Saturday, October 29, 2011

Baby, we've come a long way.

Take a look back with me at how Title IX helped better the world for women. As I read the before and after Title IX examples below, I was reminded how my generation was changed by this landmark civil rights law. Young women of today would be remiss if they didn't pay homage to the women that laid the groundwork for their successes. Most young women probably have no idea how things have changed since 1972. There are miles to go before we are all considered equal, regardless of gender, sexuality, and race; but baby, we've come a long way.

(I found the following article on an inactive site - WEEA Equity Resource Center, http://www2.edc.org/WomensEquity/)

Title IX Before & After

Title IX was passed by the U.S. Congress on June 23, 1972, and signed by President Richard M. Nixon on July 1, 1972. It is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination in education programs and activities receiving federal funds. It was the first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination against students and employees in these institutions.
While the link between Title IX and increased opportunities for women and girls in athletics is well known, the connection between this law and improvements in key areas such as access to higher education, career education, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing, and treatment of pregnant and parenting teens is not often noted.

Before Title IX:

  • Many schools and universities had separate entrances for male and female students.
  • Female students were not allowed to take certain courses, such as auto mechanics or criminal justice; male students could not take home economics.
  • Most medical and law schools limited the number of women admitted to 15 or fewer per school.
  • Many colleges and universities required women to have higher test scores and better grades than male applicants to gain admission.
  • Women living on campus were not allowed to stay out past midnight.
  • Women faculty members were excluded from faculty clubs and encouraged to join faculty wives' clubs instead.
  • After winning two gold medals in the 1964 Olympics, swimmer Donna de Varona could not obtain a college swimming scholarship. For women they did not exist.
(Source: Report Card on Gender Equity, National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, 1997)

After Title IX:

  • In 1973, 43% of female high school graduates were enrolled in college. This grew to 63% in 1994.
  • In 1971, 18% of young women and 26% of young men had completed four years or more of college; in 1994, 27% of both men and women had earned bachelor's degrees.
  • In 1972, women received 9% of medical degrees but by 1994 that number had moved up to 38%; 1% of dental degrees grew to 38% in 1994; and the percentage of law degrees earned by women had moved from 7% in 1971 to 43% in 1994.
  • Today, more than 100,000 women participate in intercollegiate athletics, a four-fold increase from 1971. That same year 300,000 women (7.5%) were high school athletes; in 1996, that figure had increased to 2.4 million (39%).
  • Title IX prohibits schools from suspending, expelling or discriminating against pregnant high school students in educational programs and activities. From 1980 to 1990, dropout rates for pregnant students declined 30%, increasing the chances the mothers will be able to support and care for their children.
  • 80% of female managers of Fortune 500 companies have a sports background.
  • High school girls who participate in team sports are less likely to drop out of school, smoke, drink, or become pregnant.
(Source: Title IX: 25 Years of Progress, U.S. Department of Education, 1997)

How did Title IX change your life?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Family Shame

