to include a second campus at Laurinburg College in 1978. The location of Governor’s School East eventually changed from Laurinburg College to Meredith College in 2000. Since its founding, 29,600 students have attended Governor’s School. The Public Schools of North Carolina, the State Board of Education, and the Department of Public Instruction, with the assistance of the Exceptional Children Division, are all involved in the administration of Governor’s School (North Carolina ii).
The six-week Governor’s School program, which includes disciplines in both academic areas and the arts, chooses attendees through an intensive nomination and selection process offered to the top students across North Carolina. Counselors, principals, and teachers at the local high school level nominate students to county superintendents or to the headmasters of private schools. Each school is allowed a limited number of academic nominees, which is determined by the school’s sophomore and junior class populations, and students must meet certain criteria in order to apply. Two nominated students from each county are assured a spot in the academic areas, while the remaining academic spots are filled by a selection committee on the state level. Students applying in the arts are chosen by application and an audition in front of judges. Only rising seniors may attend Governor’s School for academics; rising juniors and rising seniors may go for the arts (Nomination Packet 1, 5).
The Governor’s School curriculum is split into three divisions. Area I is the student’s focus of study and the specific interest for which they were chosen to attend. These include Art, Choral Music, Dance, Drama, English, French, Instrumental Music, Mathematics, Natural Science, and Social Science. Students from different primary areas intermingle in Area II classes, sometimes called “Philosophy/Epistemology.” These classes are about the mind and knowledge in general, including how humans think and question. In Area III, students from various primary areas are mixed again, and they work to understand how their newfound knowledge relates to themselves and to society. Though Area III covers a wide range of topics, it serves foremost as a “testing ground for ideas, values, and personal concerns” (North Carolina 1).
Classes at the Governor’s School, generally founded on discussion rather than lecture, are based on the mingling of abstract theories with students’ personal responses. Instructors and other staff members are chosen from public and private high schools, colleges and universities, and private organizations. No grades are given and no tests are taken during the Governor’s School experience; the learner’s motivation lies instead in his or her intellectual curiosity (Nomination Packet 1, 5). The students, who are “empowered to construct knowledge and learn in their own unique style,” are the most important component of the classroom (North Carolina 1).
Electives, known as seminars, are optional gatherings led by Governor’s School instructors outside of class on afternoons or weekends (North Carolina 2). Topics vary widely; ninety-one electives were offered at Governor’s School West in the summer of 2005 (Chesser “Gay Seminar” 4). Examples of recent seminars include “The Concept of Concept Albums: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Free Speech for Sale,” and “Merchants of Cool” (“Optional Seminars” 1). According to one 2006 Natural Science student, “The optional seminars…brought about a wide array of subjects [that a] public school would never address” (“Optional Seminars” 1).

“The New Gay Teenager” Seminar
An Area III seminar entitled “The New Gay Teenager” was offered in the summer of 2005, two days before the final day at Governor’s School West (GSW). It was the only seminar offered at that time, and about half of the faculty and student body attended the seminar. The two faculty members who led the seminar were of a homosexual orientation. According to the 2005 GSW Director Lucy Milner, the homosexual instructors allowed students and faculty a “personal lens” through which to view the scientifically researched topic (Chesser “Gay Seminar” 1-4). The seminar “broke new ground for most students and many faculty members and staff for whom questions of sexual identity had not entered the forum of public academic inquiry before” (Johnson Letter to Howard Lee 2).
Ritch Savin-Williams’s book The New Gay Teenager provided the basis for the seminar. Over the 2005 Governor’s School session, sexual orientation had become an increasingly popular discussion topic on campus, and “[The seminar] responded to a need for additional factual, neutral information about this highly sensitive issue,” explained Milner (Chesser “Gay Seminar” 4). Savin-Williams’s book describes society’s categorization of identities based on sexual orientation, and it poses the question of whether embracing these labels benefits or harms gay teenagers. The author concludes that teenagers are now straying from labels like “gay” and using less specific terms in order to achieve a feeling of normalcy (Chesser “Gay Seminar” 3).
The Burrows family, whose son attended the seminar, disagreed that the seminar was “neutral” and instead described it as “pro-homosexual” (Chesser “Gay Seminar” 2). They alleged that the seminar was responsible for their son’s “confusion” about homosexuality (as well as their resultant family counseling) and wrote to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to express their disapproval. Because they did not give consent for their son to attend the seminar, they felt that their rights as parents had been violated. The family and the DPI exchanged letters in the months following Governor’s School. In one letter, GSW Director Lucy Milner insisted that “…the seminar was appropriate to the purposes and aims of the school as a whole,” and she said that not allowing seminars on specific issues like homosexuality would work against the Governor’s School mission (Chesser “Gay Seminar” 1, 4-5).

