Bullying of LGBT Youth Continues, with Tragic Consequences
Guest: Ron Schmidt. January 21, 2012. Transcribed by Curtis Whiting.
Angie Coiro: I first interviewed Ronald Schmidt when he published his book, Once Removed, A Story of Love, Loss and a Cause Championed. I found his story riveting. Ron Schmidt was raised in an oppressive Catholic culture. He was aware, from a very young age that he’s gay, but he was so determined to overcome this “illness” (can you hear my air quotes on that?), that he actually married and fathered children, trying to make himself straight.
With that kind of denial going, even though he had very rewarding work, as a classroom schoolteacher, that couldn’t make up for the lack in his life and his lack of honesty with himself, and he sank into alcoholism. The story of his reclaiming his own life is intertwined in his book with his growing activism as an out gay teacher. He went way, way beyond just speaking his truth. He held his student’s hands all the way into the ninth-circuit court, nailing a record settlement for a group of LGBT students that the school board, the school district refused to take seriously.
So, having talked to Ron in the past, why talk to him again? Because, bullying of LGBT students continues to exact a heartbreaking toll in our schools. I’m sure you know all about the “It Gets Better Campaign,” right? The videos that encourage young ones to hang in there, so that they can reach a satisfying, full adult life of self-acceptance and love.
This’ll break your heart. One of the most recent suicides was Jamie Rodemeyer. He had come so far to have made his own video. He told his own stories to tell other kids that it does get better. But, for him it got worse again. And now, he’s gone. I think it’s important to hear his voice, to understand the humanity we’re dealing with.
Let’s take a moment, to listen to the It Gets Better video made by Jamie Rodemeyer.
“Hi. This is Jamie, from Buffalo, New York, and I’m just here to tell you that it does get better. Here’s a little bit of my story. December 2010, I thought I was Bi and then I always got made fun of, because I virtually have no guy friends. And, I only have friends that are girls. And, it bothered me, because people would be like “Faggot, Fag,” and they taunt me in the hallways. And, I felt like I could never escape it. And, I made a FORUM SPRING, which I shouldn’t have done. And, people would just constantly send hate, telling me that gay people go to hell. And, I just want to tell you that it does get better, cause, when I came out for being Bi, I got so much support from my friends and it made me feel so secure.
And then, if your friends or family isn’t even there for you, I look to up to one of the most supporting people of the gay community, that I think of that I know, like Lady Gaga. She makes me so happy. She let’s me know that I was Born This Way.
And that’s my advice to you from here. You were Born This Way. Now, all you have to do is hold your head up and you’ll go far. Because, that’s all you have to do. Just love yourself and you’re set. And, I promise you It’ll get better. I have so much support from people I don’t even know.
I know that sounds creepy, but they’re so nice and caring. And they don’t ever want me to die. It’s so much support for me. So just listen here. It gets better.
Look at me. I’m doing fine. I went to the MOTH’S BALL and now, I’m liberated.
So, it get’s better.”
Coiro: I’m so glad we have the It Get’s Better effort. There are wonderful people behind it. But, it makes it, somehow, especially even worse, that this kid was so close to full self-acceptance and the personal strength to stand up to his terrorists. And, then, he didn’t make it. Here’s another one very recently, who didn’t make it. In California, Jeffrey Fehr. I’m going to read this directly to you, out of the Sacramento Bee, which reports that:
“In the early hours of New Year’s Day, Jeffrey hanged himself in the front entrance to his family’s home, in a tony Granite Bay neighborhood. He was eighteen years old. His parents have searched their hearts and minds for answers, though Jeffrey, who was gay, had recently ended a relationship and had been treated for depression, his parents believe something more insidious put him on the path toward suicide. They are convinced that a lifetime of taunts and bullying contributed to his decision to take his own life. His father said, “We will second guess ourselves forever, but we do know, for years and years, people knocked him down for being different. It damaged him. It wore on him. He could never fully believe how wonderful he was and how many people loved him.”
