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.