Alliance Defense Fund Involvement Unsatisfied with the Department of Public Instruction’s response, Mrs. Burrows contacted the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). The ADF is a conservative Christian legal group that agreed to examine the legality of the Governor’s School seminar. In February of the following year, J. Michael Johnson, Senior Legal Council for the ADF, wrote a letter to Howard Lee, the NC Board of Education Chairman, and June Atkinson, the DPI State Superintendent, on behalf of the Burrows family. In the letter, Johnson wrote that “The 2005 program has caused great distress for the Burrows family, and caused their serious emotional damage to their son, who has rebelled against his upbringing and denounced the faith of his parents and church since the day he returned from GSW” (Johnson Letter to Howard Lee 5).
Johnson also declared that “The New Gay Teenager” seminar broke several laws. He viewed the seminar as a sex education class, and North Carolina law requires that parents or guardians have the chance to look at and approve sex education information to be presented prior to the student’s participation. The State Board of Education must also approve human sexuality education programs in public schools. Neither of these procedures occurred prior to the seminar. Johnson also asserted that the constitutional right of parents to “direct the upbringing and education of their children” had been broken, and he furthermore suggested that the “emotional damage” caused to the Burrows’s son could be defined as “abuse of a juvenile” (Johnson Letter to Howard Lee 5). He ended his letter by saying that “…it is imperative that this situation be corrected immediately to avoid unnecessary litigation” (Johnson Letter to Howard Lee 7).
Lee and Atkinson promptly rebutted the Alliance Defense Fund’s letter. They believed the ADF’s legal concerns to be unfounded and explained that Governor’s School was not a “public school” as defined in the Basic Education Program laws, which therefore eliminated the sex education regulations. They also wrote that no one’s constitutional rights had been violated (Atkinson 1). The ADF retorted with a North Carolina statute that described public school as “any day school conducted within the State under the authority and supervision of elected or appointed city or council school board, and any educational institutional supported by or under the control of the State,” (Chesser “Legal Organization” 1). Under this description, the Governor’s School was included as a public school.