Coiro: And, again, I’m giving this to you out of the Sacramento Bee. Here’s a little bit more:
“As early as the third grade, Jeffrey was the target of taunts. Family members said that he had few friends, he felt comfortable only when he was at home or on vacation with people he trusted. He would come home from school and cry,” The paper quotes one person from saying. “He would say he felt alone, that wasn’t he wasn’t accepted for the things he liked. It was in the sixth grade that people first started calling him Fag.”
Coiro: So, with these stories piling up, I thought the best first guest, for our new show, In Deep, could only be Ron Schmidt. He has a riveting life story, a lot of wisdom to share. We did have some technical problems, recording our conversation. Some of the audio is a little bit tweaked, but I urge you to bear with the small glitches, it is so worth it. Ron Schmidt is the author of Once Removed, A Story of Love, Loss, and a Cause Championed. I sat down with in our Berkeley Studio.
Ron Schmidt: Thank you so much, Angie. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Coiro: We are going to get into your personal story, but tell me, how much resonance does the story of this young boy in Sacramento have for you?
Schmidt: Well, it’s wrenching. Because, one of the major parts of my book refers to my first semester in Morgan Hill Unified School District, here in Santa Clara County, where an eighth grade student committed suicide and hanged herself in the backyard. There was evidence that perhaps she was trying to time this with the arrival of some family member coming home. She expected that that was going to happen and it didn’t, and she died there, the noose around her neck. It was a tragic, tragic situation and it sent shockwaves throughout the school district. As I say, I brand new in the district. It was my first semester there as a temporary teacher. I was in the process of moving directly toward coming out. I went to my principal to discuss concerns that I had after the school district brought a psychiatrist out from the county health department to talk to all the staffs at their various school sites. He was supposed to be talking to us about why kids commit suicide, why these things happen and, in particular, the fear that there would be copycat suicides; students who knew this young girl very well and felt that they needed to do likewise.
The reality is that this psychiatrist didn’t tell any of us anything we already didn’t know, except that he didn’t take night calls. It was ridiculous.
So, I went to my principal the next day, and I said “If that was supposed to be dealing with the subject, then that was like putting a bandaid on gaping wound.” There had been no mention whatsoever of a possible concern about sexual identity. I don’t know whether this child was taunted for being lesbian or any other aspect of her identity, but I said to him “The reality is, among the students who do commit suicide, a huge proportion are dealing with sexual identity issues. May be actually gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Or if not, questioning. Other kids taunting them, causing them to have this insecurity.
Coiro: You know what? I want you to hold right there. Because now, I want you to bring our listeners in on what brought you to that point. And so we’re going to talk a little bit about your own story.
Coiro: You realized you were gay, when?
Schmidt: Oh, I realized I was gay when I was a child. Seven, eight years old, something of that sort. I didn’t know a name for it, at that point, I just new that I was different from my brother and my sister, raised in a very Catholic home. And, as I grew older, everything about what I was feeling toward other males was clearly, clearly wrong as far as my church was concerned or far as everything else in my society was concerned.
Coiro: Did you have anyone in your young life that you looked at and said “Well, if I am -” although you didn’t have the word for it “If I am gay, and I come out, I’m going to be treated like this person, or I’m going to end up like that person.” So, what kind of role models did you have for making your choice about how to handle this?
Schmidt: The only role models I had were in the church. Confessors, and so forth. I got no positive reinforcement from any of them. I did a lot of agonizing in the confessionals. and that sort of thing. It was a very, very difficult period of growing up. Everything that I knew about being gay made me feel that I needed to change who I am. My confessors used to say to me, when I would talk about the need to express myself in terms of homosexual tendencies, and so forth, “don’t worry about these things. When you get married, they’ll take care of themselves.”
Coiro: Oh, I’m sure “that” worked out.
