One More Thought Before Classes Begin

My neck snapped as I quickly turned toward the homophobic comment that just came from one of my students. I stared at the small group of students. Who said that? Why would you say that?! I wanted to say something but nothing came out. My mouth went dry as my eyes pooled up with tears. Their eyes softly settled on me, others looked down at their desks.

Then someone said, “I’m sorry. I was just joking around.” A different someone said, “He didn’t mean it. I’m okay… I didn’t take it personally.”

On February 12, 2008, Brian McInerney shot Larry King twice in the back of the head in the middle of class. Brian was 15, Larry 14. Both went to a middle school only 10 miles from where I teach. Larry died two days later. On November 21, 2011, Brian pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. He’ll be 38 years old when he gets out. Both my sons played baseball with Brian’s cousin whose father was the coach.

It must have been late 1992 (I remember being heavily pregnant with my first child) when I attended a conference in Portland, Oregon. Then Portland was already my home for 13 years. I can’t recall the exact conference title, but it was a rather major two-day event, and the topics centered on educational awareness on the harm of bullying and discrimination against gay and lesbian youth. I had no idea there would be demonstrators and wide media coverage at the conference. My next-door teacher went with me, but apparently she was surprised that I had signed up to go because — and I didn’t realize this either — most of the conference attendees were gay. She turned to me right before the first speaker came on and asked, “Fawn, is there someone in your family who is gay?” I replied, “No. I don’t think so. I’m just here for my students.”

That same year, 1992, Oregon’s anti-gay Measure 9 drew vast national attention. I wore all kinds of NO ON MEASURE 9 buttons. It was entirely possible that I would pack up my young family and move away if the measure passed. On November 3, it was defeated.

Seven years later, in the summer of 1999, I was driving home from Seattle with my niece Jennifer late one evening when she came out to me. Jenny was just starting college. She hadn’t told her parents yet. Jenny was my brother’s only child, thus I felt a strange sadness that her parents may not embrace the news with the same fierce love they’ve always had for their precious girl.

My niece Dominique came out to her mom, my sister, when she was 14. Dom is crazy smart. So levelheaded yet driven. So articulate and funny. She enjoys the simple pleasures and appreciates the tiny luxuries. She smiles easily and lights up a room. I can say the same things about Jenny. They embody happiness. They love their families deeply and surround themselves with generous people who know how to reciprocate unconditional love.

They are my family.

Nothing is more important to me than my family. Nothing is more important to me than my students. I take this personally.

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