When Apryl Prentiss first realized she was a lesbian, she decided to white knuckle it. She wanted to ignore the impulse, and if it couldn’t be ignored, she wanted to deny it, put it in a cage.
“I was freaked out when I realized…when I started to understand what was happening.”
This was in high school in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She was raised a fundamentalist Baptist and her church and the community it provided were deeply important to her. At the time, she described herself as kind of a “Christian All Star.”
“I was the chaplain of my class. I was going on missions trips. My whole class was even on the Christian Broadcast Network for a show. I was hitting all the expectations.”
That’s why coming to terms with her sexuality was so difficult. According to her Christian based belief system, she was ‘being rebellious,’ she had a ‘broken sexuality,’ she was trying to separate herself from God.
“Homosexuality was the sin to trump all sins” She explains. “It’s spoken of with great disdain—it seemed to be a visceral reaction. They think of gays as ‘those people’ …people who are horrible and perverted. People who are sick. People are always so scared of what they don’t understand.” Though she never heard these messages at school that was what was preached from the pulpit of her childhood church in Virginia Beach.
When she attended Campbell University in North Carolina, her church connected her with counseling and what is referred to as reparative or conversion therapy. Like many other far right Christian denominations across the country, the church encouraged her to go to therapy to ‘cure herself’ of being gay.
The counselor also offered to exorcise her should the therapy prove insufficient.
Apryl describes those years as some of the darkest of her life: “I absolutely detested myself.” Although she didn’t kill herself, she came close; close enough to want to save others from the same trauma. That’s why she’s working with the Alliance for Progressive Values to ban the practice of reparative therapy that tries to “cure” minors of being gay.
Delegate Hope who introduced HB 1135* which would ban the practice in Virginia said that evidence suggests such conversion therapy doesn’t work and in fact harms many people. Apryl’s story is a case in point.
According to Apryl, the therapy she underwent on and off for nearly three years was intense and mind bending; the kind of practice you would not wish on your worst enemy, much less a vulnerable teenager.
“I remember after months of talking and fasting I was still told that I was rebellious. It was their explanation for why I wasn’t cured. They thought they could see demons in my eyes. And I believed it! They suggested that I undergo an exorcism. The therapist brought in a prayer partner and they circled me and prayed over me. They asked to speak to the demon of brokenness in me. They asked to speak to the demons of same-sex attraction. …it was unbelievably painful. I cried the entire time and, after it was over, I felt completely stripped bare.”
After the failed exorcism, Apryl turned to alcohol and other self-destructive behavior to anesthetize. She recounts having alcohol poisoning at least seven times after the exorcism. “Fighting my sexuality had become a daily battle and truthfully—I just wanted a break. My 21st birthday, which was at the height of the reparative therapy, consisted of a fifth of Smirnoff and a straw. I drank it in about an hour and a half.”
Apryl admits she was trying to kill herself, in a less than methodic fashion. “I thought if I die and go to heaven, I won’t have to deal with this anymore. That seemed like a good option. Death would have been a release from the constant inner turmoil.”
Shortly after, she met a woman and developed a relationship with her. “She was someone who had found peace with her sexuality.” This person told Apryl that she could be both “gay AND Christian and that God was okay with that. When I was with her, I felt more whole and authentic than I ever had before.”
The relationship lasted for a few months, but the guilt weighed on Apryl. She couldn’t handle it. “I freaked out and went back to the church. I confessed to my pastor what was happening and I went back to reparative therapy again.”
They came back with the same ideas, “gay people are all miserable, they’re all enveloped in darkness.”
But this time it was different, Apryl explains, “Their assertions no longer made sense. I had experienced the opposite.”
When they suggested a second exorcism, she just said no.
Apryl left North Carolina and went through a series of jobs in California, then back to North Carolina and even a short stint in Virginia at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. She tried different approaches to dealing with her sexuality, ‘white knuckling’, a short hand for celibacy, and when that didn’t work, another version of therapy, ‘Sought Out’ similar to reparative therapy, but incorporating some of the same principles developed for twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.
It was “twenty weeks of unbelievably hard introspection, confession, accountability and counseling. We started by examining possible causes of our homosexuality or sexual brokenness. A basic premise of the program was that no one is born gay so there must be a cause…a root of our same-sex attraction. Overbearing Mother? That’s why you’re gay. Sexual abuse? That’s absolutely why you’re gay. Only child and you grew up lonely? That’s why you’re gay. We did things like write down wrong ways we had been labeled on sheets of paper and burned them. Very cathartic and very meaningful. We wrote down things we believed about ourselves that contributed to our ‘sexual brokenness’ on mirrors then smashed them. We confessed our sins (mental and physical) both publicly to the entire group and privately to our small group leaders, wrote them down on special paper, immersed them in water (meant to be a picture of God’s forgiveness) and watched them dissolve. These activities were all designed to make us confront the causes of our sexuality, bring them out into the open and then destroy them.”