Schmidt: Yeah. Exactly. Well, the reality is, of course, that I wanted desperately to change who I was. And, all through my schooling, that was the same situation. At Santa Clara University, I had a priest, who was the head of the theology department. And, understand the Jesuits were the intellectual elite of the church, still considered to be. I went to this particular priest and I said “I am skirting the edges of homosexuality and I don’t know what to do about it.”
His response was, “If you are indeed a homosexual, you know whose fault it is, don’t you? Your dear devoted parents. He gave me the name of a psychiatrist, to whom I went for the next two years to get myself straight.
Coiro: And that was the prevailing thought, at the time, that this could be fixed.
Schmidt: Oh, it was. Yes. That it could be fixed. Well, the psychiatrist tow whom I went said that there was evidence to believe that you could change if you wanted strongly enough to do it. And there was a fifty/fifty chance that you could become straight.
Coiro: And, implicit in that is, if you don’t change, it’s your fault, ‘cause you don’t want it enough.
Schmidt: Of course. There you go. Exactly right. I desperately wanted to change. I went for two years and I met a beautiful, young woman, during the latter part of my therapy, and fell in love. There’s no question that I fell in love, and believed I was cured. I wanted desperately to be cured and believed I was. After all, I just completed these two years of psychotherapy. Today, of course, that is known as Reparative Therapy.
I married. The marriage lasted for seven years. I have two wonderful sons. I raised the sons myself from the time the youngest was three.
Coiro: Ron Schmidt is the author of Once Removed. It is now out in paperback and available. You can find it on Amazon and on the independent book sites, as well. We’re talking his own life in the context of what we see today. In bullying, of anti-gay harassments in the schools. Because, as you’ll be hearing from Ron, over the course of this hour, this is not only a personal journey for him, it’s his journey as a teacher. Moving through the school system and ultimately helping to organize and educate other teachers around these same issues.
So, you have a seven year marriage. You end up with two sons. And, somehow, you came to a place where you were no longer going to deny who you were. Was there a turning point that was a sharp mark in the sand? Or was this a gradual realization that you had to do what you had to do?
Schmidt: It was a gradual realization. The reality is that, basically, my gay needs had begun to reassert themselves, in the latter stages of the marriage. And, I never acted on them, during my marriage, I will say. And, I make that clear in the book also. But, the fact is that, after the divorce, through this period of time, I was beginning to drink more and more and more. I’m a teacher. I taught all through these years. I have thirty-three years in the classroom and twenty-four years of drinking. I got by, by drinking. I say got by. It became more and more difficult to get by. What happened eventually was, that I decided I was going to be determined to live long enough to see my youngest son through school. Then, I expected that I would just drink myself to death. Both sons would be out of school then, and so forth.
Coiro: God, what an awful decision. Just to think that you had, on some level a consciousness of that decision.
Schmidt: Yes. Well, I mean, it was a very clear consciousness. It was at that point, basically, that I allowed myself finally to begin to access gay venues. Much is said to deride the gay baths, the bathhouses, and I am here to tell you that the bathhouses saved my life.
Coiro: I’m guess that is emblematic of how support for who and what you are, whether it’s understood from the outside of not, is the nurturing of a real human being. This is where you could be you.
Schmidt: Yes. You hit the nail right on the head with the nurturing of a human being. The bathhouse offers whatever you want. Okay, But, it also offers the opportunity for men to simply be tender with each other and to embrace and to realize that this is something beautiful. The bathhouse is where I met my first lover. In the book, his name is DEGNAN. DEGNAN is the reason I’m alive, today. It was he, who talked from the glasses of gin at my lips, literally. And, helped me to gain my sobriety. It was he who taught me to accept myself and to realize that I am worthwhile person with dignity. A human being. A man. A gay man with dignity. And so, I owe him my life. We were together for ten years. As I gained my sobriety, it became necessary for me to come out. That happened, of course, with regard to my sons, my family members. When I initially came out to my brother, he said “Don’t tell our mother. She’s too old. And, she couldn’t handle it.” He said, “Don’t tell your sons, they’re too young. They’re dealing with their own adolescence,” which was true. But there’s never a good time.
