Breaking Bigotry

Some schools won't hear of intolerance; others just don't want to listen


The concluding part of the federal civil suit is where the Nevelows ask for damages. They are asking for $4,000 to cover the cost of moving Phillip to the Galveston Independent School District -- according to his mother last week, "He's thriving there." They are asking for treatment costs not to exceed $10,000 for Phillip for whatever he needs for counseling. They are asking emotional damages of $2 million for Phillip and $1 million each for the parents.

They are asking for $100,000 for the expected difference in cost between the sale of their old home and the new one they want to move to -- somewhere else. "The relocation of the family is required and necessary with respect to the current condition of the minor child."

So the Nevelows have given up on Santa Fe. After 15 years.

The Hensons never did that. They've stuck it out. They still get hate mail, but they have an even larger collection of letters of support. They're tolerated in the community, living beside it if not "of" it. They operate a food bank that feeds about 200 people every third week of the month. Some churchgoers have accepted them, if not their sexual orientation or beliefs. Mennonite volunteers came in to build a ramp for a wheelchair-bound woman. The Good Samaritan Center works with them. They get support from a small Unitarian Universalist church nearby.

In 1997, Brenda and Wanda, writing in The Progressive Woman's Quarterly, said many people had asked them why Mississippi. "We do it because Mississippi is our home. When you move because you are forced, you become a political refugee. Fundamentalists do not have a right to force their religious understandings on us.For us, being refugees is not an option."

The Nevelows are in something of a different position. Though people around here have certainly rallied to their cause, this is not just a case of two adults deciding to take a stand and hold their ground. The Nevelows have children to protect, their son and an older daughter as well. And so much damage has been done already. They can't be there every minute of every day to stop this. And the adults to whom they've entrusted their son's care, well, it appears they've done a pretty lousy job of fulfilling this sacred trust.

In Clear Creek ISD, Danielle Sokolow got complete support and action from her school administration, even though she hadn't asked for help. Name-calling and a nasty note was all it took. In Santa Fe, a child, younger by three years, was harassed, threatened and physically attacked for two years. And the administration did nothing.

Danielle's fellow students joined in to fight the bigots; in Santa Fe the other kids reportedly covered their eyes and ears.

At a press conference on August 15 after the suit was filed, Donna said both she and her husband have had their vehicles vandalized. She said they had been careful to keep their son out of the limelight for fear of repercussions against him. She was afraid to travel anywhere with her son, that by doing so, he would be identified.

Eric says he doesn't think everyone in Santa Fe is bad. The problem, he says, is that the school district didn't protect his son; it didn't stop students from attacking him.

Donna spoke on September 14 at the launch of an effort by the Anti-Defamation League and Barnes & Noble called Close the Book on Hate. She talked about how hate and apathy work together to create disaster. "Hate only shows itself when it's ready to strike, and then it's too late." But apathy, she said, "Apathy is the most horrendous form of prejudice. It nurtures hate."

Santa Fe may indeed be a wonderful place to live, filled with great, caring people living up to the highest of ideals, Christian or otherwise. Right now, though, its image is far less wholesome than that.

Right now, Santa Fe appears to be a community that shows itself more and more as intolerant, mean-spirited and hateful. And every teacher, every school administrator, every adult who hears something racist or sexist or prejudiced in any form and who closes his ears and eyes to it, that person has indeed failed his sacred mission. That is not training the next generation in the way they should go. And those who step aside to bigotry should be miserably ashamed. And those who find all this appalling, who haven't known this is going on, well, for God's sake, wake up.

Or they'll be coming for you, too. Soon.

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