Continued Alliance Defense Fund Pressure and Recent Controversy
In June 2007, the Alliance Defense Fund wrote another letter reminding the Governor’s School that they would litigate if requests that “programs remain free of any seminars or unapproved sexuality education curricula” went unfulfilled (Johnson Letter to Thomas Ziko). Prior to the start of the 2007 session, Governor’s School East (GSE) instructors were told by the Department of Public Instruction director to plan lessons and seminars while keeping in mind what an outsider, whose identification was not specified, might think if he or she saw it on the GSE website. His instructions disturbed the faculty, who were worried that basing lessons on “what an imaginary group of people…might think (a) violated the basic idea of Governor’s School, (b) was generally pedagogically irresponsible, and (c) could never be successful since it was impossible to predict what would upset imaginary people” (Olson 2).
Meanwhile, trouble was stirring in relation to a Human Sexuality Film Series taught by Tanya Olson. Olson, who had been at GSE since 2002, is an openly homosexual college professor who has studied queer theory and taught sexuality studies. She was asked to work on the Gay and Lesbian Film Series, a preexisting elective, the first year that she was at GSE. In the subsequent years, the series followed a format identical to the 2002 series. In 2006, the session immediately following the ADF’s first letters, Olson was not allowed to offer the optional Human Sexuality Film Series, but she was promised that the series would be allowed in 2007. In the first week of the 2007 session, Olson was told that she could not show the videos for the film series or have “sexuality” in the series name (Olson 1-2).
The faculty of Governor’s School East, frustrated with what they saw as censorship, wrote the Department of Public Instruction and stated their belief that homophobia was the reason for censoring the film series. They also explained that planning lessons to ease the Alliance Defense Fund’s pressure went against “general tenants of academic freedom” and the purpose of the Governor’s School (Olson 2). The DPI director visited with the faculty, told them that signing the letter would not get them fired or punished, and requested that they keep the issue out of the public beyond GSE (Olson 2).
Controversy soon emerged from the faculty’s decision to do a creative piece at the Talent Sharing program in which their letter to the Department of Public Instruction was read. Accompanying the dramatic reading was an interpretative dance, and the presentation ended with faculty members reading their signatures aloud. Students gave a standing ovation, but no recording of the presentation was made (Olson 2). The program raised awareness of the DPI censorship on campus and students soon spoke out. “I feel that…by banning these videos they are limiting what we are exposed to,” one student explained (Gremaud 1). Others disagreed, saying “That’s probably stuff that we don’t need to see. They censored it for a good cause” (Gremaud 1).
The 2007 session soon came to a close, but GSE instructors kept the current controversies in mind. In December, Olson was mailed a three sentence letter stating that her position was being taken in “a different direction” and that she was being let go (Olson 3). Four of the five faculty members who had performed on stage in the Talent Sharing program also lost their positions, and the reason given was their participation in the show. Six weeks later, the four dismissed performers met with the administration and were rehired. Olson has never been contacted by the administration and believes that she “was fired because, either directly or indirectly, [her] presence serves as a point of attack for the ADF” (Olson 3).

Personal Commentary: My GSE Experience
I attended the 2007 East session of the Governor’s School of North Carolina. Tanya Olson was my Area III teacher, and I was a part of the standing ovation following the faculty’s presentation protesting DPI censorship in the Talent Sharing Program. Having spent six weeks on a Governor’s School campus, I can attest to the fact that it is acceptance in the Governor’s School community, not a one hour seminar, which allows students like the Burrows’s son to embrace new ideas and identities.
An excerpt from an email written by Dr. James Grymes, past GSE director, best explains the purpose of seminars like “The New Gay Teenager.” Grymes writes:
There is a common (and unfortunately growing) misconception among those unfamiliar with advanced education that the mere presentation of an idea is tantamount to an institutional endorsement of it….The Governor’s School mission is not one that advocates specific positions, but one that advocates exposure to as many viewpoints as possible….Each individual student is then encouraged to come to his or her conclusions about the merits of each position (Chesser “Does” 1-2).
Governor’s School unquestionably exposes students to controversial opinions, and this affects students differently depending on their upbringing. Seminars like “The New Gay Teenager” are apt to leave a longer lasting impact on students raised in strict Christian families because these students are less likely to have witnessed the discussion of homosexuality without a religious bias prior to Governor’s School.
A past Governor’s School attendee once justified the changes in himself by telling his unhappy mother that “Your truth is not my truth” (Chesser “Does” 1). Eerily, I wrote a large part of my college essay for the Common Application on my Governor’s School experience and the process of determining my own truths. Governor’s School forces students to think for themselves and, in the process, realize that their “truths” will differ from those of others around them. In many cases, Governor’s School provides the ideal opportunity for students to establish their independence from the opinions and prejudices of their parents. This detachment can be shocking for some parents, like the Burrows, who view inspiring open-mindedness as a threat powerful enough to deserve legal consequences.
However, threats of litigation seem to be the best way to go about thwarting the process of opening minds. Although it is unfortunate that Governor’s School has the Alliance Defense Fund looking over its shoulder, I believe that Governor’s School must stand strong on its foundation in the face of this confrontation. If Governor’s School continues to alter its curriculum for the ADF, the whole program will eventually truckle and become worthless. I am uncertain of who would win this potential battle in a court of law; however, until it reaches that point, Governor’s School must remain a beacon of free knowledge in an otherwise hopelessly bland public school system.

