How Writing A Letter About the University of Dallas' LGBTQ-Hatred Is A Life Worth Living
Ten days ago, I launched myself, again, against bullies. It's a trope for me since birth, as recounted in my memoir, How to NOT Know You're Trans, and in my follow-up to be published later this year, Trans Quality: How Trans Experience Affirms the World.
I don't seek out bullies. However, because, throughout my days, I've found they'll body-slam me whether or not I encourage it, I pick my moments. The experience has taught me that it doesn't have to be a battle at all. The bullies want a battle. I want to live my life unmolested. How, then, am I to go unscathed by picking battles, you might ask?
Being me means speaking out when the moment is called for … without making it a battle. I repeat the message through every single bodyslam. Kinda like Captain America's "I can do this all day," sans the fisticuffs.
Hatred on Parade
Ten days ago, I came upon the following FB post by Prof. David Upham, Chair of Politics at my alma mater, the University of Dallas (UD):
Dr. Rachel Levine was born RIchard [sic] Levine. He was married and became the father of two human beings--whom God made in His image, male and female He created them.
Dr. Levine has since, through ingesting various drugs, put on a somewhat convincing hormonal costume to go along with his conventionally feminine dress. He may also, in addition have surgcially [sic] mutilated his once functioning organs of generation--powers of procreation given to him by God Almighty. Dr. Levine is to now to be called a "woman" and to appointed [sic] the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. There, Dr Levine, in concert with the whole Biden administration, will try to use the powers of the federal government to FORCE others, by their words and their deeds, including their medical expertise and know-how--to participate in these falsehoods, these hormonal and surgical harms--these wrongs.
Dissenters will have to say "SHE and "WOMAN" or "HE' [sic] and "MAN" even when they know it's false.
Dissenters will have to pay for and provide hormonal treatments that will materially harm men and women's capacity to fulfill the command of almighty God to be fruitful and multiply by the mutual clinging of male and female. Dissenters will have to pay for and personally participate in surgeries that will mutilate men and women's powers of procreation. I fear that not one member of the United States Senate--even the supposedly "strong" or "tough" or "courageous," whether cheerleader or booleaders for Trump--will speak out against the violence to truth, liberty, and the great gift of fatherhood and motherhood?
Will any member of the United States Senate step up?
My first reaction was, "Dude, why does this matter to you?" You're not trans. You're ensconced in an institution that reviles trans persons as "leper, outcast, unclean," and you have an unassailable teaching podium. You're a Marie Antoinette for whom the quality of cake overshadows any inkling that poor people are out there beyond the gardens of Versailles.
Yet, I know, from my years at UD in the 1980s and from my three children having attended there, as well as from my continued exposure as an alumna, that LGBTQIA+ persons at UD are imprisoned. To come out, or to give even a hint of being queer is to invite yourself to four years of unrelenting assault on your very existence.
Some might say, "Well, hey, they knew what they were getting into when they came to a conservative Catholic university!"
But we didn't. Do you even remember how un-self-possessed you were at 18? If you came to UD closeted, you already had suffered years of family and community coercion to hide your identity and loathe yourself, all wrapped in the garb of "holiness." If, like me at the time, you had no clue you were queer, you suffered an even more insidious self-hatred, the root of which you didn't know. UD's efforts only spurred you to be the loudest singer in the UD choir against who you really are.
UDers hear dreck like Upham's all the time in the classroom, in the Cap bar, in the cafeteria, dorms, and on the UD Mall. It's the air we breathe. But just like breathing the air of a polluted city doesn't make your lungs right, UD's open spigot of LGBTQIA+ hatred doesn't make a university community right.
I Wrote A Letter
So, I wrote an open letter, undersigned by 50+ LGBTQIA+ alumni allies. Here's the timeline:
Someone on a private UD LGBTQIA+ FB group shared a series of posts that Prof. Upham had made, the most egregious one of which I recounted in my open letter.
I sent the original open letter to all the parties mentioned in its title, as well as three Dallas newspapers—the Morning News, Voice, and Observer.
For four+ days, I received funeral silence from UD and the Diocese of Dallas.
Acting Associate Dean Burns then messaged/emailed several undersigners, asking them why they "wanted to get Upham fired." UD's silence and Burns' manipulative end-around (methinks at the behest of UD administration) spurred my writing a follow-up to the same parties I sent the open letter.
Finally, I received an official response late Monday (1/25/21):
Thank you for your note. The University of Dallas is committed to protecting the civil rights of all members of its community. Our civil rights policies can be found here: https://udallas.edu/offices/civil-rights/civil-rights-policies.php.
President Hibbs has sent out two recent communications to the UD community, concerning civil rights and diversity and unity. In the first, he reminded the UD community of a number of ongoing initiatives around the topic of difference and unity and promised to update the community on plans for a series of information sessions about civil rights. Following up on that first email, he then sent another letter, in which he reiterated the way UD’s commitment to these matters is informed by its Catholic identity and its fidelity to the teachings of the Church. He also announced the first series of civil rights information sessions, attendance at one of which will be mandatory for all faculty and staff during the spring semester.