“I literally nailed my areas of brokenness, their causes, and my own sexual behavior to a cross then bowed below them begging for forgiveness and for restoration. I lay on the floor of a church weeping, begging to be delivered. This was a nightly experience.”
According to Apryl, the program suggested that “all homosexual relationships are born out of brokenness and cause nothing but pain and unhappiness.”
“This was drilled into us and because my own experience in a same-sex relationship had been wonderful, but riddled with guilt and constant turmoil, I couldn’t totally counteract the concept. In fact, most of us who sat in that room every Monday night had never met a happy same-sex couple. We didn’t understand that in the Christian circles we lived in there would naturally not be ANY healthy same-sex couples.”
“I ended up working as a counselor for the Sought Out program, teaching the same repressive techniques. I stopped one day when I sat there with this vulnerable 17-year-old. You could see at 100 feet that she was a lesbian. She had no attraction to men whatsoever, but she desperately did not want to be gay. I had to tell her that her only two choices were celibacy or learning to date men. This was the message I had been taught and what I believed about myself. It was the depressing reality that I was grappling with. But, when I realized I was telling a 17-year-old who had only begun to live life that those were her only two options—it just didn’t add up. I couldn’t do it. I saw myself in her and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t do this. I’m done with this. I can’t do it anymore. That was the beginning of the end.”
But there’s nothing easy about transitions, about coming out or staying in denial. Apryl still loved the church and didn’t want to leave it. She was on a mission in Serbia and Slovakia teaching English through bible lessons before she realized how much about her life still needed to change.
“It was summer camp and I had spent it with the Serbians who have a real love of life. When some missionaries arrived from Canada they acted prudish and started scolding the Serbians for wearing short skirts or dancing and hugging. They were trying to impose westernized Christianity’s rulebook on these vibrant and passionate people. I realized the missionaries were missing the point. The Serbians were praising the Lord in their own way, just as David had danced. Why would God make them this way, just to condemn them? Why would he make me this way, just to condemn me? All of these ideas about correct behavior, correct sexuality were inventions. They were Westernized ways of trying to control people and put them in a box. My eyes were opened and I began to evaluate what I knew of God on my own and not through the fabricated conventions of the conservative church. All of a sudden, it was like I experienced the true God, a force of love for the first time.”
“There was no guilt, there was no shame. I finally got it. As cliché as it sounds, I went to one of those fields of sunflowers as tall as your head in Serbia, I sat there for hours and I made my peace with God.”
Since that summer in 2005, Apryl has undergone therapy to ‘repair’ the reparative therapy. She has been married to her wife for 7 years and she says that people who had previously rejected her in the church are coming back.
“I miss the community of the church. But, there’s a real sense of us vs. them. It’s fine when you’re the ‘us’, it’s cool and beautiful. But when you’re all of a sudden part of the ‘them’, it’s a cruel, cruel thing.”
Her family has been surprisingly supportive. In fact, one of Apryl’s main regrets is that for years she avoided visiting her Christian grandmother because she was afraid that her grandmother would be disappointed that she was gay rather than pursuing ministry. After her grandmother died, her aunt was unpacking a box of old photographs. Near the bottom, at least two years old, was a photograph of Apryl with her wife, Adrian.
“I should have visited. I should have known …” Apryl tilts her head, a nod toward what might have been. “She knew about us all along and, like the amazing woman she was, she loved me anyway… That’s a true example of a Christian.”
*Full Text of HB1135 can be found at this link:
Note: Major medical groups like the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and others have moved to discourage reparative therapy.
According to the American Psychological Association, “The terms reparative therapy and sexual orientation conversion therapy refer to counseling and psychotherapy aimed at eliminating or suppressing homosexuality. The most important fact about these “therapies” is that they are based on a view of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions.”
(PTSD – trigger alert)
Before he was a blind seer, Tiresias was a hermaphrodite; his ability to experience both worlds was his unique gift and his undoing. Legend has it that Zeus wanted to know who enjoyed sexual acts more—men or women, so naturally he asked Tiresias, who had experienced both.