When I was six years old, my aunt and uncle had a baby boy. I loved that kid to death. He was my baby. I'm fifty now and he's not a baby anymore. I got off the phone with him a few minutes ago, as we've just reconnected after many years. The first words out of my mouth were, "I'm sorry I walked out of your life all those years ago." I was flooded with remorse for all the time we've not been close, because we were a tight bunch of cousins. There were six of us blond and blue-eyed little hellions that spent every holiday and most other family occasions in each other's presence. So, what happened?
The cause of my not being around my family is one of the main reasons I push for equality and acceptance. My cousins were in high school or college when I came out of the closet at 26. It was not pretty. My mother completely lost it and told everyone that would listen about my "abomination." The first three years of being out were worse than being in the closet. I was sure my whole family had disowned me, as my mother had. I was 26 and felt a sense of shame every time someone, who had once loved me fiercely, now looked on me as a pariah, or so I thought. It took me, as an adult, years to understand that I had nothing to be ashamed of. Can you imagine being a kid and carrying that shame with you every day?
After three years of fighting and threats to take my son from me, I packed up and moved to Oklahoma with my wife. (We've been together 24 years.) I turned my back on my family, as I assumed they had turned on me. I cut all of those people out of my life and moved on. I'm sorry, now. I'm sorry that I didn't give my cousins the chance to stay in my life. I'm sorry that I assumed my aunts and uncles felt the same way my mother did. I missed so much of their lives and they missed mine. I didn't get to tell one of my uncles that I loved him, until just before he died. He was sick with cancer for five years, but I made no effort to re-engage with him until the very end. I'm sorry I wasn't there for one of my cousins when he chose to take his life. I'm sorry my aunt got too sick to remember who I was, before I got to tell her how much she meant to me. I did get to tell my other uncle before he passed that I loved him, but he was nearly on his deathbed before I had the courage to face him.
Courage? Yes, courage. No one wants to face the task of approaching someone about being gay, when you're not sure what the consequences will be. I had been a coward for many years. The fear of rejection is a strong one and even as an adult, I had issues with it. It didn't help that my beloved Grandmother called me all sorts of horrible things when she found out, so the fear was grounded in some fact. I wish I had mustered the strength to hold my head up and be proud of who I was, but society had ingrained in me this hateful shame. If I could give any young gay person advice, it would be to let that shame go the way of the dinosaurs. I would wish for them the courage to face the fear of rejection and to walk away happy, whatever the outcome. I know now that I am not responsible for how other people react. I can only live my life to the fullest and pray for understanding some day.
The reward for finding that courage is not losing the friends and family that still love you. By assuming my entire family had rejected me, I lost so much. I should have given them more credit. If I had it to do all over again, I would hold my head up and say, "Look at me. I'm the same person you loved five minutes ago, before I told you I was gay. I would like to remain in your life, but if that's uncomfortable for you, then I will wait patiently for you to come to terms with it. I love you and that will not change."
When faced with the challenge of coming out, while easier today than it was for my generation, it is still a difficult process. That internal shame is a mighty demon to conquer. A gay person has been told all their lives that homosexuals are less than others, an "abomination." That doctrine has been embedded deep within our psyche and is a formidable hill to get over. The fight to live free of oppression is a day to day struggle in many of our lives. I wish for all a day when that feeling of shame does not exist, but until then, have courage. Don't assume people won't love you anymore. I did, and it cost me my extended family and a few friends. Sure there are those in my family that reacted with intense homophobia, but that's their problem, not mine. My problem is that I shut out all of them, without waiting to hear what they had to say.
Be patient with people and live a happy, productive life. Don't shut people out. Leave the door open. If my mother, the one who flipped completely out, can come around and say, "I'm glad you lived your life the way you chose to. I see now that you are happy and that she loves you. I'm sorry for my behavior," then there is hope for everyone. Don't assume the worst. You may cut people out of your life that really just need a moment to get it together, or others who have no idea why you're gone.
I'm glad I reconnected with my cousins. I plan to spend the rest of my life letting them know how much they mean to me. I now know my cousins are supportive of equality and acceptance. If I hadn't made the effort to communicate, I would never have known. The LGBT community needs allies. Start with the people you love and who love you. We're changing hearts and minds everyday. We'll change this world one step at a time. We'll put an end to this family killing shame and hate. Don't assume the worst in people. Presume the best. Maybe that glass is half full.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Validate a child today.

My comment on  the article at the Advocate.com, "Op-ed: Our Role in Stopping a Suicide Crisis." 
I worked in the theatre arts program with high school students for many years. It constantly amazes me when I meet an old student the things they remember me saying. I don't remember telling that kid I cared, but somehow just by saying, "Hey John (not real name,) glad you were here today. Good job," I had changed that child's life. That day was a bad day for John. I had no knowledge of how bad a day it really was, but because I smiled and said I was glad he was there, his day changed. John was one of many who have come to me to tell me how much they appreciated being cared about. Those kids have no idea how much they enriched my life. I owe them all a big hug. I am a better person for having known, and yes, grown with the next generation. They give me great hope for the future. John went on to do good things. Who knows if my smile and recognition of his existence made a difference in reality, but it made a huge difference to John. He remembered it. Take the time to smile and validate a young person today. Make eye contact with the kid at the drive-thru, wave to a neighbors kid, and if you're lucky, you'll find a kid that has a lesson to teach you. I left my teaching job to write lesbian fiction for a living. I am now able to be out and it is so freeing. I met some old students at this year's Pride Parade. I was able to introduce them to my wife of 24 years. I was able to show them that it does get better, even though all those years in public schools, I could not speak of a very important part of my life. Many people are restricted from reaching out to gay youths, for fear of losing jobs. I understand that frustration, but nothing is stopping you from validating that child by just smiling and saying, "I'm glad you were here today."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Who's Sharin'?




