Leaving IBM

I remember waking up and thinking, “Today is yet another day to go to work.” I wondered, “Is that all life’s about? Working? Trying to make another dollar?”

I remember putting on my shirt and then trying to find a suit to complete my costume. Every outfit, the same, every suit dark, all conservative, all corporate. I had become corporate: dollars flowing everywhere, sitting in rooms full of people, unaware, unconcerned about poverty or me or those like me, wearing masks to hide feelings, politics, sexuality, pedigree.

Did I have pedigree?

I remember saying to myself, “Being professional, being thought of as a professional, has lost its glamor, its attractiveness, its meaning.”

I know now that on that day, I realized my meaning, my purpose, was not about that, and I decided that day to quit, pitch and toss it all for a future which defined who I was more eloquently than a mask, with more fluidity than short hair or silk ties, ever could.

© B.Michael Hunter 1995

Curator’s Note: This transition was one of the defining moments in B.Michael’s life. It was, as he shared with those closest in, a leap of faith.

I Have Come Here to Die

On April 11, 1991, my first day on the job at Norman Thomas High School in New York City, Yarius, a student in my College Accounting course, asked me: “Why are you teaching?” His question probed for more than the introduction I offered the entire class: I went to public elementary school in East Harlem, graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, had an undergraduate degree in accounting, a law degree, spent five years selling computers for IBM and, after taking a year and a half off to travel the world, had decided to pursue my lifelong desire to teach. I purposely gave a broad sketch of my life, leaving out details of my love interests or political views. I interpreted Yarius’s question in two ways: first, “If you have so much going for you, why are you ‘just’ a teacher?”; and second, “We students don’t deserve teachers who want to teach.”

“Why am I ‘just’ a teacher?” I did not want to be challenged so early. I have always wanted to teach, to dance, to act in the theater, and to write. But these were things that “faggots” did. And I was not a faggot. So I chose careers that were strong, tough, and highly principled, like accounting, law, and computer sales, professions you might identify with your father. In fact, people relied on me and I was very comfortable in the role of provider. In turn, I was rewarded with a career and incredible security. I wanted to be a respectable man in a respected profession.

Since childhood I have longed to teach, but every message I received reinforced the notion that respectable men did not become teachers. If men taught at all, men became professors, and only as a second career. If they taught high school, they became principals. So my real desire to teach grades four, five, and six was dwarfed by these capricious standards and my fear of parents accusing me of sexual abuse or statutory rape because I hugged some young boy.

“We don’t deserve teachers who want to teach?” I was unnerved because Yarius’s question conveyed the sentiment of the system: public school students were not entitled to “the best.” Norman Thomas High School, built in the 1970’s, had sound physical facilities. The school possessed several computer labs and state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, and teachers had access to photocopy machines. Major drawbacks included a lack of teachers’ aides, basic supplies, maps, magazines, workbooks, and full class sets of current textbooks. In my College Accounting course, a special class for advanced seniors, all of the students had new books. But in every other class I taught, because of my status as a “new jack” faculty, my students were left with incomplete sets of current textbooks, no workbooks, or complete sets of earlier editions. In my naivete, I let a class of mine take home a set of twenty-year-old texts and workbooks. When word got out to the school administration, I honestly felt my job was in jeopardy. Using the computer labs to type up some of my lessons was also a mistake. I later found out that I needed permission and proper supervision (either the chairman of the department or one of the two paras assigned to the labs) to do so.

My biggest faux pas was returning a telephone call in the general office. While I was in mid-dial, the vice-principal for administration walked over, put her hand on the switch hook, and recited the rules and regulations on telephone usage. I know I looked at her as if she were a madwoman. The fact that she was a middle-aged white woman who probably taught students my age fifteen years ago contributed to why she felt she could address me in such a condescending way. After waiting for some color to return to her face, I reminded her that I understood English and could hear well enough that she did not have to shout. I also informed her that she was in no danger of attack, so she could remove her left hand from her hip and her right hand from my face. One of the office workers, an African-American woman in her late fifties, thanked me for not “slapping [the vice-principal] silly,” and later informed the school grapevine, which made me popular with certain staff.

I began to internalize what I also sensed in the classroom: although the school was named after a socialist leader and writer, the school did not belong to the students, nor were they entitled to fully enjoy what the school might have. Rather they were allowed to mostly look and not touch, to visit Thirty-third Street and Park Avenue as early as 8:30 a.m., and to retire to whatever part of New York City they lived in after the 2:50 p.m. bell. It was logical that students like Yarius question anyone who suggested they should receive “the best,” a sad lesson to learn so young, as well as for me to witness, so early in my own teaching career.