Coiro: I was going to say, that leaves a pretty narrow window in which you can tell people.
Schmidt: Exactly. There’s never a good time. The good time is then. Right then, when you realize it has to be done. I did come out. There were several years of very difficult strain. But, one of the things that my oldest son said to me when we were sitting on a beach, reflecting on all of these things a few years ago and I was apologizing for a lot of the things that had happened, including my drinking and how it impacted their young lives, and my oldest son said, “We never doubted you loved us, dad.” And, that said a huge amount to me. So, in the process then, of coming out, and I was teaching, and I had come to Morgan Hill Unified School District and applied for a position there. I was on a temporary contract at that period of time.
Coiro: So that brings us just about to where you’ve been a teacher and eventually you get to this position where you’re provoked by this young girl’s suicide. A psychiatrist comes to the school campus and gives a half-hearted recitation of what kind of help is available, what might have happened, and the issue of sexual identity never came up. So, where we left that story, was you’re talking to the principal, and your saying “This has got to come out.” But, you had not yet come out to them, is that correct?
Schmidt: That’s correct. It was during the first six months that this happened. My first semester. So, I went in to him, and I said “If that was supposed to be dealing with the issue, it was like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound.” And, I said, a huge percentage of kids who commit suicide are dealing with sexual identity issues, may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, themselves. And I said “I know that because I am, myself, gay.” And, when I said that, his jaw dropped. And, there was utter silence in his office. When he was able to talk again, he said. “If that were to become generally known, in Morgan Hill Unified School District, They would bring down the walls of this district.” And, I thought to myself, God, what a lot of power. That’s amazing.
Coiro: Was there any kernel of truth in that?
Schmidt: Yes, there was, actually.
Coiro: How does one man, coming out as gay, burn down the school district
Schmidt: Well, in the process, understand that Morgan Hill Unified, is a very conservative district. It’s just south of San Jose. It’s a sort of bedroom community to San Jose. Very religious, conservative community.
Coiro: And, what year are we talking, here?
Schmidt: We’re talking here about 1983. The basic thing is, he forbade me to talk about gay issues in the classroom. Or to mention it at all, anywhere else. If it were to be discussed in the classroom, it would be by the health teacher, or by the counselors. And I said, you know, the counselors push papers. That’s all they do. And, they’re prepping kids to be ready for the SAT’s and the CAP tests and all of that sort of thing. And, unfortunately, they don’t deal with kids real issues. That’s part of the difficulty that we have in our schools, now. The obsession with test scores and not dealing with the issues that kids are actually facing. In any event, I dug in, and I joined both teachers unions, explained what I was doing, I did talk about these issues in the classroom –
Coiro: In defiance of what you’d been told.
Schmidt: Yes. I did talk about the issues in the classroom. There was clear evidence that I was not going to be rehired. But, as I say, I joined both teachers unions and they both supported me in what I was doing.
Coiro: Can I ask you to go back to that point that, when you first brought this up in class – Of course, we’re focusing, this hour, on what teens are going through in the classroom. What do you remember about the faces of those students when you brought up these issues that nobody else had talked about?
Schmidt: It was pretty much the same situation as when I first mentioned it in a faculty meeting in the district, or in a district-wide meeting. When I mentioned the the G and L words, the oxygen evaporated from the room, you know. Literally, it was that sharp a distinction. As time went on, there were students who were clearly shocked. Some obviously somewhat pleased, because there are always those students who like to see, Oh Boy! Something’s Going To Happen Here, and parents were calling not only the principal but the superintendent.
The principal had to sit through numerous parent conferences with me. But CTA. California Federation of Teachers backed me, supported me. I met, through a conference on youth, a wonderful woman, named Ann Davidson, from Palo Alto. She is a PFLAG mother. PFLAG is Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. She and I were at the same conference. One of her sons is gay. She and I started to talk about this. In the latter stage of that conference we raised it as an issue for everybody else to discuss. We decided that what was necessary was to put together a workshop that would educated faculty, superintendents, counselors, and hopefully the students themselves about LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) issues.