Works Cited
Atkinson, June and Howard Lee. Letter to J. Michael Johnson. North Carolina Family Policy Council. 16 March 2006. 22 April 2008. DPILetter.pdf.

Chesser, Paul. "Does Gov. School Have an Agenda?." Carolina Journal Online 14 Aug 2006 1-5. 18 Mar 2008 3512.

---. "Gay Seminar Upsets Parents." Carolina Journal Online 30 Jan 2006 1-6. 18 Mar 2008

---. "Legal Organization Warns DPI Again." Carolina Journal Online 4 May 2006 1-2. 18 Mar 2008 3296.

Gremaud, Pauline. "Staff performs in protest of film removal." East Side Story. 6 July 2007: 1.

Johnson, J. Michael. Letter to Howard Lee and June Atkinson. Alliance Defense Fund. 23 Feb 2006. 22 April 2008. < pdf>.

---. Letter to Thomas Ziko. Alliance Defense Fund. 7 June 2007. 22 April 2008. http://www.

Nomination Packet for Governor's School. Public Schools of North Carolina, 2008.

North Carolina Governor's School East Student Handbook. Public Schools of North Carolina, 2008.

Olson, Tanya. “GSE Against DPI Censorship.” Facebook. 1 Apr 2008 http://www.facebook. com/group.php?gid=7951901330.

"Optional Seminars (GS West)." Governor's School of North Carolina. Public Schools of North Carolina. 10 Apr 2008 .

Student Response I

When the dance faculty, 1/2 of the theater faculty, and I were fired, GS alumni immediately formed several Facebook groups in response. Here are links to those groups along with the discussions they initiated.

Here's the link to a yahoo group that they have formed.

Here is a post on Our Chart that an alum started

Background Letter

Below is a letter I wrote to GS students who had contacted me wanting to know what was happening at GS. They had organized themselves into several action groups but were asked by Michael McElreath to stand down and take no action. This is the letter I sent to them and asked them to pass amongst themselves in response to several requests I had for information.

It was the first time that this whole story had been put down as a narrative and there are errors of time in it because of that. You may also access this at

Open Letter to Governor’s School Students

Many of you have contacted me, asking about what has happened at GSE. I understand Michael McElreath has asked the Governor’s School Alumni Association to keep silent about what is going on; he has asked me to do the same. I haven’t gone public about my experience because I believed that the administration of Governor’s School would apologize for their behavior and recommit themselves to the stated values of the Governor’s School program. I no longer believe that any level of the administration will stand up to defend Governor’s School from the attack it is currently undergoing. The GSE value I believed in most was that there was no topic so difficult that we could not find a way to discuss it responsibly and respectfully. I still believe that to be true and think it perhaps more important to practice now than ever before. In that spirit, I hope you will forward this note to anyone you know that went to Governor’s School at any stage.
As an educator, as an academic who often writes about pedagogy, sexuality studies, and the intersection of the two, and as a human being who openly identifies as queer, I feel the only responsible action I am left with is to introduce a public discussion about this issue. Being quiet, I fear, only aids the agents of oppression and discrimination located both inside and outside the Governor’s School administration.

I began teaching at Governor’s School in 2002. The year before there was a Gay and Lesbian Film Series offered as an elective. Since I worked with queer theory in my academic work and had taught classes in Sexuality Studies, I was asked to collaborate on the series. The series has followed the same format since then. I gave a brief lecture about a contemporary issue in Sexuality Studies and we watched a film that reflected concepts from the lecture. In 2004, David Mills, the then DPI Director of Governor’s Schools, after watching the films I planned to offer in the series, asked me to remove Hedwig and the Angry Inch and I complied with his request. Also this summer, he asked us as a faculty to try to avoid controversial issues if possible; “Just don’t go there” was the phrase he offered.

