I'm doing homework on the Romer v. Evans 1996 Supreme Court case, a landmark decision in which the court decided that Colorado's state constitution amendment to prevent protected status based upon sexual orientation is unconstitutional and violates the 14th amendment's Equal Protection Clause. I was so excited that this case would come up in class because it brings me back to junior year of high school, when I learned about this case in my A.P. U.S. History class and if memories serve me well, I think I presented one side of the case, sitting in the front of the classroom all dressed up, facing my classmates.
Mr. Davis was my teacher and he did a damn good job. He prepared us for the AP exam, but he did way more than that too. We spent a few weeks at the end of the school year doing things like murder mysteries and learning about landmark Supreme Court cases. Just in case you're wondering, the murder mysteries had to do with a murder that led to a major act or event in U.S. history. For my year, the murder mystery's answer was the death and murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old college student who was allegedly killed because of his sexual orientation. (Sidenote: apparently there is controversy over whether the motivation behind the crime was actually hatred based upon sexual orientation, as a gay journalist has published a book saying otherwise, but I side with him on this one - it does not mitigate the cause that is anti-discrimination and gay rights.) The murders of Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., a black man killed because of racial hatred, brought about the federal hate-crimes prevention act in 2009, named after these two men.
Needless to say, it was a really fun way to learn about U.S. history, and the materials are still very relevant today.
Fast forward to Summer of 2013, I was a rising college junior, and I was volunteering in Shanghai at a center for children with cerebral palsy. Life could not feel any more removed from the U.S., until I heard about the news of Wendy Davis's filibuster in Austin, closely followed by the news that the U.S. Supreme Court decided on United States v. Windsor and declared that restricting federal interpretation of 'marriage' and 'spouse' to heterosexual couples, which comes from Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, as unconstitutional.That was the end of June, and July 4th was around the corner. What a great time to celebrate America. I get to be alive and aware and witness history in the making, to live through it and be able to talk about it in my own perspective. Even now, as I sit in the school library, reading up on Romer v. Evans for a completely different class than U.S. History, but certainly follows American history closely and very particularly, Romer v. Evans still makes sense, and it is still pertinent. For my Sexual Debates in the U.S. course, we are diving deep into the section about sodomy and gay marriage, specifically looking at historically, what populations the nation-state chooses to protect. This is where Romer v. Evans comes in, following a long line of history in adjudicating on sexual orientation and related state laws. Funny thing is, when I was in that high school classroom years ago learning U.S. history, I never would've thought I would learn about the same case again in such a different context, in a women, gender, and sexuality studies course. That's what's amazing about learning and knowledge.
Sometimes it's hard to appreciate learning when I feel like I can't remember what I learned and I never use what I learned from years ago. But the only things that I learned and still use and resonate with me are the theories and ideas that still matter today. These could be supreme court decisions, philosophers' theories, terminology, ideologies, and ways of critical thinking. Learning becomes a foundation that I can actually build upon, block by block, slowly but surely, and definitely excitingly.
So when I thought about what this all means, I eventually contacted Mr. Davis via email, three years after I had graduated from high school, four years after I had taken his class. I told him about the decision (as he probably already knew) and how I remember his efforts in teaching us about these issues, and how he once said that he believes gay rights is the civil rights issue of our time. Of course, Mr. Davis does not disappoint in his reply, as he said he is "gratified by the decision and horrified by Scalia's hateful dissent," which he then recommended me to read (being a teacher always!). It was especially great to know that he will teach this decision as well as others, continuing his tradition of imparting knowledge onto students not for the sake of the AP exam, but for the sake of being informed and aware active citizens. And for that, I am forever grateful.
[I was further inspired to write this post by Lonnie, my 'Dad', my role model, an amazing writer, who wrote an article in the Philly newspaper recently about 3 teachers who truly inspired him, as well as this handy video from Hollywood celebrities thanking their teachers.]