We put together a workshop called The Invisible Minority In Our Schools, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Youth. We developed this so that we would have three or four parents from each school district in which we were presenting this and we would have students, three or four of them from each school, in which we were presenting.
This was a very courageous thing that we were asking these kids, in particular to do. Some were reluctant, at first, but we were able to gain that kind of support from them. We went to every school district in Santa Clara County, spoke to the superintendents, assistant superintendents and presented this need. We had CTA and NEA and they supported the issue. In fact, they had us do the workshop at the Human Rights Conference and at the Good Teaching Conference, which was a statewide kind of venue.
Coiro: Refresh my mind, now. What is your status as a teacher while you’re openly doing these workshops?
Schmidt: Well, this came out, or course, the Morgan Hill Times and the Gilroy Dispatch covered this. And the San Jose Mercury News Covered this, also. We went to the superintendent and to the school board in Morgan Hill Unified to present the need to for this kind of workshop to happen in Morgan Hill Unified. It was extremely controversial. The first effort at doing this brought four hundred people out to the board meeting. There were so many people who were avidly speaking against this happening. Bringing up all the worst stereotypes about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered people. It ran almost to midnight and the superintendent asked me, “Would you wait until next time to make your presentation, because we’re so out of time?” So, I agreed.
We had as many people, the next time, as well, but I did make my presentation. The news channels were there, the TV channels, the newspapers, all of that sort of thing. There was a young man walking outside with a sign saying “Kill the Faggots.” And, the police took the sign away from him, at least. There was so much concern for my own safety at the end of this, that they walked me out to my car. It was a very scary kind of event. But, it had to be done. It’s wrenching to think that so many kids are hurting in our schools. One of my students, a ninth grade student, during this period of time, when I challenged a Faggot-slur in the classroom, and stopped the discussion that we were about, when I heard this I said, “Let’s talk.” We did, and I went on about the need for everybody to be able to be accepted and to be respected for who he or she is. And, to not be subjected to any kind of slurs.
I had a not in my teacher’s mailbox at the end of the lunch period, that day, from a young woman, ninth grade student, who said, “Mr. Schmidt. I want to tell you how thankful I am that you said what you did in class, today. I’ve had kids say things like this around me and it really is hurtful.” And, I said, “You’re always welcome to come and talk, if you want to.”
It was actually a couple of years later that she had moved on to the high school and I got a phone call from a young woman. My name was on a hotline list for BANGLE (Bay Area Network of Gay and Lesbian Educators) and it was through that that I was helping to generate this workshop, the Invisible Minority in Our Schools. I got the phone call from a young woman who said she didn’t know who I was, only that my number was on this list. And, she said, I go to a very, very conservative school and it’s really hard. I said, I understand. I teach in a very conservative school district. And, suddenly we were silent and we realized and I a said “DENAY?” And she said “Mr. Schmidt?” We laughed. She said things had gotten much worse there. I told her that there was a youth group meeting. If you want me to, I will take you. I will pick you up and take you to that. I did that and I was grading papers, waiting for her – took a long time for her in this session she was in, but she came out just beaming from ear to ear and she said You don’t need to drive me home. I’m going to get a ride with one of these new friends. So, that was wonderful.
When we were finally able to do the workshop in Morgan hill Unified, I asked her would she be one of the students from the district and speak to the administrators and counselors there. And, she agreed. It was a very, very powerful moment. It’s detailed in the chapter in my book, entitled “Where Were You?”
When she had her time at the microphone, she moved up close to the microphone, held it in her hands across the desk and she told about students in a particular class where the teacher had just set aside his lesson plan and allowed students to make remarks all period long, shouting obscenities and shouting “Faggot” and “Dyke” and “Queer” and things of this sort. And she said to them, “I was so afraid they were going to turn to me and say you’re one of them, aren’t you?” And, she burst into tears and she sobbed, “Where were you? Where were you?” To these administrators and counselors out there. There wasn’t a sound in the room, except for DANAY’S sobbing.”