Tiresias answered –honestly—women. Hera, Zeus’s wife, was so outraged by the revelation that she blinded the poor hermaphrodite, and Zeus, feeling guilty at having caused such misfortune, granted Tiresias the gift of prophecy or ‘second sight’ in compensation.
I suspect Eve Ensler –who knows a thing or two about Greek mythology –might not only sympathize with Tiresias’s fate (and surely borrowed a bit of his/her wisdom) but also probably agreed with his assessment regarding the sex act. Women enjoy it more, in fact, if her Vagina Monologues is to be believed, at least twice as many nerves are condensed into the small area of the clitoris as are to be found in a man’s penis. Twice as many, an actress shouts, producing a V for victory that had the audience applauding: “The clitoris is pure in purpose. It is the only organ in the body designed purely for pleasure. The clitoris is simply a bundle of nerves: 8,000 never fibers, to be precise. That’s a higher concentration of nerve fibers than is found anywhere else in the male or female body, including the fingertips, lips, and tongue, and it is twice, twice, twice the number in the penis. Who needs a handgun when you’ve got a semi-automatic?”
Although I had some inkling men might suffer the short end of the stick (so to speak), I had no idea we were down 2 to 1.
Here are some other statistics, less sensual in nature, but no less important to the play.
One in three women on the planet will be raped, beaten or murdered in her lifetime. That’s an amazing number when you consider it. Chances are a girlfriend, a lover, or a wife can recount an incident. That number, 1 in 3, forms the basis and the backdrop to the Vagina Monologues fifteenth year anniversary and it comes on the heels of Eve Ensler’s latest project: One Billion Rising. On February 14, 2013, the One billion Rising event was held– a call for one billion women (and men) around the world to join together to dance in a show of collective strength against violence.
The V-Day movement, out of which One Billion Rising was developed, was inspired, of course, by Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues. It was started in 1998 by Ensler who noted that it was women’s reactions to the play that launched the project. After seeing the play she said women would line up afterwards to tell her their personal experiences, most often of sexual violence and abuse. In direct response she formed V- Day which evolved this year into One Billion Rising. By the way, that ‘V’ in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina—a triptych of meaning tying the heart and ceremony (valentine) to gender (vagina) and empowerment (victory), which brings us back to the 15th anniversary of the Vagina Monologues performed recently at the DogTown Dance Theater here in Richmond, Virginia.
A really brief review might go something like this: wow! Energetic, passionate, without being too preachy. And funny! If I wanted to wax eloquent, I’d say the evening was both entertaining and edifying. But it was actually more fun than that.
The way Julie Willard directed the performance, each of the monologues received a separate treatment, or were combined into a kind of group ‘chorus’ effect, and sometimes both—syncopated or in unison. The initial foray into the word of the night was delivered by the entire ensemble, here’s a short segment to give you the flavor.
“Let’s just start with the word, “vagina”. It sounds like an infection at best, maybe a medical instrument. Nurse could you pass me the ‘Vagina’?”
“Vagina, vagina. Doesn’t matter how many times you say it, it never sounds like a word you want to say. It’s a totally ridiculous, completely unsexy word. If you use it during sex, trying to be politically correct– “Darling, could you stroke my vagina?”– you kill the act right there.”
I kept wondering throughout this introductory spiel, how it would go over with our current state assembly members who have spent so much of their time in the last two General Assembly sessions regulating vaginas, insisting on vaginal probes and such without any of their courageous male members being able to actually pronounce the word in public. “Come on, Bob,” I thought, “you want to examine it, legislate it, TRAP it (so to speak), the least you can do is say it: Vagina. There you go, Bob: VA-GI-NA.”
The ladies on stage did it for them. Broke the curse of the word and then barreled into more intimate concerns. Like, say, orgasms. Tiffany Lee, hailing from the Bronx, New York, gave one of the more hilarious performances of the evening as a lawyer turned hooker who loved to hear women moan.
“I love vaginas. I love women. I do not see them as separate things. Women pay me to dominate them, to excite them, to make them come.” (and then, of course, the dildo prop she keeps in a handy tote bag is waved)
“I discovered that most women loved my moaning, but more importantly I discovered how deeply excited I got when other women moaned, when I was responsible for other women moaning.”
From there, we get into a few intimate scenes and a hilarious catalog of the various types of orgasmic moans Tiffany has encountered. Not since Harry Met Sally have mimed orgasms been so vigorously celebrated. Julie Willard had each one performed by an offstage chorus along with Tiffany Lee so that the effect was vividly choreographed, a kind of theatric jam session.
