Monday, June 08, 2009

Behind the screen

During the 1890’s Dr. M. Carey Thomas, later president of Bryn Mawr College, asked to attend a class at Johns Hopkins University school of medicine in Baltimore. No woman had ever before been permitted to attend the lectures, and Dr. Thomas was granted her request only on condition that she sit behind a screen so as not to offend and distract the male students.

In 1893, Florence Bascom was the first woman to to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins. However, she too had to sit behind a screen so the male students would not know she was there and be offended or distracted.

British-born Charlotte Angas Scott (1858-1931) was pivotal in the development of mathematics education in the United States. She was among the first faculty members at Bryn Mawr College and the school's first head mathematics teacher. Scott was awarded a scholarship to Hitchin College (now Girton College, the women's division of Cambridge University). She and the other women in her class were all required to sit behind a screen that separated them from the male students and obscured their view of the blackboard. Women also were not permitted to be at the commencement exercises.

But that was all so long ago. Right? Well, requiring women students to sit behind a screen or even out in a hallway at schools, universities and seminaries continued in some schools in the U.S. right up until the early to mid part of the last century. The people in charge did not want the male students to be offended or distracted.

African Americans endured even worse indignities as white America enacted laws designed to keep them "in their place" so they could not offend the sensibilities of white people. That's what segregation and then the Jim Crow laws were all about.

Even recognized heroes were not immune to the insults. In 1971, after a 40-year career in baseball, Leroy “Satchel” Paige became the first Negro League Player voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But Baseball Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn announced that Paige would be the first member of a Negro wing of the Hall of Fame. Sports writers exploded, saying that having a "Negro wing" was perpetuating the bad old separate-and-NOT-equal days of segregation. Outrage grew, and Kuhn finally convinced the board of the Hall of Fame that putting Paige in a separate corridor was a really bad idea. So Paige's plaque and those of other "Negro" players were put with all the rest.

It seems that any time those on the margins seek to be included, those in charge have moved to include them only after making sure the sensibilities of people like themselves [historically straight white men] are not offended.

That is what is happening in the Episcopal Church right now with our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters in Christ. After years of steady pressure, the church is slowly making moves to include them, but only if they will in essence sit behind a screen so as not to offend any of the people already inside the room.

That's why Gene Robinson was not invited to Lambeth, although the Archbishop of Canterbury did offer to let him speak in an exhibit hall of the Marketplace . . .

That is what B033 was and is all about -- making sure that the presence of LGBT Episcopalians in our church won't offend anyone anywhere who is made the slightest bit uncomfortable by their presence.

And that is why the closeted panel that is studying same sex relationships wants to keep itself secret "for a season." We apparently even have to study LGBT folk from behind a screen.

Someday our children will read of this time in our history and be just as amazed and outraged as you were when you read the first paragraph of this blog.

I hope some of those children will still be in the Episcopal Church.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you so much for this, Katie. Amen, amen, amen.

Leonard said...

Thank you for keeping faith in/with´s true, it´s about TRUST (courage pops up from there) and FAITH and the most basic understanding of other, and mostly marginalized/worse, human beings.

We are ALL individually responsible before God ultimately...the rest of the plotting is silly diversionary tactics made up of some very grandiose/elitist and maybe feardriven self-deceiving.

S. Jan Hughes said...

Excellent analogy about asking people to sit "behind the screen." Very, very true.