I moved next to her and I put my hand on her shoulder and I handed her my clean handkerchief for her to dry her tears. I’ve never washed that handkerchief. I used it to take with me to every workshop I ever did afterwards to remind me why I needed to be there.
Coiro: Ron, as promised, I want take some of the hard-earned lessons of your life, both personally and inside the classroom, and apply them to the terrible slew of problems we have, now, with bullying, with suicides. One of the great ironies, last week, was my hearing about a student suicide with someone who actually had taken part in the It Gets Better Video Campaign. It was a very stark reminder that even when people are offered support on some level and partake of it as best they can, it’s not always enough. Every person who can contribute to the support of these students counts a little bit more. So, let me ask you first, you were not out as a teenager, in high school –
Schmidt: No, not at all.
Coiro: Was bullying part of your experience?
Schmidt: Sure. Not me, personally, but you would hear. I went to Bellarmine. It was an all male campus, still is. Bellarmine College Preperatory Jesuit. There were those kinds of slurs that would go on, periodically. Much more recently, there was serious concerns on the campus at Bellarmine and I tried to offer our help with the workshop and was told by the then president of Bellarmine, “No, we’re going to handle this, ourselves. Don’t make me angry.”
I said “Don’t make you angry? The church has made me angry all my life.” Anyway, he would not do it. I actually was able to get in to do the workshop, through a principal, whom I had known for years. He had been a little kid when I was working for his father, during the years when I was going to Santa Clara. He had become the Principal there. He knew me and he allowed me to come in and do the workshop.
But, the problem is that too many times, in particular, in very, very religiously based homes, kids are afraid to talk about these issues, afraid to come out. One of my favorite quotes, it’s in my book, is from Robert Frost. And, he said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” And, it’s such a powerful quote. But, I have listened to parents, who were deeply religious conservatives, who said “My son, I would rather have him be dead than gay.” and “My son would have to leave my house.” That’s the attitude that is there. None of the Christian Love One Another as You Would Have Them Love You.
Coiro: There’s a danger in our living in what we consider our Liberal bastion. I’m broadcasting, right now, from Berkeley. Our show and our company are San Fransisco based. It’s hard to keep in mind that this is still a reality for students. That they have a message coming from home that they will internalize, You’re Better Dead Than Gay.”
Schmidt: Yeah. Exactly. But the boy, you are talking about, who committed suicide after participating in the It Gets Better Campaign, Jamie Rodemeyer – Very, very tragic situation. I saw that video that he made of himself. It’s almost impossible to conceive that he would have been so down after that, but it happened. There’s Tyler Clementi, the twenty year old college student, who was filmed by his roommate, secretly, as he was having sex with his boyfriend, and threw himself off a bridge. Seth Walsh, a thirteen year old, who shot himself to death. These are horrendous kinds of things for people to have to face.
Coiro: You had just said that children are afraid to talk about these things. Let’s put those two thoughts together. When you know that kids are afraid to talk about this and yet you know they are at risk, what is a teacher capable of doing and what is the best way they can do it?
Schmidt: Coming out, for one thing. Teachers who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, need to come out and need to make it known. The reality is, the young woman I talked about, DANAY, who said “Where Were You?” to the administrators in my district, we thought we had made huge progress, then. But, two years later, a young woman from Morgan Hill Unified, Alana Flores, called me and said “I was told I should contact you.” She said she and five other students had been mercilessly harassed for their perceived or real sexual identity at the Live Oak High School, during their whole four years there.
I met with her. I was stunned, because, as I say, I thought we had made such progress. She told me that when she went to the assistant principal, in tears, saying that she had been harassed for being a dyke or a lesbian, the assistant principal said to her “Well, are you gay? Why are you so upset? Why are you crying?” She didn’t get it at all. And, she had been at the workshop. This is unbelievable. I said “Alana, If you’re still experiencing these kinds of problems, then the only thing the district will listen to is a lawsuit. And if you want me to, I will take you to an attorney and to the ACLU. And she said “Absolutely.” I had no qualms about it. I took her through a friend, Anne Rosenzweig, who was a very supportive attorney, living in Morgan Hill, she suggested an attorney who would be best for this, Ann Brick, at the ACLU.