Though I wanted to fit in at Norman Thomas, I had made a conscious decision not to “pass” as heterosexual. Even before Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, I had already fallen in line: don’t ask me about my sex life, I won’t tell you a thing. If you do ask me about my sex life, I might tell. In the fourteen months I spent at Norman Thomas, I had come out ot only one other teacher, a gay man himself. He, a white Latino, and I were two of a handful of men of color on a staff of more than two hundred teachers. We were also among the youngest teachers on the staff (he was 28, I was 33, with the faculty’s mean age being 47). I had a lot of anxiety just talking to him, but was so hungry for an ally that I took the risk and struck up a conversation with him. After a few lunches, we somehow got onto the subject of what we did after work, and I talked about my involvement with Other Countries, a black gay men’s writing group. With his help, I got over some of my fear of talking about being gay at work. While at Norman Thomas, I developed close relationships with three African-American teachers, all female, all married, and all, to my knowledge, heterosexual. I could not find the strength to tell them I was gay.

Today, almost three years later, I am teaching at City-As-School, a New York City alternative high school. I am constantly reminded of my own student days in the sixties and seventies. Everything felt possible, and nothing was beyond question. I do not think many of my present students share the same feelings about their future: their opportunities, resources, and expectations have been limited.

I wonder at times if, as a Black gay male teacher, I am really making a difference. Many of the values I hold are alien to my students. I am startled and often surprised at their frequently conservative and rigid remarks regarding sex, recreational drug use, sexuality, and other “moral” issues. Most of the time I find I am left of center, still the precocious child, the sensitive teenager, the left-wing student with the right-wing college majors; still, in the words of fellow African-American co-workers, the “too-Black” IBM sales representative. My nephew takes an HIV/AIDS awareness class that I team-teach with Rhea Modeste, a straight African-American woman. I remember our many conversations about life, history, and politics when he was a young boy. I remember our weekend excursions to the Hayden Planetarium, museums, theater shows, movies, and ethnic restaurants. I remember encouraging him to draw, at age four, a dog in the park. His growth spurts are documented in several picture frames throughout my house. I have taken him on several out-of-state trips and introduced him to many gay friends, including my lover of three years, whom I make a point of inviting to all my family functions. But attitudes change slowly, a fact made clear when he remarked that he “respect[s] homosexuals but wish[es] they were not so public.” I was surprised and hurt by his comment. I was sad that I had talked with him at length about my friends and lovers. I was angry at myself that I had not been more forthright about my being gay, about him having a gay uncle. I made sure to invite him to my upcoming domestic partnership celebration, in hopes that the publicness of the event will stimulate dialogue between us.

I have had more honest conversations with other students about sex and sexual orientation. Many of the gay students in the school come and talk to me about their lives and their goals. I find it especially rewarding when I can support a student or two struggling with the same issues, offering resources they were unaware of or encouraging their process of self-exploration.

I feel good about being a teacher. I feel good knowing that many of my colleagues know that I am gay. While marching down Fifth Avenue, in the 1993 Lesbian and Gay Pride March, I was greeted and joined by at least seven fellow City-As-School staffers. The principal and several of my students spotted me on an African-American cable TV talk show where I shared about being Black and gay. But, although I have never felt better about myself or my work, I still constantly struggle with feeling totally comfortable in this profession. As a gay teacher, I struggle personally as well, knowing that the successive deaths from AIDS of so many of my friends have weighed me down. I am often unable to find language to express my own feelings of loss. In April of 1991, HIV and death were unintentional motivators for me to teach. Not until an ex-lover died of AIDS did I decide it was time to get tested for HIV, the virus believed to cause AIDS. I had waited for years for some physical sign, some indicator that I might be infected. When I tested positive for HIV on November 18, 1992, I was not surprised. On that day I breathed a sigh of relief and cried three times on the way home from the anonymous testing site — once for my mother, who I did not want to see me die; a second time for my cousin Sheilah, with whom I had grown so much; and the third for my lover John, who I feared would witness me deteriorate. I was too numb to cry for myself.

When Rhea asked me to team-teach the HIV/AIDS awareness class, I was reluctant. Pressing fears about being so “out” were paralyzing. Even though many of my students know that I am gay, their remarks are often homophobic and reflect an erroneous association between HIV and being gay. But once I agreed to teach the class, I had every intention of disclosing my seropositive status. I never did. I was afraid of being perceived as the “infected gay carrier” who warns students to protect themselves from “high-risk groups,” which ironically includes gay men and sexually active teenagers. I also found it difficult to echo the prevention messages routinely targeting the public which separate people into “the negatives” — those who must be spared — and “the positives” — those who will end up with AIDS and die.

Eventually, I know I will talk about being gay, how being gay, and being HIV-positive, for that matter, does not mean having AIDS. I know too that sharing this information will add to my own healing and will help define who I am. I know now that I began teaching because I was unconsciously preparing to die. I continue teaching because I am looking forward, more consciously than ever, to tomorrow.

