Tell the Austin school district to allow play about 2 male penguin parents

On Monday we mentioned that the Rev. Jayme Mathias, a former Roman Catholic priest, had become the first openly gay person elected to the Austin school board last week. Well, here’s a pretty good reminder as to why it still matters — even in a relatively progressive city like our state capital.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the Austin Independent School District has canceled a play about two male penguins raising a baby penguin together, over concerns about age appropriateness. The play, And Then Came Tango, was written by UT graduate student Emily Freeman, and is based on the real-life story of two penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo who were given a hatchling named Tango to raise.

AISD regularly allows UT grad students to stage their works in the district’s schools to satisfy degree requirements, and Freeman’s piece was scheduled to be performed in 10 elementary schools. Greg Goodman, the district’s fine arts director, explained the decision to cancel Freeman’s play in a letter to Coleman Jennings, the head of UT’s theater program.

“The subject matter communicated in the play is a topic that Austin ISD believes should be examined by parents/guardians who will discuss with their elementary school age children at a time deemed appropriate by the parents/guardians,” Goodman wrote.

Freeman disagrees.

“The play is about different families,” and under state teaching standards, that’s appropriate for kindergarten, she told the Statesman, referring to state curriculum standards. “I can’t see the argument that it’s not age appropriate for kids in second and third grade.”

“Throughout the play, the definition of family is extended beyond normative representations,” Freeman added in a press release. “Family is an entire colony of penguins, a young girl and her single mom, a zookeeper and the animals he tends, and two male penguins and their adopted egg. As these family structures are threatened in the play, we learn the power of voicing your opinions and standing up for your beliefs, no matter how old you are.”

Freeman says she’s still working to try to get the play approved by the district, but it’s also now scheduled for free performances at a campus theater from Nov. 30 through Dec. 2.

In the meantime, perhaps the LGBT community should make sure district officials are aware how we feel about this decision.

The main number for AISD offices is 512-414-1700. The superintendent is Meria Carstarphen, and you can reach her by email at superintendent@austinisd.org.

The main number for the Board of Trustees office is 512-414-1704, and the email is trustees@austinisd.org. A complete list of current board members (Mathias doesn’t take office until the new year) can be found here.

—  John Wright

Ex-Roman Catholic priest becomes Austin’s 1st out school board member

When the Rev. Jayme Mathias defeated incumbent Sam Guzman for the District 2 seat last week, he became the first openly gay person elected to the Austin school board.

But apparently some didn’t realize Mathias — a former Roman Catholic priest — was gay until he mentioned it to a TV reporter in an interview after the election.

From the Austin American-Statesman:

What was a surprise was Mathias’ post-election comment to a reporter that he will be the first openly-gay school trustee, something he hadn’t mentioned during his campaign.

However, people involved in the election — including his opponent — said they knew Mathias is gay, and it wasn’t an issue.

“We figured if we were going to win, it was going to be for the right reasons,” said Guzman. “My team was mature, experienced, reasonable people and we didn’t think that (making it an issue) was good for anybody.”

Said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, which represents 3,000 district employees and backed Mathias: “I want to think that this is not an issue in Austin and that no one will be punished because they are gay. We should be proud of it.”

When asked why he hadn’t discussed it before, Mathias said, “My sexuality has never defined who I am or what I do. I have nothing to hide in the respect.”

Austin’s KVUE-TV reports that some voters are accusing Mathias of being dishonest for not mentioning his sexual orientation during the campaign, with one man they interviewed calling for a “recount”:

—  John Wright