Once Upon A Time In Tennessee: Students Refuse To Go Silently

Way back in 1988, when I was a Senior in High School outside of Nashville, I experienced my first taste of protest. I was in the Chorus and very active in the Drama program. Our beloved teacher was named Lisa. It was generally rumored that she was a lesbian, but no one in my circles cared very much.

And then she was fired.

No one would tell the students why she was let go, but the PTA was involved. No one had to tell us why…we knew she had been targeted. She was an amazing teacher and we were furious. I will never forget how powerless we felt.

After much discussion, we decided to wear black arm bands to express ourselves. If memory serves, we wore them even after we were threatened with suspension.

In years since, I have been unable to find Lisa. I don’t know if she ever knew we fought for her. Seeing this story about students fighting for their Transgender teacher reminded me of how I found my voice at 17. One student shares how Mr. K helped her overcome fear:

“He was afraid as well,” wrote Sabrina Piazza. “Because of him, I was able to go on the London Eye knowing that I wasn’t alone in conquering something that scares me.”

On this MLK day, I am hopeful about the future. In many places, heterosexual parents have play dates with LGBTQAI parents. I just read of such an everyday occurrence by a Trans activist. The mundane becomes transformative.

On NPR this morning, I heard an interview with Jabari Asim, who wrote What Obama Means in 2010.He remarked that the feeling was different at the second Inauguration–that people viewed Obama as just another President, but that he didn’t think this was a bad thing. The interviewer asked why and he replied (I’m paraphrasing) that the President was no longer an oddity, a spectacle, a figure defined by his blackness.

In many ways, I see the legacy of MLK as this: that acts that were once radical become ordinary–in the best possible ways.

One day, teachers who were/are fired for who they are will seem as antiquated separate drinking fountains. And although those who take the first actions in the face of injustice often face scorn, jail or death–eventually acceptance becomes an afterthought. A quote often attributed to MLK is actually from a Unitarian minister named Theodore Parker: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”



Stiehm, Jamie. “Oval Office Rug Gets History Wrong.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 04 Sept. 2010. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

Tcholakian, Danielle. “Students Fight for Teacher Allegedly Fired for Being Transgender.”Metro New York. Metro-NY, 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.


About Kristen Chapman

Loosely connected facts: Former Social Worker. Lifelong politico. Social media junkie. Poet. Performer. Storyteller. Decade teaching in Higher Ed. Master's Degree in Theology. Married to an Irishman. 3 darling kiddos. Preacher's kid. Content creation in digital marketing. Exuberant about Nashville. Appalachian. Music maker. Music devour-er. ENTP. Bohemian. Geeky. Obsessed with thrift stores and all things vintage. Lover of species.

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  1. History, Optimism And Looking Ahead – Newscoma - January 21, 2013

    [...] can be united using our voices whether we are public servants or not. It has been done in small and significant ways that work. I am reminded we can choose to be silent or we can choose to elevate a better way for everyone [...]

    Like this

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