“There’s the elegant moan (a sophisticated laughing sound)
The right on it moan (a deeper, earth driven sound)
The Diva moan (high operatic voices)
The African-American moan (“Oh, Shit!”)
And the WASP moan (no sound).”
The most riveting and heartbreaking moment of the evening came from the “My Vagina Was My Village” monologue delivered by Samatha Kittle, playing the role of a Serbian woman who has been raped by six men.
“There is something between my legs. I do not know what it is. I do not know where it is. I do not touch. Not now. Not anymore. Not since.”
“Not since I dreamed a dead animal sewn in down there with thick black fishing line. And the bad dead animal smell cannot be removed. And its throat is slit and it bleeds through all my summer dresses.”
“Not since I heard the skin tear and made lemon screeching sounds, not since a piece of my vagina came off in my hand, a part of the lip, now one side of the lip is completely gone.”
“I live someplace else now. I don’t know where that is.”
While she spoke, Heather Bailey performed an aerial dance on hanging blue fabric behind her that accentuated and operated as counter point to the emotional trauma. To say it was riveting theater is to understate.
Dawn Flores rounded out the evening with beautifully balanced monologue on witnessing birth, reminding us just how important that word is:
“I was there when her vagina changed from a shy sexual hole to an archaeological tunnel, a sacred vessel, a Venetian canal, a deep well with a tiny child stuck inside, waiting to be rescued.”
‘I stood and her vagina suddenly became a wide red pulsing heart.”
“It can ache for us and stretch for us, die for us and bleed and bleed us into this difficult, wondrous world. I was there in the room. I remember.”
The Vagina Monologues ended with a poem written for the One Billion Rising movement. I’ll just recount the last bit of it here:
It’s time to tell a new story
It needs to be our story
It needs to be outrageous and unexpected
It needs to lose control in the middle
It needs to be sexy and in our hips
And our feet
It needs to be angry and a little scary the way storms can be scary
It needs not to ask permission
The performance had a transgressive, even revolutionary feel for the women on stage and maybe for the audience, as well. When they ended their performance by reciting the One Billion Rising poem each actress raised their single forefinger above their heads, facing the audience, chanting:
And I glanced across the small theater and saw members of the audience rising from their seats as well with their single fingers raised in response.
I kept thinking this was something our politicians could learn from, although I have little hope. I was reminded again of the beginning of the play, when they were doing their recitative on the word of the night: ‘Vagina’. One of the last women went off script and stretched the euphemism ‘Cooch’ into a very elongated: Cooooooch—iiiiii—neeeelllliiiii… As in our current Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, who has done so much to abrogate women’s rights across the state.
The crowd would not stop laughing.
You can learn more about One Billion Rising and the V-Day movement here.
Crosby Stills Nash and Young
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
I found a safety pin in the carpet and remember being surprised and delighted when I got it open. I used it to scratch the paint off the face of my sister’s new dolly. After the tear fest that followed her outrage, torrents of Bible verses and lectures about jealousy fell on my young ears and then Daddy got home to teach me several other consequences of destructive behavior. I remember it well.
Feelings about fairness are rooted in every social problem.
A sense of fairness, whether innate or learned, is something I imagine most parents attempt to highlight in their children, and learning to respect the property of others is basic. Understanding why we wouldn’t is more subjective, requires empathy and addresses the feelings of persons negatively affected. When authoritative consequences drive home the point that punishment follows for those who disobey the law, it only works if the laws are understood, reflect society’s morals and ethics, and if the punishment is applied fairly across the board.
“Do as I say, not as I do” and “Do what I say without question” are old style authoritarianism, ineffective leadership, and not the least bit democratic. We need to get that mentality out of our government. When the American people react en mass out of feelings of unfairness, we don’t need to have the sin spanked out of us. We need representatives willing to listen first, ask and answer questions, and attend to our needs – whatever we say our needs are. Their secrecy and the favoritism they show to corporations is abhorrent. They need to keep their religion to themselves and legislate in fairness with the hearts and minds of the people as their priority. That could begin with laws that respect the peoples’ property.
When young lessons are twisted up in a mix of religious and economic self-righteousness, the result is confusion, then anger, then rage. The same goes for a nation with laws that allow corporations to abuse or destroy our property while others are subjected to jail time.
If my factory emissions cause your emphazima, loss of employment and homelessness, even death – that’s too bad. Illness, cancer, toxic waste, the destruction of our environment – it’s all the same. Erin Brockovich was popular because our hearts and minds were with her in a desperate struggle to right a wrong, but the rarity of her success is what made it a story.
