Les Is More

On a recent airline flight, I was seated next to two lesbians. Actually, I only have evidence that one of them was a lesbian, because she had her hand placed lovingly on the other’s leg for the entire flight. If the second woman was straight, she was pretty lazy about defending her heterosexuality.

Of course, women can get away with a lot more physical contact than men can without necessarily being gay. Two women could kiss and and still be considered “straight,” while a man is assumed gay if he so much as doesn’t have a girlfriend.

But my point is, there are lesbians afoot, both in Utah and in the real world. Even Utah County has lesbians — two of them, to be exact. Their names are Wendy Weaver and Rachael Smith, and they are partners. And I don’t mean business partners. (I mean lesbian partners.) They have been in the news periodically over the past five years because some parents want Weaver dismissed from her teaching position at Spanish Fork High School on the grounds that her sexual orientation makes her unfit to teach.

This is a thorny issue, and we will attempt to deal with it here in a manner that is fair, even-handed and containing a lot of lesbian jokes. We will also try to use the word “lesbian” as often as possible.

First of all, what subject does Weaver teach? If it is something like hair styling or fashion design, I can see why a lesbian would not be right for the job. You wouldn’t want a gay man teaching auto repair, either, and most straight men could not handle women’s studies. But Weaver teaches psychology, which means she might as well teach the history of long division for as much as students will be paying attention.

She used to coach girls’ volleyball, too, but was fired from that position when she refused to sign a statement saying she would not discuss her sexual orientation with students. I find it difficult to believe a girls’ volleyball coach would actually have to come out and SAY she’s a lesbian for students to think she is, but whatever. I don’t think any teacher, gay or straight, ought to be discussing his or her sexual orientation with students. My primary reason for this is: Ewww. Who wants to hear high school teachers talk about sex?

Homosexuality is a hot topic in Utah. Most people are “against” it, which can mean anything from having a live-and-let-live attitude, to wishing fiery, painful death upon all practicers. And of course being against homosexuality means you have to talk about it all the time. Only in San Francisco is homosexuality discussed more than in Utah.

Homosexuality is such a big deal here that in 1998, when the Daily Herald ran a front-page story about Wendy Weaver and Rachael Smith, including a photo of the two hugging in a very non-suggestive, casual, we’re-just-friends sort of way, at least 50 people canceled their subscriptions. (I am guessing they found another way to glean daily information about news events in Utah County, perhaps by hanging out at Floyd’s Barbershop, or by talking to people who still read the Daily Herald.) The picture itself was harmless and said very little. But when filtered through readers’ knowledge of the accompanying story, it became pornographic and lewd.

And so in this environment comes the current controversy, over whether a homosexual is fit to teach high school. I say the same standards should be applied to all teachers, carbonated and non-carbonated: Don’t talk about your personal sex life with students. Don’t make sexual advances toward your students. Don’t harm your students in any way, and that includes assigning homework over the weekend.

Regardless of my opinions on homosexuality, which you’ll notice I have not expressed, I admire Mrs. and Mrs. Weaver for standing up for what they believe in. But I also question their sanity a little: Why would any homosexual choose to be out of the closet in Utah, where the level of compassion for people who are “different” is lower than a BYU hemline? If Wendy Weaver is unfit to teach, it’s for being a glutton for punishment, not for being gay.

I wrote the first two paragraphs while I was actually sitting next to the lesbians, on the second leg of my London-New York-Salt Lake City flight in March. Then the paragraphs sat in my notepad until I found an opportunity to use them.

This column was written for the Daily Herald but was not published. By my ultra-conservative managing editor, it was deemed too controversial (i.e., it talks about gays in a positive way). By my ultra-liberal immediate supervisor, it was deemed too homophobic (i.e., it makes jokes about gays, too). In other words, I was both too favorable and too negative toward the gays.

So I posted the column here on this site, only to get in some serious trouble at work when my bosses discovered I had done so. The new executive editor, Randy (the conservative one), and the new features editor, Jean (the liberal one), had both been onboard a couple months and both ran hot and cold when it came to me. Sometimes they loved me, sometimes they hated me. There had already been controversies surrounding my columns in the short time they'd been there, and they didn't want any more of it unless it was really, really necessary.

Randy and Jean both said they wanted the column to be more issue-oriented (but not hot-button issues like homosexuality, I guess) and have more redeeming social value than just to make jokes. They had some other ideas that I didn't like, too. There was some talk of forcing me to remove ALL my columns from EricDSnider.com. They didn't like the fact that I had this other outlet to express myself when the Herald wouldn't print whatever I wanted to say.

So I took the column down from this site and went on an unplanned vacation, home to California. I wanted to clear my head and think about my options, both at the Herald and elsewhere. The next "Snide Remarks" was published two weeks after this one would have been, on Oct. 23. The next day, Salt Lake City Weekly ran an article about the Herald's recent woes, including the non-publishing of this lesbian column. Randy and Jean didn't like the fact that we'd made the news in Salt Lake, and as punishment, "Snide Remarks" was cut back from Wednesdays and Sundays to just Sundays. ("Punishment" was not the term they used, of course. The stated reason was that if I was writing only once a week, I'd have more time to write thoughtful, issue-oriented columns that weren't funny and didn't offend anyone. Or something like that.)

"Les Is More" was, therefore, sort of the beginning of the end for me at the Herald. There were good times after this, but the overall trend in the relations between me and Randy & Jean pointed downward, up until my firing in August 2003.