Ted Clark – Discrimination

“It has a terribly happy ending.”

At that time, in the education world, those of us that were gay knew that if an issue came up about your being gay, don’t admit it. Because they can’t prove it. Put the onus of proof on them. If you admit it, you’re dead. We always had that in the background. I was aware of incidents where there was nothing wrong in what the person had done in the classroom, it’s just that someone had said “This teacher is gay and shouldn’t be in the classroom.” Administratively, the district followed through and fired them. [In 1972, the firing of Jim Gaylord in Tacoma] was big news at that time. I was probably back in the classroom three or four years at that point so it was like, “Ooo, you need to look at this [story in the newspaper].”

One time, I found a textbook—as you’re cleaning up at the end of the year—and the cover says, “Clark is a faggot.” So . . .   [Laughs.] That’s not news to a lot of people. [Laughs.] You have those incidents. I never had anything really personal. I look at it and I think, “It’s a disgruntled student.” They could’ve written it whether they had a clue I was gay or not. Who knows?

By the time I had moved into administration, I changed districts. I was with city schools at that point, District 81. They already had in place, when I moved there [in 1993], a non-discrimination clause in the employment contract. You could not be dismissed for being gay. You could be dismissed for causes, but not for being gay. That gave a little more latitude for me. Plus, by then I was out of the classroom. At that point, then, it was easier for me to be more involved in things like PFLAG and some of the community activities. I wasn’t concerned about the impact they could have on my teaching role.

Considering all that, and coming from 1977 forward, I really did not have any problems at all. I always smile that during the 28 years that I was in the classroom, there were two incidences of inappropriate teacher-student relationships [that] people were fired for. It was both a male [teacher] and a female [student], and a female [teacher] with male students. Never did know anything inappropriate for gay people, but everybody was going, “Oh my God! If you have a gay in the classroom, they’re going to molest the kids.” Not true.

***

Gene and I did [my] 50th high school class reunion for Deer Park High School. I’ve got to give them credit, they were a lot better than I would’ve expected. The organizers were the same people that were the organizers in high school, of course. A lot of them were my friends. But a couple of the gals made it very, very clear early on: they contacted me and asked if I’d help on the committee and do stuff. They said, “You know, we expect the two of you to be there as a couple.” We went and had a good time. I think a couple of the classmates just sort of dismissed us, and that was the end of that. Most of them were just fine. I found out that a couple of them have gay kids. I’m like, “Okay, you understand those issues.” There is no one else in the class that I’m aware of that was gay. Now statistically, there is five others in the class of 60. [Laughs.]

***

Within the gay community a lot of times people are accepted or rejected on the person that they are. You start that way. So it’s easier, perhaps, for a person, a racial minority, a black person, an Asian, or Hispanic, or Native American—any of the various minority cultures. It is perhaps easier for them to be accepted in the gay community, because we are used to looking at people for who they are, and not for what they represent, because we’ve all experienced that [discrimination]. You tend to accept an individual because you like them, they have goals and pride, are good-looking, or whatever the criteria is. They’re pleasant people to be around. To me, race is very unimportant within that. If you’ve got a good-quality individual that you enjoy, as a friend, as a colleague, as a whatever-it-is, that’s the positive, if you’re dating or whatever. My perception is that it’s probably easier in the gay community because of that angle of acceptance and judgment. There are lots of white people you don’t want to associate with, and some minorities you don’t want to associate with. [It’s got] nothing to do with color or anything else. It’s who they are.

If you take the breadth of the friends and the acquaintances over the years, I can only think of one person that had any inherent prejudice. He was raised in the South and he did have a strong prejudice against black people, period. He wasn’t mean about it; he just avoided [our black friend].

***

There was a student at Newport [High School]—and this would probably have been 10 to 12 years ago, maybe 15 years ago now—was being harassed. He was transferred. The family brought him into North Central High School. He was a student of a former student of mine. That’s the way I know the scenario. He came to NC and was involved in the drama and theater program there. Very successful young man. It has a terribly happy ending. He graduated from Whitworth, went back east, and he is Cheyenne Jackson. He was just featured probably two weeks ago on Advocate.com as one of eight outstanding Native American LGBT “people you should know.”[1]

 

[1] “Eight LGBT Native Americans You Should Know,” The Advocate, November 23, 2012.

Sources: Interview with Susan Williams on 3 December 2006, held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 30 November 2012 and on 27 February 2014.