I was scrolling endlessly on Twitter as I like to do and I saw Viola talking about her upcoming release, The Stage Manager pub date 9/25, that features a f/f pairing. I feel like we don’t see enough of that in romance so I reached out to her and invited her to write a post about her book and issues facing LGTBQIA folks. Take it away Viola!
One of the central plots of my new release, The Stage Manager, centers around a public school teacher trying to come to terms with her bisexuality while working without tenure in suburban Alabama. It’s a secret romance where the stakes are high because someone discovering the fling could ruin her career. The entire time I was writing it, I was riddled with doubt about the reality of the circumstances I had set up. Was I falling back on an old stereotype? Has the world already changed too much for this to be a real risk?
The answer is no.
Every time I think maybe I’m hanging my story on an outdated premise, someone tells me something that makes me realize I’m not. As a bisexual woman, I have always practiced a policy of limited disclosure to protect myself. My colleagues see a wedding band and don’t tend to ask questions, and I limit what I tell them about friends, relationships, and even my reading habits. It’s not paranoia. In a state that only this year got rid of marriage licenses so they wouldn’t have to issue them to gay couples, it’s often a necessity.
A Little Background
For those of you who do not have experience with the teaching profession, tenure is a safety net—especially in “right to work” states like Alabama. Up to the point you have tenure, you can be fired without explanation. There are no workplace protections for LGBTQ people in Alabama, so even if you could prove it was about that, you’re SOL. Teachers are also beholden to a concept known as moral turpitude. Even if it’s legal, if it’s considered amoral by the community and becomes a distraction, you can be canned. It’s why teachers who’ve had nudes leak have lost their jobs.
With tenure, if admin need to cut staff, they must go by seniority. If you’re incompetent, they must build a case and argue it against a defender from the union. It makes it more difficult to fire bad teachers, but it protects people from discrimination and stops schools from axing older teachers to hire cheaper, less experienced educators.
For the first three years before teachers get tenure, though, they are on guard. And this becomes especially strenuous for queer teachers and vocal allies when you consider the state of LGBTQ acceptance in Alabama.
North Versus South
They say in The North you hate the person and love the people, and that in The South you hate the people and love the person. Basically, what that means is that Northerners claim to not be prejudiced while finding petty reasons to dislike individual members of the group they unconsciously hate (cough—Captain Marvel—cough). In The South people openly hate groups while thinking every member of that group they’ve ever liked is the exception to the rule. It’s why people who voted for Obama can still be racists.
What We Don’t Say
I have a gay friend who is insanely professionally successful, and most of his coworkers suspect he’s gay because he fits certain stereotypes about the way he dresses and talks, and he’s not married. Everyone knows but they don’t talk about it. And he doesn’t talk about it. Recently he chatted about wanting to be more open about his life. He has a serious boyfriend. He wants to go to more public advocacy events in Birmingham during pride. He’s scared that if he doesn’t hide, they’ll turn on him. His professional excellence will only protect him so much. His Facebook simply says, “In a relationship,” with no link.
What We Do Say
And of course, this shifts in extremity depending on county. Some of you are thinking of Alabama and hearing the banjo tune from Deliverance right now. There are places in Alabama that feel like that. But there’s also art and music and sprawling cookie cutter housing developments with community pools. In Birmingham there are gay clubs as well as the Magic City Acceptance Center. There’s Pride (though for some reason it starts after dark?) and many of my friends are out and proud.
But we’re experiencing a backlash to gay rights too. I have two friends who are GSA advisors at different Alabama schools. Both have had to fight parents and administration trying to shut the club down. Both women are straight or straight-passing with husbands and kids, and while other straight-passing teachers will drop in to say hi and support the kids, the rare gay faculty tend to stay away to avoid giving a parent ammunition.
This past year one of those friends started investigating a poster thief in her school. The kids had made posters for ally week only to find them being torn down and thrown away. The culprit turned out to be a janitor who kept her job. Six years ago, when she faced a similar pushback, it was teachers taking down posters and ranting to their classes about how obscene the presence of the GSA was.
And then there’s sex education. Alabama’s law in this case purposefully misinforms: “Classes must emphasize, in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” Laws banning homosexuality were invalidated by the Supreme Court in 2003.
It goes beyond our schools. Just this June, a small-town Mayor refused to resign after advocating genocide of gay people on Facebook—though he has deleted the post. He’s running for reelection. I have no faith he’ll be voted out.
All This is to Say
All this is to say I wish I were wrong. These news stories and personal anecdotes have been steady since I started writing this book over a year ago. I don’t see them stopping any time soon. But we can still fight to make it better. Here’s a link to donate to the Magic City Acceptance Center.
You can find out more about Viola and her books on her website