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.
It’s role reversal. The people are the teachers, not the government. And the parents of America’s children have their hands full trying to convey that message, I’m sure. It must be tough, for example, teaching children that their bodies are their most precious possessions, to be cared for and treated with respect by all. This, at the same time the state of Virginia among others have the audacity to force medical procedures on unwilling women for a purpose clearly not covered in the law – a future mandate for women to endure unplanned pregnancy and bear unwanted children.
Another thing I know parents struggle with today, because it’s getting difficult for everyone, is providing and modeling healthy nourishment. Having compromised the standards for the most fundamental requirements of the human body – in favor of corporate profits, government agencies have made a mockery of our basic needs. Body, heart and mind – it takes clean air and water, healthy food. John Prine suggests,
“Blow up your T.V.
throw away your paper,
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches”.
And while you’re at it, exercise the freedom to make your own spiritual choices. The religious doctrine of others is healthy food for thought and a joy to study and consider – during the process of independent, personal resolve.
I jumped off the track with John Prine, but while I’m here, I’ll say what I’m thinking: there’s nothing reasonable about making smiles illegal. “Well done, hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun.” Try explaining that one to your kids, but you might hold off on the drug war. They’ll eventually see through it like everybody this side of “Just say no”, another authoritative instruction from the old school that never worked and never will.
Back to religion – by their very nature, spiritual choices are unregulated; they come through a variety of life and family experiences. Legislation that favors your experience over mine is categorically wrong, but a good example of the confusing religious and economic self-righteousness being dished out by ‘Daddy’ these days.
Among various other discrimination, Virginia’s new adoption law allows state agencies to say, “You may adopt this child if you’re a Christian, but not if you’re a Jew”. If you live in America, have a brain cell and are raising a child, that’s another one that should be difficult to explain, especially for Christians. Subjecting the soft skin of children to the warehousing of orphanages when they deserve, have a right and an opportunity to become a family member in a safe, protective and loving home, is not exactly ‘witnessing’. If I were an orphan under those circumstances, I can’t think of anything that would drive me away from Christians more completely.
And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
The point is, good parents are what we need and I hold them in the highest esteem. Having the know-how, intuition, courage and stamina to make positives from negatives and prepare young minds for a go at the world ahead is more than I can grasp, but I appreciate them and the challenges they face.
One of the most important lessons in fairness and how our children will work toward it is in our Bill of Rights. The First Amendment enshrines the right to assemble peaceably, to speak freely, and to petition for governmental redress of grievances. In light of what happened at the Capital in Richmond on Saturday during the rally for women’s rights, I’ve wondered how parents are supposed to teach their children to be good citizens who practice healthy, peaceful redress efforts without being afraid or intimidated. (If you don’t know what happened, here’s March 3rd, 2012 – Of Protests and Bitch Slaps, by Jack Johnson, and excellent account of the rally and of the arrests that followed.)
The following is an example of good parenting that I think fits the bill. I saw it earlier today, and don’t know the mom who posted it, but see if you don’t agree that she has the “hearts and minds” of her children in full view of their future and our needs as a nation:
“Since Saturday I have been wondering about an appropriate role in the re-surging women’s rights movement. As I watched civil disobedience play out on Saturday I kept wondering, what can/should I do? What is my role in this?
I am a mom.
I am needed at home.
My life is busy.
You are too.
I sometimes wonder if some elected officials count on us being so busy as to not pay attention to what they do. I am not *that* busy anymore. But what, given the requirements of being a mother, should I be doing?
I am a mother.
I have two daughters.
I will teach.
Today I called the Capitol Tour Desk to inquire about having a picnic with my children on the grounds. I am told that we are allowed to bring food or purchase food at their underground café and eat anywhere on the grounds except inside in the historical part of the building.
I plan to take my girls for a field trip to discuss civil disobedience, democracy, and the women’s rights movement. I may do this more than once and I am putting the intention into the universe that other mothers will feel the strength of this lesson for the next generation. The erosion of personal freedoms is not to be tolerated. This Thursday I plan to sit on the steps in the same spot that the protesters were sitting and bring my laptop with the YouTube video of what happened in that spot.
Think of the tremendous life learning opportunity we have before us to teach the next generation. I am not looking to turn this into anything other than what it is… mothers teaching their children and remaining visible even while handling our busy lives.
I was thinking I might head over there this Thursday a little before lunchtime. Anyone care to join me???”