We took Alana along with a young boy, the only boy who was in this group of six kids who had been harassed, and we filed the lawsuit. The reality is that the district dragged its feet for six years. They claimed that they didn’t know the harassment was taking place, the ninth-circuit court of appeals finally offered the decision that the lawsuit could proceed, that if the district didn’t know, they should have known, because there was ample evidence.
At that point, Morgan Hill Unified settled, for $1.1 million. Now, Angie, one would think that that would say something to other school districts.
Coiro: Money, at least talks, if not morals.
Schmidt: Exactly. You’d think that they would say, we’d better shape it up, here. But, as you see. We’ve just been talking about Tyler Clementi, about Jamie Rodemeyer, Seth Walsh, and the young man from Sacramento, Jeffrey. It continues. We have to have people – One of the CTA officials, who was very instrumental in helping me keep my job as an out gay teacher, said to me, that when he went in to his own school district and started to – He’s a straight teacher – but when he went in and started to talk about what was happening in these workshops, he said there were three teachers on his faculty he knew were gay and they absolutely were stony silent. They would not say anything. They were terrified of getting involved in the subject. Teachers have to come out.
I was the only teacher in Morgan Hill Unified in my fifteen years there, who was openly gay. Were there others who were gay? Of course.
Coiro: What kind of conversations did you have with them?
Schmidt: Very secretive. They would talk to me in my own classroom, with the door closed, sort of thing. They weren’t about to be able to get involved in this kind of thing. They felt there was a need for it, and so forth, but it wasn’t something that they could take on.
Schmidt: Which brings us back to your point. The first thing a teacher can do to help a student is to come out.
Schmidt: Yes. When Gavin Newsom authorized gay marriages to take place, illegally, as it turned out, that first February, six, seven years ago now, I volunteered for seven different days at the city hall where the marriages were taking place, and I was bringing couples from the clerks office with their marriage licenses to the rotunda for their ceremoies. The hall was lined with throngs of people who were there, excited about this. One young woman came up to me and said to me, “You were my teacher in ninth grade. (chokes) Sorry. You were such an inspiration to me.” And, I said, “Oh, my God. I can see a similarity with someone I know, but you’re going to have to remind me of your name. It had been a long time.” She told me her name and I said “Oh, God. Of course. I even remember where you sat in class. She just beamed.
Coiro: The sad irony to me is – That story to me is very beautiful and you know that there is a contingent of people who vote as often as you and I do, that would say, you recruited that girl. You made it okay for her to be something that’s wrong. You must still hear that.
Schmidt: I made it okay for her to be who she is. That’s the thing. You said it exactly. I made it okay for her to be who she is. She knew that she was different and she realized what her difference was and she thought that Gay and Lesbian and Bisexual and Transgendered people were all these people who were off in the margins of society. There you were, teaching. Doing what other teachers were doing. Living a normal kind of life. It was huge for me.
Coiro: Tell me what your involvement is with teachers in the classroom, these days.
Schmidt: I’ve written this book. There’s a lot of pain in the book, there’s a lot of heartache in the book, but there’s also a lot of joy. I’ve had some individuals say it’s a hard read. It’s difficult to get through. But, at the same time, they find it really, really valuable, I’m pleased to say. So, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to reach more people through, Once Removed, through my memoir. Trying to encourage them to also come out, to be who they are. It has been a long journey. And, it isn’t over yet.
Coiro: I guarantee you there’s at least one person of school age, who has heard this conversation, and you have undoubtedly helped yet another person. I thank you so much for giving me your time and your story.
Schmidt: Thank you, Angie. It’s a pleasure to be here.