Friday, March 26, 2010

That Itawamba County School District is Really Something

Mississippi's Itawamba County School District has recently become notorious for canceling a high school prom rather than letting a lesbian couple attend.

Turns out this wasn't the first discriminatory, hostile act they committed with regards to a student this year. When a trans student enrolled earlier this year, he* was virtually kicked out after attending only one half-day:
[T]he next time [Juin] Baize came to school, according [to] Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, Baize was given a suspension notice and sent home. When Juin returned to school after his first suspension, he was suspended again.

“Juin’s case was a situation where a transgender student wanted to attend school dressed in feminine clothing," said Bennett, "and the school district would not even let him attend school."

This school district seems to be in the business of teaching heteronormativity, homophobia, transphobia, the "appropriateness" of gendered clothing** and the need to maintain narrowly-defined gender expressions.

And yet, they accuse Constance McMillen and Juin Baize of distracting from the educational process.

The hostile environment that the school district is fostering is disheartening. McMillen speaks of it here and the article about Baize includes this description:
Baize's appearance and the fact that he, unlike Constance McMillen, was perceived as a trouble-making outsider made living in Fulton increasingly impossible. Beverly [Bertsinger] couldn't find work because, she believes, Fulton is a small town and people disapproved of her son. Juin was harassed when he left the house, according to Beverly Baize, so she stopped letting him go out alone and then stopped letting him go out at all.

“I’m so afraid for him,” Bertsinger told me last week. “I support him. I buy him the clothing to wear as a female. I just want him to be safe.”

The result is the continued isolation [and endangerment] of LGBTQ students, expressed so poignantly here:
Whether she intended to or not, McMillen has inspired others -- not just nationally but in her home state, said Izzy Pellegrine, 19, a student at Mississippi State University.

"I thought for a long time I was the only gay person in the state of Mississippi," said Pellegrine. (emphasis mine)

The ACLU is not pursuing Baize's case, in part because he has had to move:
“Juin not being in Fulton makes it difficult for us to pursue any kind of legal action here,” says Bennett. "And personally, I feel it may be a better decision for Juin to relocate and move on with his life.”

That last line leaves me particularly upset; people always suggest that we, who exist simultaneously as southerners and members of marginalized groups, should just leave and move on.

Sometimes, we can't. Sometimes, we have no desire to do so.

In any case, we shouldn't have to.
*The article indicates that Baize prefers male pronouns for now.
**Remember, one of the issues in the McMillen case was the fact that she wanted to wear a tuxedo.

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