Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wasilla High School & LGBT youth: A more complex picture

--- by Mel Green

Last Friday we wrote about the “Bohemian Rhapsody” controversy at Wasilla High School and the wider picture for LGBT youth in Mat-Su schools. Since then, we’ve learned that things might be better for LGBT students at Wasilla High School than our story portrayed.

On Bent’s Facebook wall, we were contacted by someone writing under the pseudonym Consuelo who identified herself as a Wasilla teacher . (Bent Alaska does not know Consuelo’s true identity, but we know that, regardless of sexual orientation/gender identity, pseudonymous accounts are commonly needed by teachers who wish to stay in touch with family and friend via Facebook, without compromising their privacy with respect to students and parents.)

Consuelo told us that she and other Wasilla High School teachers and staff have made an open and accepting support network for LGBTA youth at Wasilla High School, and that the “song for graduation was not refused for gay reasons. Concern was for the content in the context of graduation.” Consuelo also disputed some other details of our earlier post, stating that, “This prom situation never happened.” I assume she’s disputing our details about the Wasilla High School prom — where we had written,

Just a few weeks earlier, students were banned from bringing same sex dates to the Wasilla High prom, and were required to uphold a gender dress code of suits and tuxes for boys and dresses for girls. Not feeling any support in their local community, gay students just didn’t go to the Wasilla prom [and went to Pride Prom in Anchorage instead].

— rather than disputing our details about the Pride Prom in Anchorage, for which we have documented sources. Our account of the prom situation at Wasilla had been based on information from another source. We haven’t yet had opportunity to follow up on some of what Consuelo disputed with our other source, or directly with any Wasilla LGBT students.

But, we did read what Phil Munger wrote on his blog Progressive Alaska last Friday. Phil knows Principal Dwight Probasco personally. He’d already written one story about the “Bohemian Rhapsody” controversy; on Friday he wrote a follow-up story, “Dwight Probasco’s Side of the Bohemian Rhapsody Story” based on a conversation last week with Mr. Probasco, which partly substantiated and partly did not substantiate Consuelo’s account.


An important point that Dwight Probasco raised in our talk was what he calls his record at WHS as an administrator who has done everything possible to create a welcoming atmosphere for LBGTQ kids who had felt less comfortable at other Valley secondary schools. I know that to be a fair assessment, based on many friends who either have worked with Dwight, work with him now, or have had kids there.

As Consuelo later told us (see full statement below), Wasilla High School had the first Gay/Straight Alliance club in the Mat-Su, “due,” she said, “to Dwight Probasco.”

But, Phil writes, Probasco confirmed that the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” itself became controversial at least in part because of the sexual orientation of its composer, Queen lead singer Freddy Mercury:

The controversy over whether the Wasilla High School symphonic choir (which is a mix of all the school’s choirs) might or might not be able to sing Bohemian Rhapsody, a mildly controversial song, at the 2011 commencement ceremony started months ago. It started with parental complaints about the song’s composer and his sexual orientation, rather than over any of the content of the lyrics. Principal Probasco brought the matter to the attention of the choir teacher. The kids in the choir continued to want to sing the song. They continued rehearsing.

However, Phil did find that there were other issued besides Freddy Mercury’s sexual orientation that caused at least some to question “Bohemian Rhapsody” as being appropriate for Wasilla High School’s graduation ceremony. See Phil’s complete story, in particular Phil’s correspondence with K. T. McKee, who wrote the original story on the controversy at the Mat-Su Frontiersman.

In the meantime, Consuelo wrote a statement for us about her view of the situation at Wasilla High School.

“A voice from within the everyday walls” by Consuelo

As a teacher, my perspective comes from the classroom, I spend my day with students. There are gay/lesbian students in my class who have chosen to transfer to Wasilla High. To escape bullying and harassment. Their grades are up, they are happier, and they are able to pursue healthy high school relationships. Our school was the first in the Valley to have a GSA chapter. This was due to Dwight Probasco. [emphasis added by Progressive Alaska]

The support network for these students is extensive. There are multiple out, gay staff members. I am a part of that of that network. If the concern here is that the community dictates the school environment, I would remind you that learning takes place within our walls. Our school moves forward, not backward for LGBTQI rights. We model, for students, with the hope that they continue in life as learners. As Paulo Friere wrote “education is best as the practice of freedom.”

Thank you, Consuelo, for challenging us on what indeed seems to have been our one-sided picture of the situation for gay/lesbian/bi/trans/intersex/questioning youth at Wasilla High School. We’re glad things are better there than we had thought. We share with you a hope for continuing forward movement for LGBT youth at Wasilla High School and all Mat-Su schools.

We’re doing our best, given our own constraints of time and resources, to follow-up further on the story, and to correct any unfairness in how we’ve portrayed the situation — of Mr. Probasco specifically, and of Wasilla High School (or other Mat-Su schools) in general.

If you’re a student, faculty or staff member, or parent who has more to share about the situation for LGBT youth at Wasilla High or other Mat-Su Borough School District schools, we’d love to hear from you. Please write to us at bentalaska@gmail.com (E. Ross) or bentalaska2@gmail.com (Mel Green).

--- reposted from Bent Alaska

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a former student...the GSA there was in a safe place, but extremely unorganized and not progressive. I have no recollection of any "out" staff persons. There was no support or any LGBTQ events outside of that room.