We were given this warning because a parent had become concerned that her son had been introduced to homosexuality (and was perhaps “turned” homosexual) at GSW several years before. This parent’s expression of personal pain attracted the attention of the Carolina Journal, a publication associated with the Pope Center for Higher Education and the John Locke Foundation. Articles published in the Carolina Journal came to the attention of the Alliance Defense Fund, a group located in Arizona that uses its large bankroll, powerful contacts, and substantial email list to threaten litigation that will “protect the freedom of religion, guard the sanctity of human life, and preserve marriage and traditional family values” ( This means the group regularly works to limit the basic civil and human rights of homosexuals.
The Alliance Defense Fund threatened to file a lawsuit against Governor’s School and the Exceptional Children’s division of DPI. It was hoped, I now believe, that the ADF would grow tired of monitoring Governor’s School activities and turn their attention to the next thing. Of course, seldom does a bully grow bored of a victim that responds.

In 2005, we began posting GSE events on the web, and we had parents approve of the movies their children would watch over the summer. While this took away some of the spontaneity of GSE, I thought it was a wise response. It indicated that as a program, we had nothing to hide and we believed in both what we were doing and how we were doing it.

In 2006, I was told I would not be allowed to offer the Human Sexuality Film Series at all. It was not a matter of the topics, the lectures, or the appropriateness of the films. In fact, I was assured, the film series was exactly the sort of thing that GSE should be offering students: an introduction to contemporary academic work presented in the proper format. I was also asked to censor the novels I would be teaching in my Area I class and told to remove any reference to sex they contained. I was assured these actions would be taken for this summer only, that the ADF had threatened to watch us closely this summer and would file a lawsuit if they felt we were including any material that was inappropriate, including any work that presented homosexuality as anything other than immoral. This they felt, violated North Carolina’s abstinence-only sex education policy. I did not offer the film series, censored the books, and discussed with students what it felt like to be a teacher taking actions that were homophobic and violated basic tenets of academic freedom. Our students that year also offered several thoughtful, reflective explorations and responses of what it meant to be students under such a system.

In 2007, although I had been assured the Human Sexuality Film Series would be brought back, I was informed the first week of school that Tom Winton, the new DPI director of Governor’s School, would not allow me to show the four films I had listed for the film series. These were the only four films he ordered us not to show, despite the fact that all but 8-9 parents had already approved their children to watch these films. Michael McElreath convinced Tom to allow us to show Ma Vie En Rose, the first film in the series. Michael also asked me, per Tom’s order, to remove the word “sexuality” from the film series title, as the title would go on the website. I renamed the now lecture-only elective “The Film Series That Dare Not Speak Its Name or Show a Film”.

Tom had asked us earlier in the summer to plan our curriculum being aware of what someone outside of GSE might think if they saw it on the website. As a faculty, we had expressed great concern that planning what to teach and how to teach it based on what an imaginary group of people (Tom refused to confirm that he was asking us to base curriculum in response to the desires of the ADF) might think (a) violated the basic idea of Governor’s School, (b) was generally pedagogically irresponsible, and (c) could never be successful since it was impossible to predict what would upset imaginary people.

As a faculty, we wrote a letter to Tom Winton and Mary Watson (the Director of Exceptional Children, under which Governor’s School is housed) expressing our belief that homophobia lay at the heart of censoring the Human Sexuality Film Series, as well as its title and that planning curriculum to placate a right-wing political organization in Arizona followed neither the general tenets of academic freedom nor the stated values of Governor’s School. When Tom came to meet with us as a faculty, he told us he hadn’t read our letter; we were assured we would not be fired or punished for signing the letter and were asked not to make this situation public outside of the Governor’s School community. Student initiated topics and conversations, however, would be allowed.

During the Talent Sharing program (a combination of the Faculty Recital and Talent Show programs of before), the Dance program choreographed a piece that investigated what it was to be performers and educators at a time of censorship and homophobia. As part of the piece, a member of the Theatre faculty read portions of the letter to Tom and Mary in a stylized, performative manner. At the end, faculty members who had signed the letter stood and recited their names. The students gave the performance a standing ovation. Neither Tom nor Mary attended this performance nor was there a recording made of it.