Finally, the University does not speak, or issue statements through, the personal social media sites or email correspondence of faculty and staff.
Luciana E. Milano, J.D.
Director, Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Coordinator
University of Dallas
My response to Luciana:
Thank you for your communication, Luciana.
My letter never addresses UD's response to civil rights issues. Because you're coordinator of Title IX issues that impact UD, you are also a safekeeper of whether UD gets federal funding/loan assistance in accord with Title IX. So, I appreciate your effort to maintain that income flow for the University.
Your deflection aside, my letters addressed the question of whether UD aids and abets, without holding to accountability, any of its employees who publicly and in the classroom espouse views that foment hatred against others or which cast doubt (at the least) on the civil rights of persons like Rosa Parks. To clear up UD's persistent sound-bite obfuscation of my letters, I am not now requesting nor have ever requested that the University fire Prof. Upham. I do not know the man, nor have ever met him. As I've noted, how the University deals with the matter is the purview of the University and the terms of Prof. Upham's tenure there.
I merely ask these two things:
While you say that "the University does not speak, or issue statements through, the personal social media sites or email correspondence of faculty and staff," are you therein saying that any professor's statements, or those of UD staff and administration, are not subject to the scrutiny of the University? I'm sure that, if a UD professor were to proclaim on social media or in the classroom (as Prof. Upham has done, as detailed in my letters) the roundly false, vitriolic, and fomentive idea that "the Church's doctrine and dogma on the Virgin Mary is a satanic-cult teaching designed to promote priestly pedophilia and cannibalism," the University would quickly see a way to address such views.
Does your statement above imply that UD holds its professors to no accountability whatsoever? Donors, parents, students, and alumni would be alarmed at such a laissez-faire attitude. What you do regarding Prof. Upham's employment status is not my concern. What you do to proclaim in words and actions that UD does indeed "pursue Truth" makes all the difference in the well-being of our students and the atmosphere in which you are grooming them to be citizen leaders … even when that truth stands against the wishes of political cabals, as well as transphobic and racist agendas, that have caught the fancy of some in UD's ranks
To whit: Will or will not the University of Dallas publicly state that it disavows transphobia and expect its faculty and staff to abide by the unalienable rights of trans persons to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Will it publicly chasten any who promote speech, in social media or the classroom, that runs counter to America's founding ideals?
Luciana, you do have trans persons and persons of color in the UD community for whom your office is directly responsible to provide a safe atmosphere. Professors who publicly promote ridicule of trans persons and deny their gender identities as delusional therein encourage young impressionable followers to persecute trans persons. I myself have received persecuting communications from the UD community for having sent out my open letters.
Publicly denouncing such statements and holding accountable the purveyors of such lies and untruths as Prof. Upham has spouted would demonstrate to UD LGBTQIA+ individuals and persons of color that they are safe to be who they are. After all, shouldn't the truth be safe to pursue, Luciana?
It Gets Bullier
Since that time, someone at UD forwarded my open letter to the American Conservative and to the Church Militant blogs, the latter of whom mined my FB page for photos of me, misgendered me throughout the article, and called me scathing names. (But, hey, the pics of me they posted from my FB annals were fabulous!)
Bullies are creatures of fear who create or join social entities that allow them to bully. They express their fear in increasingly violent ways, as we have seen through four years of the Trump presidency, all the way to an insurrection inside the U.S. Capitol.
Bullies go out of their way to engage victims because bullies live a victim mentality—make someone else your minion before a bigger prison-yard occupant makes you theirs. Many, too many, are on the bottom rung of the prison yard ecosystem, suffering such abuse.
Not A Prison
But here's the thing—the world isn't a prison … except to those who by victimization or choice join prisons that they see as the world itself.
I'm blessed to have escaped the prisons I was thrown into by others and the even more tyrannical ones I locked myself into. When you're a prison alumna, though, you keep a soft spot for those at the bottom rungs. I'm no hero. The least I can do is to call bullshit when a professor of young, impressionable minds uses the prison ecosystem to characterize the world as nothing but his cage fight.
I didn't do this for Prof. Upham, myself, or even UD. I call "Bullshit!" because it's the right thing to do—a testimonial to the reality outside the prison.
No Battle with Bullies
Don't battle bullies. Don't enter their prison yard. To all who've suffered similar prisons and come out with the scars, I say this—Damn, but you've done an incredibly brave thing. You are a living bullshit call on the prison wardens who try to cow their minions.
You don't have to write an open letter to do that. You've already done it. My open letter and follow-up are here to tell you just that—not to preach to the UD prison what it ought to do. UD is simply not capable of that right now.
And I'll keep on not-battling in this way … 'cuz it's not a battle. It's a life worth living. For all of us.