© B.Michael Hunter 1993

This essay was published in One Teacher in Ten: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell Their Stories, Ed. Kevin Jennings, 1994. An early draft of this piece appears here.

Homosexuality and The Immigration and Naturalization Service

Like all law students since time immemorial, B.Michael had ample opportunity to practice making their legal arguments in writing. Here is one example. Curious how he went about deciding on this topic for his Immigration Law and Procedure class, and also how “out” he was to this professor or others at the time. Readers who went to law school with B.Michael can feel free to weigh in!

November 23, 1983

ARE HOMOSEXUALS HOME FREE AFTER LESBIAN/GAY FREEDOM DAY COM., INC. v. U.S.I.N.S. 541 F.Supp. 569 (S.D. CAL. 1982) aff’d sub nom. Hill v. I.N.S. 714 F.2d 1470 (9th Cir. 1983)?

In order to answer the question of whether homosexuals are home free after Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Com., Inc. v. I.N.S. supra., we must expand our inquiry and ask “from what?” If the question is home free from being excluded as a self-declared homosexual alien without medical certification of psychopathic personality, sexual deviation or mental defect, for temporary pleasure visits to the United States, then the answer is yes. But the answer is no if the question is whether an injunction is proper to insure that no alien is excluded from entry into the United States in the future on the basis of their homosexuality per se. Homosexuals are also not home free if the question is whether homosexuals who as resident aliens can be denied naturalization because they were homosexuals at the time they were admitted to the United States. An examination of case law, procedures of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (hereinafter INS), and some political/social comments on our society, will help to illuminate how such definitive conclusions can be reached.

The case law and INS procedure which disposes of the first two aspects of our inquiry involve Carl Hill, a 34-year old native and citizen of England. Hill, on November 5, 1980, sought entry into the United States as a non-immigrant visitor for pleasure. On arrival at the airport in San Francisco, he made, as a matter of principle, an unsolicited statement to the immigration inspector that he was homosexual. The Service then issued a “Notice to Applicant for Admission Detained for Hearing Before Immigration Judge” advising Hill that he appeared to be excludable from the United States under the provisions of Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4), as “an alien afflicted with a psychopathic personality, sexual deviation or mental defect.” In re Hill, 18 I&N No. 2873 (1981). At the exclusion hearing, the immigration judge concluded that Hill could not be found excludable from the United States as a homosexual under section 212(a)(4) absent a class “A” certification issued by the Public Health Service (hereinafter PHS). The INS then appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which held that a medical certificate is not required to exclude a self-declared homosexual because such a person fails to carry the burden of establishing that he or she is admissible to the United States. In re Hill, Id. Hill then petitioned the district court for a writ of Habeas Corpus. The district court granted the writ, finding that the exclusion of an alien for affliction with a sexual deviation or mental disorder must be based on a medical certificate. The district court permitted the INS thirty days in which to institute new exclusion proceedings. When no new proceedings were instituted, Hill was admitted into the United States as a visitor for pleasure. The district court also joined the case in which citizens of the United States, under the banner of Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Committee, brought suit contending that the exclusion of homosexual visitors from entering the United States violates their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Committee and its officers on their claim for a permanent injunction and declaratory relief, holding the INS’ policy of per se exclusion of homosexual aliens invalid as contrary to congressional intent and violative of plaintiffs’ first amendment rights. Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Com., Inc. v. I.N.S., supra. The government appealed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that: (1) the Immigration and Naturalization Service may not exclude self-declared homosexual aliens without medical certification of psychopathic personality, sexual deviation or mental defect, and (2) because it was speculative as to whether any aliens would be excluded in the future on the basis of their homosexuality per se, an injunction preventing such was improper. Hill vs. I.N.S., supra.

What then are the missing pieces which allow Hill to be admitted into the United States but prevents the INS from instituting a system whereby self-declared homosexuals are categorically excluded? One piece is the Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association 1973 vote to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Another piece is the Surgeon General of the United States revision of PHS’ policy. The Surgeon General instructed PHS officers not to accept immigration referrals for medical examinations, when the sole basis for the referral is to establish homosexuality as a grounds for exclusion. The Surgeon General’s decision to revise PHS’ policy was primarily based upon changes in medical thinking, since homosexuality per se, will no longer be considered a mental disease or defect. Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Com., Inc. v. I.N.S., supra. The effect of the stand which the Surgeon General took left the Justice Department and Immigration Service in the unenviable position of being charged with the enforcement of a law whose tools of enforcement have been withdrawn. In re Hill, supra.

