TW: implied murder and violence against women, specifically: Rebecca Wight, the Colonial Parkway victims, Julie Williams & Lollie Winans, Sakia Gunn, and Gwen Araujo.
The school I attend has become much more creatively-inclined in recent years – a number of instructors are foregoing hard-and-fast final exams in place of open-ended final projects. Students are assigned the task of proving they learned something in the given class, but that’s the only guideline we are given; the rest is up to us. This was the case in two of my classes this year, English and history. In both cases I elected to create my final projects around LGBT hate crimes and hate crime victims. I use this blog as my main vehicle to get the word out, but I wanted to show you all one of the many ways I incorporate these people and this message into my daily existence as well.
Like every other junior English class across the US, we focused our attention on two pieces of literature this semester, The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men. For our final, we were to create a multi-genre project that reflected a theme in one or both of those novels. I chose the theme of violence and how we use violence in our society to deal with people and situations that make us uncomfortable or challenge the established ideals of the way things “should” be. On Friday, I stood up in front of the class and presented a project that naturally highlighted the stories of hate crime victims. I talked a bit about the theme. I told the stories of women whose lives society dubbed “inconvenient”. I showed pictures of Rebecca, Becky and Cathy, Julie and Lollie, Sakia and Gwen. I intended to leave no room for anyone in that class to walk away untouched by what they had witnessed. Here are stories. Here are pictures. And then I ended by sharing my story of anti-gay violence. I read in a speech the version of my story that I had put up on the Week of Action Movement blogspot only a week prior. My voice shook the entire time I was reading it – I won’t pretend it didn’t. I am not yet comfortable being open like that with my story, but I was determined to do it. It was the first time any of my classmates were hearing that story. All of them knew I was gay, and several of them had complained vociferously about how much I talk about the various -isms we have not moved past as a society, but not a one of them knew I was a victim of violence. As I was reading my speech, I was struck by the sudden shift in the atmosphere in the room. They sat in stunned silence, a sort of stunned silence where I knew they were internally putting the pieces together about me, and were at the same time suddenly forced to question their beliefs and why they held them. They were stunned, and their expressions said everything. After I finished, the same people who had once begged for me to shut up about the ills of society now begged for me to tell them more. “Will you tell us about Matthew Shepard?” they said. “Will you tell us about the Matthew Shepard Act? Will you tell us about Rebecca Wight? Who is she? What happened to her? Is she the one on the left or right side of the picture?”
My most recent Stories Project interview was with someone who mentioned that she had often wondered if the story was still alive anywhere, if people were still aware of it. I can say with relative certainty that it just became alive in the minds of thirty young people who had never before heard the name. And tomorrow, it’s going to become alive in the minds of at least that many different young people.
At the end of the year, the AP US history instructor throws a decades party and our final project is to create a presentation about an influential person from that decade. We dress up in period clothes, we “speed date” with each other, we throw a party with period music and food, and then we give presentations over the person we chose to spotlight. My class was given the 1980s and names like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Ronald Reagan were quickly claimed for presentations, but a few people including myself wanted to do something a little more unorthodox with the 80s project. All I will say further about this project is that tomorrow, at least the same amount and potentially twice the amount of different youth are going to learn the name Rebecca Wight.