An Area III class did a class presentation about the ongoing problem of censorship at Governor’s School. As part of their research, they interviewed both Michael McElreath and I, asking us as one question what we thought DPI’s response should be. I expressed my desire that all levels of Governor’s School administration defend the stated values of Governor’s School and protect its faculty members and students instead of attempting to please ADF. Tom and Mary attended this student presentation, as did I, and we all expressed our pleasure at both the quality and quantity of research the students had undertaken.

The semester ended with a faculty that was gravely concerned about how Tom, Mary, and Michael would continue to react to the threats of the ADF; at the same time, we were looking forward to the continued discussion of an issue that currently challenges many campuses. While many of us hoped that the administration would finally stand up for Governor’s School, its faculty, its students, and its alumni, we also believed the negotiation would continue between all the players as it had for the last 4 years.

The Friday before Christmas, I received a 3 sentence letter from Mary Watson indicating they would be taking my position in “a different direction.” There was no reason given; despite six summers of outstanding evaluations and student reviews and no complaints about anything I had taught or how I had taught it, I was being let go. I found out that the Dance faculty and one member of the Theater faculty has also been let go. They were informed their dismissal was because they had taken part in the performance at Talent Sharing; I was never given a reason for being let go.

About six weeks later, the four other members who had been dismissed were given meetings with the administration and were offered their positions back. I have yet to be given a reason for my release, although Michael has expressed his belief it was because I appeared in the student film. While he offered to meet with me and discuss this, I declined. Michael has assured me he did not want me fired, so I feel Tom and Mary trotting him out to recite their “explanation” is insulting to both Michael and I. I believe I deserve the same treatment offered the other dismissed (ultimately rehired) faculty members.

Neither do I believe I was failed to be rehired because Mary was upset that I appeared in a student film. Mary has been an administrator and has risen to a position of responsibility in DPI; if she fired everyone who questioned her policies, I doubt she would have attained her position or been able to keep it. Much like teachers, administrators are used to people who question decisions and do not dismiss every person who disagrees with them. Both are jobs that require a thick skin. (Can you imagine being kicked out of GSE for questioning why you couldn’t go to Arby’s or your curfew?)

Instead, I believe I was fired very simply for who I am and what I teach and as a direct result of the continuing attack from the ADF. I publically identify as queer and identified myself as such to Tom when he came to speak to us. (I expressed that systematically removing anything vaguely associated with homosexuality was homophobic, alienated queer identified faculty, and was dangerous and unfair to students who might be dealing with their own sexual identifications.) Tom, Mary, nor Michael has ever expressed any displeasure with my teaching; in fact, I’ve only received praise from all the directors I have worked under. No student or parent has ever expressed any concerns about any of my classes or electives and my student evaluations have also been outstanding.

Very simply, I was not fired for doing anything wrong. I was fired because, either directly or indirectly, my presence serves as a point of attack for the ADF. A simple Google search finds both academic and activist work I have done regarding sexuality in general and homosexuality and queerness specifically. I think dismissing me is, again directly or indirectly, an attempt to placate the ADF and avoid a lawsuit. Therefore, the failure to rehire me (over the wishes of Michael) is based on homophobia and is an active example of violating basic tenets of academic freedom.

No one loved Governor’s School and its pedagogical theories more than I did. I learned more from students and colleagues than I ever taught and being a member of that community was the highlight of my year. Teaching has a host of metaphors associated with it; I always thought the best metaphor for GSE was building a dwelling. As a faculty, we had to find out what skills each student brought to the table, teach a variety of new skills, review the history of dwellings and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each style, provide materials students might need, and make sure everyone was building safely. Some students reconstructed the houses of their parents, while others went with a whole new style; some built with materials they were familiar with, while others wanted to try more innovative methods. The role of faculty was not to issue blueprints, but to monitor each student’s construction, helping when asked or when required for safety. Watching you all, on the quad, in the classroom, in the cafeteria, in the gyms, and even at Whole Foods, construct yourselves and your community always touched me deeply and made me proud. My greatest sadness out of all of this is that I can’t be a part of that process again.
As a teacher, you always hope that both you and your students will always continue to learn, will always find learning situations in life. I believe this is such an occasion for both Governor’s School as an institution and for the individuals who make up the Governor’s School community. You have been asked to keep the challenge Governor School faces to yourself. I believe you must each determine what you want your response to be; it is for neither Michael McElreath nor me to determine what your response should be. I have reached the point where I can no longer sit quietly and complicitly with discrimination, where I must fight for the heart of the institution, not just to continue the institution in name. Once you decide where you are with this situation, below are some possibilities for action if that is the path you choose.

