Out of Arkansas

I’ve shared before that I was teaching at a university in Arkansas when I transitioned.  The University of Central Arkansas is located in Conway, about 35 miles north of Little Rock on I-40.  

I can’t say it was a good place to transition…but looking back, I wonder if there was anyplace that would have been good to transition in 1992.

Anyway, we left there in 2000 and moved to New Jersey.That meant I went from a tenured faculty member at UCA to teaching as an adjunct in mathematics at Montclair State University and as an adjunct in Computer Information Systems at Bloomfield College.  Fortunately I was offered a tenure-track position at Bloomfield at the end of the first year, which I accepted…even though I had no background in computer programming.

But I taught myself the languages I needed to be able to teach and gained tenure in CIS in 2006.  I moved back to teaching mathematics three years ago.

Anyway…enough about me.  There are three news stories out of Arkansas I would like to share.

I noticed that a transgender comedian appeared at UCA on March 13, sponsored by UCA’s PRISM Alliance (Pride, Raising Awareness, Involvement, Support, and Mentoring), the Student Government Association, and the Office of Diversity.

I was the first faculty sponsor of PRISM, which was based on the organization Conway PRISM, which I ran out of my home.  The letters didn’t stand for anything in Conway PRISM.  

The comedian was Alison Grillo.

[Grillo] has come all the way from New York City to share with us anecdotes about life and engage us in the transgender community.

–Taylor Brady, PRISM Alliance president

I try to be a stand-up comedian for people who don’t like stand-up comedians.

–Grillo, formerly a teacher

I used to work as a waitress – before that, I was a waiter.


I think this opened people’s mind to a different lifestyle and the struggles associated with that lifestyle, while also showed that those who are transgendered are just like us.

–Sophomore Chloe Zedlitz

I can’t help but think that Grillo would never have been invited while the administration in place when I transitioned was in charge.  The had a hard enough time with me…a faculty member…having a voice on campus.  And they would have shit a brick if they had known there were actually two of us transpeople on the faculty in my last years there.

Being an individual in our society comes at a cost.


True that.

In Star City, southeast of Pine Bluff and north of Monticello, transgender woman Kaye Bowens says she was fired from her job at a McDonald’s because she used the women’s restroom.  Now management knew she was transgender when she was hired…and she used the women’s restroom without incident for the first three months, but her shift manager confronted her two weeks ago, who told her she should be using the men’s room.  She was called into the general manager’s office the next day and fired, according to Bowens.

Bowens threatened a lawsuit and she was offered her job back the same day…but only if she agreed to use the men’s restroom.

I felt offended because I’m like ‘what does what restroom I use have to do with my work ethic.’


Bowens says she has filed a complaint with the EEOC and is considering hiring a lawyer.

We believe in the value of a diverse workforce, equal opportunity and a workplace free from all forms of unlawful discrimination and harassment.  As such, we continue to do our best to meet the needs of our employees and customers, and we are reviewing this situation carefully.  It is important for us to share that the employee in question is a current employee and has not been terminated.  We have asked the employee to discuss this issue with us, but we have not received a response.

–Michael Retzer, owner of the Star City McDonald’s franchise

I recall the time when the Chair of my department said to me, “If only you were gay…”.  I’m sure he though I would have been treated better.  I doubt it.  During my time there two or three lesbian faculty members passed through without getting tenure.

In Sheridan, just a little south of Little Rock, junior Taylor Ellis was told that his profile would not be published in the school’s yearbook.  In an attempt not to appear homophobic, his was one of seven student profile’s excised.

We must make decisions that lead in the proper direction for all of our students and for our community.  We must not make decisions based on demands by any special interest group.  The seven profiles will not be published in the yearbook.

It is clear that the adults who have the responsibility for the operation of the district have the obligation to make decisions which are consistent with the mission of our school.  We have done so.

–Brenda Hayes, Sheridan School District superintendent

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin is an Arkansas native and former student in the Sheridan School District.  He wrote a letter to the principal of the high school and the superintendent.

Regardless of print deadlines, it would be unconscionable to release the yearbook with the omission of Taylor’s well-deserved profile.  If not resolved immediately, this act of discriminatory censorship will send a dangerous message to all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in Sheridan, across Arkansas and around the nation – that they are second-class citizens and their lives are not equally valid.  Instead of respecting the wishes of Taylor’s fellow students to recognize him in their yearbook, you have told him and other students who may already feel marginalized that they are not an equally valued part of the Sheridan high school student body.

As an Arkansas native and a former elementary school student in Sheridan, I was taught the Golden Rule – about treating others as we would like to be treated.  Whatever you may say about your intentions, it does not change the fact that you have failed to uphold these values that all fair-minded Arkansans share.  Addressing bullying requires stopping bullies, not muzzling harmless free expression.


Hannah Bruner, who asked Taylor to include his coming out story in his profile, said all seven profiles removed because of issues surrounding Taylor’s story.

There is video here.

The school principal told Taylor’s mother that they feared for his well-being if the profile was published.

He was worried about him, his well-being, which I didn’t understand because there’d been no problems.  So I asked him, ‘Have you had threats toward my son?'” to which the principal responded “No.”

–Lynn Tiley, Taylor’s mother

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