Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Katie Sherrod's "Behind the Screen"

In case you missed these words of wisdom from Katie Sherrod's blog "Desert's Child":

During the 1890’s Dr. M. Carey Thomas, later president of Bryn Mawr College, asked to attend a class at Johns Hopkins University school of medicine in Baltimore. No woman had ever before been permitted to attend the lectures, and Dr. Thomas was granted her request only on condition that she sit behind a screen so as not to offend and distract the male students.

In 1893, Florence Bascom was the first woman to to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins. However, she too had to sit behind a screen so the male students would not know she was there and be offended or distracted.

British-born Charlotte Angas Scott (1858-1931) was pivotal in the development of mathematics education in the United States. She was among the first faculty members at Bryn Mawr College and the school's first head mathematics teacher. Scott was awarded a scholarship to Hitchin College (now Girton College, the women's division of Cambridge University). She and the other women in her class were all required to sit behind a screen that separated them from the male students and obscured their view of the blackboard. Women also were not permitted to be at the commencement exercises.

But that was all so long ago. Right? Well, requiring women students to sit behind a screen or even out in a hallway at schools, universities and seminaries continued in some schools in the U.S. right up until the early to mid part of the last century. The people in charge did not want the male students to be offended or distracted.

African Americans endured even worse indignities as white America enacted laws designed to keep them "in their place" so they could not offend the sensibilities of white people. That's what segregation and then the Jim Crow laws were all about.

Even recognized heroes were not immune to the insults. In 1971, after a 40-year career in baseball, Leroy “Satchel” Paige became the first Negro League Player voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But Baseball Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn announced that Paige would be the first member of a Negro wing of the Hall of Fame. Sports writers exploded, saying that having a "Negro wing" was perpetuating the bad old separate-and-NOT-equal days of segregation. Outrage grew, and Kuhn finally convinced the board of the Hall of Fame that putting Paige in a separate corridor was a really bad idea. So Paige's plaque and those of other "Negro" players were put with all the rest.

It seems that any time those on the margins seek to be included, those in charge have moved to include them only after making sure the sensibilities of people like themselves [historically straight white men] are not offended.

That is what is happening in the Episcopal Church right now with our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters in Christ. After years of steady pressure, the church is slowly making moves to include them, but only if they will in essence sit behind a screen so as not to offend any of the people already inside the room.

That's why Gene Robinson was not invited to Lambeth, although the Archbishop of Canterbury did offer to let him speak in an exhibit hall of the Marketplace . . .

That is what B033 was and is all about -- making sure that the presence of LGBT Episcopalians in our church won't offend anyone anywhere who is made the slightest bit uncomfortable by their presence.

And that is why the closeted panel that is studying same sex relationships wants to keep itself secret "for a season." We apparently even have to study LGBT folk from behind a screen.

Someday our children will read of this time in our history and be just as amazed and outraged as you were when you read the first paragraph of this blog.

I hope some of those children will still be in the Episcopal Church.


susankay said...

When I was in college, I participated in a program of reading to blind students of the college. The place chosen was the male-only library and although I was allowed to enter, I had to come in through the basement door and climb the back stairs. It was 1962. The library was Lamont at Harvard and the person I was reading to was male and thus allowed to use the main door and the elevator.

How can anyone not see that what our GLBT sisters and brothers are going through now is EXACTLY THE SAME THING?

IT said...

When i was promoted to full professor and attended my first full professor's meeting, there was me, and a room full of older white guys. Pale, stale, and male. Exclusion still happens in academe, it's just that the bias is more subtle.

We aren't done fighting yet.

Meanwhile....on Sunday in his sermon, the Dean of San Diego's Episcopal Cathedral highlighted some of the involvement of the community in social justice issues. One he stressed was inclusiveness, using an example someone had pointed out to him a while ago, when the viewer had noted a gay man sitting next to a homeless woman sitting next to the Chargers' quarterback in the pew.

TEC isn't there yet but can you imagine how much closer it feels than over in Roman Catholic-ville where BP is from?

So yes, I think some of those children will still be Episcopalian. Because some Episcopalians have got there already.

Hope so, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I don't think those children will be in the Episcopal Church, because, like my own Anglican Church of Australia, I think it will be extinct.

Ann said...

Sunday a woman was in church who had recently changed from RC to the Episcopal Church - she told me that I was the first woman she had seen at the altar as a priest-- said she practically cried (with joy) through the whole service.

E, R and O's Papa said...

Unfortunately my children are already gone. This year my partner and I decided that despite the welcome from our own parish, we could no longer be part of TEC because we cannot expose our four year old daughters to an organization that intentionally discriminates against their family. I wish I were more hopeful about General Convention, but I'm afraid that all I see are signs of appeasement and delay.

uffda51 said...

Since we are on a baseball theme, I’m reading a book on Walter O’Malley which contains the following:

“In late August of 1946, representatives of the sixteen major league teams met secretly in Chicago at the Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Their focus was a report completed by a committee that had been assigned to look at the most controversial issues facing the sport. Two passages that were excised noted that baseball was a monopoly and that the reserve clause binding players to teams would fail a test in court. However, the owners retained in the report a warning against integration, and then accepted it by a vote of fifteen to one.”

Branch Rickey of the Dodgers was the lone dissenter, and the man who signed Jackie Robinson.

Hmmm. A secret meeting. A decision to continue a decades-long policy of exclusion. An exclusive group wielding power and citing tradition and a "gentleman's agreement" passes judgment on a long-excluded group with no power, followed by a principled stand initiated by one man, leading to progress on a national scale.

This all sounds somehow familiar.