This week the Virginia bill to name a high school after President Ronald Reagan was defeated, almost as a result of the nationwide uproar over the possibility. But we here in California take the news in stride. Almost one year after an openly gay student protested against a school board’s decision to rename the high school Ronald Reagan, the same student is now the subject of a strange controversy over a county library.
To write the story and discuss the proposal – or its rejection – I sent a Facebook message to the author: “Hi, this is Scott, I thought we might get on the same page. Just wanted to say thanks for writing this and let me know if there’s anything you’d like to add about the library.” I received a friend request from a young man named Tim, whose full name is Tim Reid. He was born and raised in Sacramento, where he is currently studying literature and history at Cal Poly. Reid says he isn’t a Reagan supporter – he points out that he actually changed his name because of what he felt was the “one issue on which I agree with Reagan”. He thinks the public should enjoy hearing about how many students had supported naming the library after Reagan, and he thinks most people don’t mind such a public display of affection. Reid supports helping people to address issues that come up in their lives, but says his experience talking to a doctor when he was 15 years old was not what he expected. “He asked me what I was planning to do about my ‘transgender feelings’,” Reid told me. “At first I didn’t want to talk about it because I was scared, but later I kind of used it as an open wound to talk about how uncomfortable I felt that he would think I was ‘dying to die’ [in the process of transitioning],” Reid says. Eventually, Reid talked to his mother and the doctor released him. Reid’s story was the inspiration for the community activism “Icahn” – which means “transparent” in Yiddish – at the Pacific School of Religion (PSR), a community for Jewish high school students.
I also emailed the author, as part of my reporting for Slate.com, wondering if he would be willing to provide links to the debates over Reagan’s sexuality that took place in Southern California. I was told by the author that neither he nor his colleagues have ever addressed Reagan’s sexuality. When Reid addressed the PT Regents’ about their plan to change the name of the library, he said, he was asked to keep quiet. “They said it would increase the hostility,” Reid says. “Many students would reject it, and the hate crime rate would go up.”
A Columbia Journalism Review story carried a good analysis of the kinds of sentiments that can foster views like those expressed by the student activist, who said, “In the name of patriotism, I feel like the Reagan library should be renamed so that everyone can celebrate its greatness. But the fact that there’s also a bias against gay and transgender people means that it will be treated like any other public identity when it isn’t: ridiculed and disregarded.”
I also sent the author an email that begins, “Thank you for that article and for your input in the process.” I asked him to please respond. But when Reid arrived at school, he found that because the library was wearing a sign identifying it as a public library, he was afraid to display it. When he didn’t have a permit to display it in the building, his father, a professional photographer, came out of his house to retrieve it.
Finally, Reid decided to cover the sign up and he told me what happened.
“He freed the signs with red tape,” Reid says. “It took three hours, and, of course, all the students laughed, but I decided, ‘Well, if it made a difference, I’d rather have it there for all to see’. So it is there now, free of harassment.”
Reid is now thinking about what happens next: “What it will take to be able to be free of a hate crime rate will depend on all the incidents I hear of happening right under my nose. In the meantime, I’m going to reach out to many students.”