I was listening to Sugarland's "Stay," which played a part in my novel "Sweet Carolina Girls." I slid my chair back and looked at my wife of 24 years and said, "I don't know that I would have been able to go back home after a woman sang that song to me..." - I quickly qualified with - "given the same circumstances Lauren was in."
The wife squinted at me, which is what she does when the romance writer takes over my brain.
I continued, "Who wouldn't fall in love with someone who can sing like that,  plays softball like Jessica Mendoza, and looks a little like Jenny Finch?"
More squinting.
I ramble on, "Of course, I fall in love with all of my characters. I hope you don't mind sharin'."
She didn't miss a beat and never cracked a smile, just asked, "Who's Sharin'?"
She had me for a moment. I filed back through the books in my head and couldn't think of anyone named Sharon, but a a bit character that I'm sure she doesn't remember. Then I saw the grin starting in the corner of her mouth. She keeps it real for me.
I live the majority of my days, awake and sleeping, in a fictional world of stories and characters. I stare at walls, miss entire sections of movies, fade out during conversations, wake up mad or sad over some dream that will usually end up in a book; in other words, I am impossible to live with. I live in a fantasy world, where people always say just the right thing, where romantic scenes play out just as planned, where lovers always react as they should, and where love conquers all. I was told by a revered college professor, "You know what's wrong with you? You are a hopeless romantic." She passed away, but if I could talk to her, I would grin and say, "Dr. Jones, you were right, but I learned to use it to my advantage."
I was an actress, then later a director, scenic and lighting designer, and technical director during my nearly 30 years in the theatre business. It was my job to create worlds where the characters lived and breathed. I have always believed the depth of my romanticism was an asset in the theatre. As an actress, I was called on to convince audiences that I was someone else. I used to tell my students, it looks so easy, but when you're spilling your insides, drowning in tears, living that character's deepest pain; you better be feeling it for real, because the audience won't believe you if you aren't. I think that being a hopeless romantic and extremely empathetic helped me during my theatre days and continues to see me through my writing career. So, to me it's an advantage to feel things deeply and wish for happy endings.
Another  asset I have is a supportive spouse. She tolerates my not really being in the room the majority of the time. She shares me with others, real and imagined. She reads whenever I ask her to. She lets me play endless hours of love ballads. She gets through the hard parts with me as I ride the same emotional roller coaster as the characters I am writing about. I was still an actress when she met me. Someone warned her, "She's a good actress. When will you ever know who you are really talking to?" She smiled and said that was part of my charm. As wildly erratic as my emotions are, she is steady in any storm. Two drama queens would not have lasted 24 years.
So I fall in love with characters, dream of happy endings, cry through the sad parts, and laugh at the funny ones. And when I come back from the land of fiction, I get questions like, "Who's Sharin'?" to keep it real.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Quiet Please!

Dear women in my head:
My biggest problem lately seems to be that I cannot keep you previous characters quiet. You must realize there are many of you and you all want something. Rainey has a new adventure she's dying to get moving on, while her life with Katie changes drastically, (kids tend to do that.) Decky and Charlie have been waiting on Hatteras Island for me to finish their second book. Lizzie is tapping her foot loudly. I left them there in the summer of 2010 in the middle of an archaeological dig and they are becoming very impatient. Harper and Lauren and the Tar Bar girls have this incredibly beautiful story of friendship that they wish I would get on with, although Harper is not having too hard of time staying occupied. She's like, "Look, sparkly things," whenever Lauren is in the room. Hey, Harper, pay attention. Luckily Jamie and Sandy are so busy making up for lost time, they haven't bothered me. Of course, Molly waits for the pieces to fall into place so her story can be told, but she's been busy flying back and forth to Texas. I know Dana is not the person we would like to see Molly end up with, but a girl has to do what a girl has to do. Come on, it's Charlize Theron's doppelganger. Do you blame her? Molly, you go on living the dream honey, and I'll catch up with you. Then there are the new girls over there in the corner with half told stories. Like, the newest project, "Before It Stains," that I stopped working on to finish this screenplay. Stephanie and Mo are not happy, not happy at all. Stop pouting, Mo, you screwed up your life and now you want me to fix it. Sorry, Steph, but she deserved it. And over here is my passion project, Margie and Ruth Ann, of "Sand Letters." That's a temp title, because I just haven't found the right one yet. You will like these two, I do, and I want desperately to tell their tale. And then way back there you see the original Decky, from "Appletree Swamp" that started all this novel writing to begin with. She's been waiting since the civil war to have her story told. No, don't wake her up. She carries at least two guns, I hope she remains contented back there. So to all you ladies in my head, I apologize. I promise to give my full attention to each and everyone of you, in due time. Until then, please give Gray and Lizbeth their moment. Yes, Gray, that's a well earned grin - you got the girl and stole the story. Anyway, they deserve the best depiction of their romance that I can imagine and with all of you talking at once, it's getting difficult to concentrate.
Thank you for your patience.
With affection,
Me