Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Conflict of Interest II

The second part of this “conflict of interest” discussion concerns my experiences as a substitute teacher from 2004 to 2007.

Shortly after starting in the Fairfax County Public School system, I took a day’s job as a “PHTA”, or “Public Health Training Assistant.” I did not know what that meant, and I had not placed it on my profile. Everyone got these calls. I got there, and found that it was a special assistant for severely disabled students in the most intensive of the special education programs. Subs could be hired for this. There was the possibility of being asked to do custodial care for a same-sexed disabled person. In fact, I was not asked to do that on that day, but I might have been. Two days later, I had a similar assignment in Arlington. In that experience, the teacher asked if I would borrow as swim suit and get in “the deep end” (yes, that’s the name of a “gay movie” from 2001 – pun intended). A sixty year old man at the time, I declined.

This whole possibility does raise the squeamishness monitor. The religious right is not afraid to speculate on the supposedly dangerous potentialities of these situations, as with Linda Harvey’s comments in Ken Wells's "Opposing Viewpoints" book “Teenage Sexuality.” At one middle school, I found my assignments repeatedly canceled after I brought a copy of Clay Aiken's book "Learning to Sing" and pointed out the passages discussing special education and care to a couple of teachers in the break lunchroom, one of whom, reading the "Book of Mormon" got quite perturbed (she canceled every assignment the system gave me thereafter).

From that point on, I declined the calls related to possible physical assistance. I personally took the position that, since I had been public with my homosexuality to the point of trying to take “commercial advantage” of it (publishing a book), my giving custodial care to a retarded male could violate his right of consent. I asked some lawyers informally and they tended to agree. But this follows from the logical reasoning that motivated the 1993 “don’t ask don’t tell” law mandating discharge for the US military of anyone whose statements indicated past homosexual acts or a propensity to engage in them in the future. I felt that it could be applied outside of the military, because it had codified a definition of “homosexual” into United States Code.

To be fair, the law does state that the military is a “separate society” and can impose military personnel conduct restrictions that would not normally be acceptable in civilian life. But does the law provide a “persuasive precedent” for excluding self-declared gays from occupations where similar concerns about “forced intimacy” exist? This whole thing about the shower stalls and bathrooms had become a malignant notion. In the mid 1970s, a proposed gay rights law for New York City had been objected to by firefighters for the same reason. But the NYFD seems to have gotten over it.

What if this argument were to be applied to medicine? (some people say that medicine is like the military, a unifocal existence). Well, at least, patients sign consent forms, normally. What about day care? What about nursing homes? That’s not a job I would ever want, and it’s usually at the bottom of the pay scale. But someone could make something of a consent issue.

There are a couple more wrinkles here, however. First, had Congress and the US military in 1993 been able to accept a more “reasonable” policy (which President Clinton wanted and tried to propose in July, and even tried again to implement with the administrative regulations in February 1994), preventing at least the “witch hunts”, I would have personally accepted the idea then that the issue had been resolved in a fair, self-contained manner (which Congress thought it was proposing) that did not concern those outside the military, even civilians associated with it (as I was in the 1990s, as in the previous posting).

But the other contains the Internet. When the debate over a fair “compromise” on the military was being conducted in 1993, the future influence of the Internet and search engines was hardly known. In the middle 1990s, some discharges occurred because of “telling” on the Internet, as with AOL profiles (predecessors to today’s social networking sites). Any reasonable Clintonian “honorable compromise” policy at the time, if the Internet had been factored in, would have probably prohibited public statements of homosexual orientation or intention on the Internet (I don’t recall seeing that in the 1994 regs), but that then raises the basic “unfairness” that straight people can talk about their lives publicly, and of course, and to my surprise, soldiers are often allowed to blog from Iraq about combat. I would have thought that military service would require a “blogging policy” commensurate with the issues that military services raises. Perhaps such a policy would preclude open blogging (in areas accessible to search engines) by everyone in uniform, and would require other approved channels for battlefield journalism to reach the states. This is a tough one.

At various times, states have tried to ban gays from other occupations. California tried it with teachers in 1978 (the Briggs Initiative), and Washington did in 1986. In 1983 (in the wake of the new AIDS epidemic), Texas considered a bill (Ceverha) that tried to strengthen the sodomy law and contained this language: “It is against the public policy of this state for persons who commit homosexual conduct to be employed in positions of public trust and responsibility.”

The bottom line today for me, at least, with this untidy problem is this: for me to take a job that risks this kind of involuntary intimate contact with others (particularly minors), I need to see the current DADT law repealed or at least replaced by a policy that is more limited and reasonable, and not malignant and slanderous. Call this a "strike" or a strange form of "solidarity" if you like. I have said this before online, school officials have found it; and, yes, the idea caused them consternation.

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