god hates fags: local chapter news

I just received the following letter from a local friend and felt as though some of you, especially those of you here in Michigan who care about things like civil rights, might find it of interest.

June 11th Support Howell High School Seniors Who Opposed Hate
Recently three seniors from Howell High School, Derrick Weber, Shayna Kamilar and Vinnie Mascola, were suspended for the rest of the year — including participation in any senior activities: graduation, awards ceremonies, concerts etc.– for protesting anti-gay graffiti. I hope we can do all we can to show our appreciation for them and to protest their suspensions.

My understanding of the story is as follows. There is a large rock in front of Howell High School on which students paint messages. A friend of theirs, whose openly gay, was the star of the school play “Pippin.” Over a painting advertising the play someone spray painted “God hates fags.” Seeing this Derrick, Shayna, Vinnie, and another student in turn spray painted the word “love” over this message. In an action similar to what students did two years ago, when a Howell senior committed suicide, they then went on to spray paint the world “love” on the sidewalks and driveway. The school administration suspended them for ten days while they reviewed their actions. Two to three hundred students protested this action in a peaceful sit-in. Shortly afterwards the administration suspended Derrick, Shayna, and Vinnie for the remainder of the year.

In their defense the students point out that no one at the time, or later, ever said the graffiti action of two years ago had been wrong. They also point to numerous instances where the administration has overlooked hateful speech and conduct that they have brought to their attention in the past. These also violated the student code, yet nothing was done about them.

The administration claims “there are two sides to every story.” The only other side to the story that emerged during the students’ hearings was that the administration recognized that they were model students (one of them was recently honored as the senior of the year) who were trying to uphold the value of respect for the dignity of all that the student code is meant to protect. . But, the administration insists, “rules are rules” and the students must bear the consequences of breaking them.

It would be reasonable to expect the students should be responsible to pay for any costs connected with cleaning up the graffiti. But in addition to this, the administration instead chose to apply the harsh penalties developed to respond to the very disruptive actions of graduating seniors who in the past thought they could get away with anything. That bears no resemblance to this situation.

Though many many parents and students have spoken to both the school board and the superintendent to suggest that the unusual circumstances warrant some kind of intervention–their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Thus Derrick, Shayna, and Vinnie are being deprived of their ability to experience the culmination of all their years of hard work (participation in choir/musical concerts, award ceremonies, graduation etc.) because they tried to stand up for their friend and boldly and imaginatively to confront hate in their culture. The injustice of this has tainted the whole feel of graduation for their friends and families who have supported them through these many years.

There will be an alternative graduation celebration for Derrick, Shayna, and Vinnie on Saturday June 11th. Those who want to support them and celebrate their achievements are invited to attend. The hope is that this celebration can in some measure make up for what has been taken from them. The students and their families have requested that this be an occasion of celebration and affirmation of the kind that the students would have enjoyed had they been allowed to participate in graduation

After weeks of trying to get their youth back in school, the families are somewhat overwhelmed trying to plan this celebration so I agreed to do what I could to help facilitate it. If you know speakers or musicians that you think would contribute to the program please let me know and I will check with the students and their families to see whether they think it would fit in with the program. If you have resolutions of support, or letters, for Derrick, Shayna, and Vinnie they can be sent to Derrick’s mom, Colleen Chrzanowsiki, 2290 Hickory Circle Dr., Howell MI 48855. Similarly, if you would like to contribute funds to go either towards the costs of the celebration, or towards the legal expenses the families are incurring- checks can be made out to Colleen. Lastly, if there are any who wish to donate towards some kind of scholarships for these three, all of whom will be attending college in the fall, please let me know. As this celebration will be a week from today it would be helpful to hear from you as soon as possible.

Below you will see the public announcement the families recently sent out.

Joe Summers
Vicar, The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation

Alternative Graduation Celebration for Suspended Students:
The parents of Howell High School seniors Derrick Weber, Shayna Kamilar and Vinnie Mascola are proud to be holding a Graduation Ceremony to celebrate the achievements of their sons and daughter. The ceremony will be held on Saturday June 11th at 6:00 pm at Page Athletic Field in Howell City Park, 415 N. Barnard Street.

We are grateful for the support expressed by members of the community here in Livingston County as well as others in greater southeast MI. We welcome those who wish to join in our celebration. We have scheduled our ceremony specifically to avoid any conflict with the commencement activity at Howell High School so that those wishing to join us may do so without having to choose between the two. We strongly encourage Howell High Seniors to walk with their class as OUR students wish they could.

We also request that guests who join us please understand our desire to celebrate our students Graduations with our friends and family without protests or demonstrations. We recognize some of the divided opinions in the community about the issues that lead us to hold this event; however we respectfully ask that those strong opinions be set aside for this occasion so that our students and their families may build the same memories that accompany this once-in-a-lifetime milestone for every graduate.