(That will be tomorrow, March 8, 2012)
Some News from APV, Virginia:
Today Governor McDonnell signed HB 462 (the Mandatory Ultrasound Bill) into law. We are deeply disappointed by his decision, but not deterred. There is no doubt that our voices have been heard ‘loud and clear’, not just by our representatives, but by the press and therefore the country. We have gotten our message out there. We have been remarkably successful in fighting some of the worst legislation out of the GA this year with the odds against us. We have forged alliances and gathered people who will not forget, and we will continue to build momentum to take this state back. We’re in this for the long haul. Make no mistake, we ARE winning.
John has been in the system for a long time. He’s troubled and shows it by getting in trouble. No one has been interested in adopting him since he was twelve, and the situation is getting worse as he ages. A lovely dedicated couple who have worked with troubled children for many years decide they’d like to adopt him, but the agency won’t allow it because they don’t want John to be influenced by Jews.
Susie has a disability that requires medical treatments. A few couples thought about adopting her, but they didn’t because of the necessary modifications for her wheelchair and the concern and expense of her health care needs. Gail, a nice widow of 60 and a nurse with the resources and background to offer Susie a good home and stable life, is turned down by the agency because she isn’t married. Or, it could be because Gail is over thirty, or because she’s not a Republican, or because she’s a woman, or because she doesn’t believe in corporal punishment ….
Sam and Mack are well-respected and known assets in their community as well as their church. They’ve been stable partners for 14 years and have a successful landscaping business. After long consideration, they apply to be foster parents for Jake, a homosexual teenage boy in crisis counseling for a suicide attempt. Everything about Sam and Mack checks out, but the caring, understanding home environment and healthy role models are rejected by the agency, preferring to “cure” Jake with prayer treatments and anti-gay conversion therapy. LGBT children make up a significant number of available adoptees.
Nick and Caroline own a convenience store next to their home. Caroline is a teacher. They’re not rich, but they’ve managed a nest egg that will allow them to raise a son and put him through college. Everything looked great until Nick told the agency that he hoped his son would want to serve our country in the Marine Corps, as he did. The adoption is denied on moral grounds.
A decision made by the State Board of Social Services in December allows state-licensed private adoption and foster care agencies to refuse prospective parents based on sexual orientation, religion, age of the prospective parents, gender, disability, family status or political beliefs.
APV fought that decision tooth and nail, and like a lot of people in Virginia, we can hardly believe it went through. But it did, and to solidify it into law and make it even worse, we have HB189 and SB349, which are due to be signed by Governor McDonnell. Here’s what we’re fighting in Virginia adoption law now:
Child-placing agency; conscience clause. Provides that, to the extent allowed by federal law, no private child-placing agency shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies. In addition, the bill provides that the Commissioner of Social Services shall not deny an application for an initial license or renewal of a license, nor revoke a license, of any private child-placing agency and no state or local government entity shall deny a private child-placing agency any grant, contract, or participation in a government program because of the agency’s objection to performing, assisting, counseling, recommending, consenting to, referring, or participating in a placement that violates the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies. The bill provides that the refusal of a private child-placing agency to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in a placement that violates its written moral or religious convictions or policies shall not form the basis of any claim for damages. This bill is identical to SB349.
Sen. John S. Edwards, a Democrat from southwestern Virginia, said, “This bill treads on thin ice. It confuses the right of a person to hold their own religious views, which is sacred, and imposing those views on someone else.”
“Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
And though we well know this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no powers equal to our own and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.”
The state’s contractors are not entitled to this protection. They’re not people. It’s not about their freedom of religion because adoption is a public act. Nor, as contractors, should they be granted permission to impose their stated religious beliefs on adoptive children who are covered by the statute. Virginia’s children, if “compelled to support … religious worship, place, or ministry” would be wronged, and “such act will be an infringement of natural right” in the state of Virginia.
Should Virginia’s parentless children have a guardian ad litem to oversee their foster home and adoption applications? What about the suffering experienced by children forced to live in group homes unnecessarily? A child’s needs and rights should be protected from any agency choosing to put into peril available opportunities for a stable home and family life.
Just as troubling, or more so, is the vague wording about “moral convictions or policies”. In context, we’re not talking about virtue-centered morality for the good of community. This is “rights-centered” morality stressing individual freedom, which can be anything. The way this bill is written, an agency can write down a list of preferences, call it moral conviction and policy, and they’re free and clear to prohibit adoptions based on whatever is on the list.