A reading of the applicable portions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and corresponding legislative history, indicates the intent of Congress that homosexuality be a medical exclusion, and that therefore a medical certificate is required to exclude a homosexual from entry into the United States. The excludable alien statute places person affected with a psychopathic personality, sexual deviation, or a mental defect among six other classes of aliens excludable for medical reasons. The statute governing the detention, observation and examination of arriving alien also reaffirm the medical basis for the exclusion of homosexuals, and point out the requirement of obtaining a medical certificate aliens. Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Com., Inc. v. I.N.S., 541 F.Supp. 569, 578. Thus with no mechanism for obtaining the required medical certificate, which Congress intended to be used as evidence for exclusion of alien homosexuals, the INS could not promulgate rules, regulations or procedures which would override Congressional mandates.

The outcome of Hill is significant, since self-declared homosexual aliens implicitly obtained the right to enter the United States for short pleasure visits as well as an implicit concession from the courts that homosexuality could not be defined medically as a sexual deviation or mental defect. Hill is a small battle won, which ultimate impact will be determined, as its principles are applied, in subsequent litigation and Congressional reform. A close look at Hill reveals the court’s willingness to rid itself of the responsibility of ultimately deciding who in fact will give homosexual aliens rights under the law of the United States? The court abdicates their responsibility for additional reform of homosexual alien treatment by the INS to Congress. Indeed, the court of appeals in Hill, by vacating the lower court’s holding that Committee members’ first amendment rights were violated, exemplifies the court’s reluctance to decide broader issues without congressional reform.

A look into the third aspect of our inquiry boldly exemplifies the harsh treatment accorded homosexual aliens who have intentions on spending longer durations of time within the United States. Although the court in Hill is virtually silent on this issue, In re Longstaff, 538 F.Supp. 589 (N.D. Tex 1982) enforced. No. 82-1218, slip op. (5th Cir. Sept 28, 1983) deals with the penultimate problem of obtaining naturalization. On naturalization petition of Richard Longstaff, a 43-year old English immigrant who admitted that he was a homosexual and had been since birth, failed to meet his burden of proving that he had been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, as he fell not only into the category of excludable alien with psychopathic personality, but also was excludable because he committed sodomy in England before his entry into the United States, a crime involving moral turpitude. 538 F.Supp. 589,@ 590. In light of the court’s holding in Hill, how could the court reach such a conclusion in Longstaff? The Court of Appeals, after extensive discussion canvassing both case law and congressional intent, found that although homosexuality is no longer considered a psychopathic condition as established by the opinion of the government’s highest medical officer, the Surgeon General, they are bound by Boutilier v. I.N.S., 87 S. Ct. 1563 (1967) ruling that the phrase “psychopathic personality” is a term of art, not dependent on medical definition, and by the Congressional bar against persons “afflicted with sexual deviation,” homosexuality can now be demonstrated in INS proceedings only by an alien’s unambiguous admission or by the voluntary statement of a Third person, made without either prompting or questioning. Longstaff was thus barred from naturalization by his own truthful statements that he was excludable as a homosexual at the time of his entry, and therefore, was not lawfully admitted for permanent residence. In re Longstaff, No. 82-1218, slip op. The appeals court also stated that their decision is bound according to a law made in the exercise of a power that is plenary. Further stating that if Congress’ policy is misguided, congress must revise that policy, effectively distancing itself from responsibility by stating, “if the result achieved by the policy is unfair to a deserving person who desires to become a citizen of the United States, the injustice must be corrected by lawmakers. In re Longstaff, id.

The dissent noted that Congress intended to avoid not only an initial exclusion from admission, but also an ex post facto determination for deportation purposes, from being based solely on the non-medical judgment of bureaucratic agencies that a “medical cause of exclusion existed at the time of a person’s admission, when that determination is unsupported by a professional judgement by a member of the medical profession. Longstaff, id.

The appeals court in Longstaff, determination of Longstaff’s plight, raises a greater issue, namely the subjection to deportation of all other persons against whom a governmental agency may assert, as a reason for deportation many years after presumably lawful entry in the United States, a newly discovered pre-admission “medical” cause for exclusion from entry. The ramifications are enormous, especially when there are conflicting positions within the medical community as to whether some condition or lifestyle, such as homosexuality, is in fact outside the traditional norm.

The simplest way to distinguish between Hill and Longstaff is to say that Hill’s case involves requirements for excluding aliens from entry into the United States and that Longstaff’s case involves requirements for noncitizens to become naturalized; but such a distinction would be disingenuous. The courts simply left homosexual aliens with conflicting positions, granting them the right to enter the United States for pleasure visits, but have consistently, through various mechanisms, not gone as far as to declare homosexual aliens rights for full citizenship. Perhaps the following quote from a legal sage will shed some light on the direction the court should take:

… when a rule, after it has been duly tested by experience, has been found to be inconsistent with the sense of justice or with the social welfare, there should be less hesitation in frank avowal and full abandonment…. If judges have… misinterpreted the mores of their day, or if the mores of their day are no longer those of ours, they ought not to tie, in helpless submission, the hands of their successors.

B. Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process, 150, 152 (1921).


© B.Michael Hunter 1983