Support GSE faculty. They are in a difficult position and at the center of a maelstrom of competing forces. I do not envy their position and they need to know you, as I do, believe that they will make the best decisions they can throughout this challenging process. Drop them a line or give them a call and let them know you are thinking about them. Ask what they need for support, now and this summer.

Contact Mary Watson and express your concerns for Governor’s School as an institution. Let her know about your own experience at Governor’s School and what you as an alum believe Governor’s School is, was, and should be. or 919.807.3969

Contact Tom Winton and express any concerns you have. Let him know about your experiences at Governor’s School and what, as an alum, you want Governor’s School to be, do, and value. or 919. 807.3982

Contact your local state representative and tell him or her about your experience at Governor’s School and urge them to find out what is going on there now and to contact Tom and Mary.
Contact your local media and tell them about what is currently going on at Governor’s School. Urge them to investigate and to contact Tom and Mary.

Inform students that are going to Governor’s School this summer what is going on there currently. Urge them to contact Tom and Mary with any concerns.

Talk to and support each other, particularly students who identify as queer. They may be having particular challenges with this situation.

Consider what you define as a form of appropriate protest. Share that with others, along with your own hopes and fears. Use the support of the powerful group that you are.

Read about Terry Sanford and the origins of Governor’s School, as well as its theoretical underpinnings. If you can find one, you should read Opening Windows Onto the Future: Theory of the Governor’s School of North Carolina. Published in 1974, it still contains basic pedagogical theories Governor’s School follows today. North Carolina has much to be proud of for the program and everyone associated with it should be proud of being a member of this community. Knowing your heritage is crucial to defending it.

I hope this will give everyone a chance to remember what was best about Governor’s School, what you learned while there and how your experience shaped you, for better or for worse. Thank you for including me as a member of the GSE family; it was an honor and a privilege. Despite the ugliness and disrespect in its ending, the experience has made me a better teacher, a better student, a better person, a better citizen, and a better friend. My colleagues were and are people I like, respect, admire, and will miss. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help anyone during this time or with this situation. The time has come to see what we can build, both separately and together.

Tanya Olson Area I-English/Area III Instructor GSE 2002-2007

Blog Purpose

I'm putting this blog together so there is one central place where people can track what's happening in the battle between the Alliance Defense Fund and the North Carolina Governor's School.

I'll include all the background information I can find and update it with information as I can. Lots of folks have asked me to keep them updated and this seems like the easiest way to centralize that information. If anyone has any other information, I would be happy to include it here as well.

I'll try to include action suggestions too. The nature of GS is not, of course, to tell you what to do or how to do it, but lots of people have asked me how they can be active in this fight. I'll try to post some ideas here.

I think the most important thing this blog can do is to make public what has been a very secret fight. The most important lesson I learned at GSE, the most important value Governor's School embraces is that there is no topic that is so controversial, so painful, so out of bounds that there is no way to have a responsible, respectful conversation about it.

Unfortunately, the administration of GS has decided that ADF's attack is to be a secret from the faculty, the students, the alumni, and the public at large. I believe that the only way groups like the ADF can be dealt with are publicly and openly. The ADF wears their homophobia openly and proudly; I would hope Governor's School would be as proud and believe as much in the values they publicly state as intrinsic to the program. Without an organized and coherent response, it seems very possible that the ADF could either close the Governor's School program or gut it of so many core values so that it exists in name only. I hope this blog will help co-ordinate the defense of Governor's School, a program I love, believe in, and think crucial at this time.