Examples of unregulated rights-centered morality issues are as common in this country as being anti-war or believing in corporal punishment; as controversial as reproductive rights for women; or as egregious as the applause in recent debates has indicated for allowing people to die because they have no health insurance. Polygamy is a regulated religious practice in the U.S., but arranged marriages are not.
The point is, the law will relegate a critical public responsibility, the placement and future of Virginia’s adoptive children, to contractors with a variety of religious and moral agendas, and who also accept taxpayer dollars to subsidize each child’s care.
Back to the scenarios for one more point:
Because he’s been in trouble, John’s mounting chores in the group home include most of the cleaning and yard work. They’re not really eager to lose him to adoption at this time. Because of Susie’s disability, the agency that keeps her gets more money each month for her than the other children. They’re not really eager to lose her to adoption at this time. Jake’s homosexuality is believed to be a stubborn refusal to accept Jesus Christ as his savior, a point of contention that his agency is determined to make an example of. They’re not really eager to lose him to adoption at this time.
Who is designated to stand up for our children when agencies fail to act in their interest? The checks and balances have been defunded and cut back to the extent that a handful of dedicated, overworked social workers and CASA volunteers must simply do the best they can with a massive workload.
It doesn’t make good sense to keep adoptable children in the system when healthy loving people are willing and able to care for them, embrace their differences, and provide the home and family life they have to share. The moral or religious preferences of an agency are not important. This is supposed to be about the children, and if the agencies had their hearts in the right place, they would insist upon safe and healthy placement regardless of their list of convictions and policies.
This is bad law being pushed through by moralistic people in power who want to force their agendas on others.
But, back up a minute … what about the very real suffering and damage done to a child who is kept in the system unnecessarily? Well, that potential damage was obvious and looming enough for the authors of this bill to include sweeping immunity for the very contractors that should be prohibited from discriminating for their personal whims in the first place. It states that restrictions on adoption under “…written moral or religious convictions or policies shall not form the basis of any claim for damages.”
Hopefully, that would be challenged and decided by the courts, and maybe it would result in adoptable children being assigned a guardian ad litem. But, preventively, this legislation can be vetoed by the governor.
If the bill is signed, adoptable children in Virginia will pay the high price of being political, religious and moral pawns in a system already looking the other way when it comes to meeting many of their needs.
Please consider their interests and let Governor McDonnell know where you stand before it’s too late. Contact the Governor’s Office at (804) 786-2211, sign a petition here, and contact your representatives to let them know how you feel.
A strategy of the policy-makers in favor of high stakes testing is to pit victim against victim, so that resistance appears as a punishment by the hands of those in our own communities. Make no mistake – this is intentional and it is vicious … and it is working. ~ United Opt Out
To update recent posts about the destruction of public education (here), yesterday I was delighted to see Stan Karp’s video and article, Challenging Corporate School Reform and 10 Hopeful Signs of Resistance. I was encouraged by the spreading national efforts by teachers, parents and academics who are working to save our American public school system. He offers background information, administration complicity, privatization schemes, and changes clearly imposed from curricula formulated by the private business sector.
Citing proposals that punish children and malign educators “currently being promoted by reams of foundation reports, well-funded think tanks, a proliferation of Astroturf political groups and canned legislation from the rightwing American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC)”, he further exposes the ill-framed neoliberal plan to decentralize, destabilize, re-segregate and privatize our public schools to enrich and empower corporations to dominate and control education across America.
Alongside these efforts to change the way schools and classrooms function, a larger social/political goal is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining rights, union rights, and the permanent crisis of school funding across the country. These policies replace with a market-based system that will do for schooling what the market has done for health care, housing, and the labor market, produce fabulous profits and give opportunities for a few and unequal outcomes and access for the many.
Stan Karp is an author and the director of the Secondary Reform Project for New Jersey’s Education Law Center. He taught English and Journalism for 30 years, and has written widely on school reform for Education Week, Educational Leadership, and other publications, as well as co-editing several books. His esteemed opinion in this article is linked with local and national organizations who are showing that with solidarity and the exposure of misinformation and pertinent data, we can push back the corporate education “reform” movement.
One such link is for United Opt Out, an organization understanding of the intimidation tactics used by those who wish to silence teachers and prevent collective resistance. “For those educators who wish to support our efforts but are concerned over being identified with the United Opt Out movement we extend our support by advocating for actions in many other forms.”