It doesn’t add a whole lot to the story, but there was also a mention in the May 20 issue of the Ann Arbor News… And, if anyone feels like writing a letter, contact information for the Howell Board of Education can be found here.

I haven’t written to the Board and asked, but I suspect this has to do more with a district-wide zero tollerance policy on graffiti than any tacit acceptance of the anti-gay agenda promoted by groups like “God Hates Fags.” I might be interested to know, however, what kind of resources they’re putting into the hunt for the individual or individuals who started the “hate speech” ball rolling in the first place, and what the punishment would be if they were to identify the person or persons involved. My hope would be that his/her/their sentence would be harsher than those received by the students painting “love.” And, I might also be interested to know what makes this case any different than the case two years ago when students, upset by the suicide of their friend, spray-painted the same offensive word (without repercussions).

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  1. Posted June 8, 2005 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I have mixed feelings about this. I support the students’ actions. I also can respect the school’s application of rules and consequences. I suspect their suspension will only crystalize the students’ activist leanings, more so than if nothing had been done. In that way, it may have the opposite effect from what some may have hoped. The speech makers at graduation ceremonies always point out that “commencement is a beginning not an end.” As these students bear the consequences of their civil disobedience, so, too, do they commence their paths of thoughtful action.

  2. Teddy Glass
    Posted June 8, 2005 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Very much agreed, Alicia.

  3. Posted June 8, 2005 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I hope you’re right, Alicia, and that this doesn’t turn them from a life of thoughtful action.

    And yes, Mark, it would be nice if they put some sort of effort in to finding the ignorant students who wrote the offense message in the first place.

    I’m damn proud of high school students who stand up for diversity of all types.

  4. Posted June 8, 2005 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Why care about partaking in a graduation ceremony of a school that is being hypocritical (at least from the perspectives of the punished students as I understand it)? The extreme punishments, designed to prevent senior pranks, are apparently misapplied. I can see schools worrying about making exceptions because it sets a precedent, that all future vandals can use as leverage to wriggle out of punishments. But apparently the precedent was already set for painting on the sidewalks. Can we compare students expressing grief over a dead classmate with students reacting to an anonymous statement that they are going to hell because of who they are? Yep.

    So there is a precedent of students doing the same thing and not being punished. But these kids are still being punished. Apparently precedented exceptions to a rule don’t get in the way of this school district anyway. So what are they so worried about? Having two precedents? Oh, I see. Two precedents–that’s too much. If it had been for another dead classmate, what do you think they would be doing to the perpetrators? Hypocrisy!

    On the other hand, part of me thinks, “What a bunch of losers. They got caught doing graffiti?” I never got caught, man.

  5. Regina
    Posted June 10, 2005 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    I read the letter that was written about my daughter. As a parent I never felt they should not be punished for the graffiti I just feel that the punishment does not fit the crime. It is very extreme to take away something that took them 13 years to earn. I look forward to saturday at our graduation to meet the people that think like we do. Everyone should be loved regardless of their race, religion or sexual orenitation. I am so very proud of my daughter and the other kids. I got to see at a very young age that what we worked so hard to teach our child took. She stood up and lost what was important to her to say “STOP you can’t treat people that way”. I asked her what she really learned she said “side walk chalk, good concept” Then she said “I learned that even if everyone around you is saying one thing and you feel another way it is important to stand up for what you really feel. There are those that feel the complete opposite from me but that doesn’t make them right and it is my responsibility to stand up for what I beleive in. We have to stop the hate and if I turn away just because I might loose something then that make me just like them and that is not right.”

    I think the had a derhoy moment for all the right reasons.

  6. Tony Buttons
    Posted June 10, 2005 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Regina, I think I speak for everyone in the mm.com community when I say that we’re very proud of your daughter for what she did, and can only hope to have children as thoughtful ourselves.

    On the subject of the graduation experience, I suspect that the alternative event she’ll be having will be far more memorable and special to her than those more routine experiences that her classmates will be sharing. She will cherish the memory of the community coming together to support the courage of her convictions. Everyone else will be hearing speaches about growing up and proving their character, whereas she’s actually doing it.

  7. Posted June 10, 2005 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Tony- thank you for your eleoquence.

    Regina- thank you for being such a great parent.

    ( I wanted to make a joke about graffiti and legibility, but didn’t want to wreck the nice moment that just happened.)

  8. john galt
    Posted June 10, 2005 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    gotta love government schools, we had a girl expelled here a year ago, because she had a keychain on her backpack (a chain is of course a weapon).. She switched to a private school (not that her family was able to use their property tax dollars to pay for it of course)… If these are the lessons the future generation are being taught, I really fear for the republic. When I was a senior is high school, I transfered to a new town, I wanted to take all AP classes that year, but the school system made me take 5 periods of P.E. So I only got in AP chem and AP bio.

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