Their mission “is to use various methods of opting out as a means to end punitive high stakes testing in public education before the right to a meaningful and EQUITABLE public education is dismantled by policies that benefit textbook companies, testing companies, and private corporations more than the communities that submit to these abusive and unconstitutional demands.”
They also endorse Occupy Wall Street with ACTION, and will occupy the Department of Education in DC from March 30th to April 2nd, equipped with a list of independent demands! Please join in their effort to make big changes in education for all Americans.
Our Demands for Public Education
We, administrators of United Opt Out National (www.unitedoptout.com), wish to collaborate with the Occupy Wall Street Movement and offer our vision for CORPORATE-FREE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
We believe that QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION is a democratic right for all persons. It is through vibrant and fully funded school communities that all children have the opportunity to develop and grow into happy, successful, free, and active citizens. High stakes testing functions in opposition to QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION, as it is used to punish children, to malign educators, and to provide financial gain for testing corporations and their political sponsors.
THEREFORE, WE DEMAND AN END TO THE FOLLOWING:
ALL high stakes testing and punitive policies that label schools, punish students, and close public community schools
ALL high stakes testing that ties teacher evaluations, pay, and job security to high stakes test results
Corporate interventions in public education and education policy
The use of public education funds to enact school “choice” measures influenced and supported by the corporate agenda
Economically and racially segregated school communities
“Model” legislation that provides special rules to charter schools that are forced upon public schools
Corporate run for-profit charter schools that divert public funds away from public schools
Mandates requiring teachers to use corporate approved, scripted programs that sublimate and negate authentic
meaningful learning experiences imparted by varied and rich curricula
FURTHERMORE, WE DEMAND RESTORATION AND/OR IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FOLLOWING:
Libraries and librarians to all schools and communities
Teaching force educated through accredited college teacher education programs only
School buildings in ALL neighborhoods that meet health codes including clean drinking water, heat and air conditioning
Developmentally appropriate, problem-based, literacy-rich, play-based and student-centered learning, with the
return of nap, play, and snack time for kindergarteners
Smaller student-to-teacher ratio (25 or fewer to one)
Wrap around services for schools that offset the effects of poverty and social inequality, including but not limited to:
school staff such as nurses and health providers, social workers, community organizers, family counselors; free
quality community daycare and preschool programs, healthy food availability, safe and healthy housing options,
community social facilities, and after school programs to enhance learning and provide safe recreational spaces for
Fully funded arts and athletics programs
Recess and adequate time allotted for lunch
New national funding formulas that ensures EQUITY in funding to ALL public schools regardless of zip code
Requirement that a significant percentage of textbook or testing company PROFITS go BACK TO public education
Requirement that all DOE positions are filled with qualified and experienced educators
Requirement that Superintendents and school administrators have exceptional, extended teaching and
A friend just sent this gutsy Tourette’s Du Jour article from November. Killing Public Education names names and tell tales out of school. Thanks, Polly.
The Alliance for Progressive Values supports public education, our teachers, their right to collective bargaining, and the Occupy movement. Please use this information to help strengthen our schools by forwarding it to teachers, educators and friends. Thank you!
For many self-righteous whites, racism against blacks can only exist if there is a white sheet, a burning cross or a lynching involved. By making these overt, violent acts (now largely consigned to history), the de-facto threshold for discrimination, they effectively sidestep any responsibility for ongoing, lingering prejudice and its effects on our society. In fact in a nation where the standard of living is dropping and competition for employment is cutthroat, many have embraced a new cult of white victimhood and resentment. SP
“Republican guru Karl Rove recently appeared on Fox News to dispute the idea that America is a “Christian nation.” And he was right to do so, but not because our country lacks an overarching canon. We certainly do have a national religion — it’s just not Christianity. It’s Denialism.
Some branches of this religion deny the science documenting humans’ role in climate change. Others deny tax cuts’ connection to deficits and deregulation’s role in the recession. But regardless of the issue, Denialists all share a basic hostility to facts.
As this know-nothing theology expands, none of its denominations claims a bigger membership than the one obsessed with race. Today, many reject the fact that black people typically face bigger obstacles to economic and political success than whites. Instead, they insist that whites are oppressed.”
Equality in America is a slug slow process at the end of a steep uphill fight for rights long ago provided for in the constitution and its amendments. Step by slow step, the LGBT community continues to climb, gaining ground, widening the path of civil rights activists and easing the way for other groups long discriminated against. Maybe one fine day we will see a similar announcement providing EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK.
In the mean time, congratulations to those Americans working to change policies of discrimination and exclusion. May the wind be always at your back.