Letters for the week of December 24-30, 2003 

Not doing business with North Korea is the truly immoral position here. Why there are better reasons to oppose the Byron shooting range.

Page 2 of 3

Dear Associate Superintendent Woerhl,

As a fourth year counselor in the Oakland Public Schools, I read with much excitement "Must We Stand for This?" in the December 3-9 edition of the East Bay Express. At the middle school where I am employed, there are several teachers and hundreds of students who sit in classes over the contractual limit of 32 students. I appreciated the author's explanation and bringing to light the problem of overcrowding in our schools.

However, I was outraged and disappointed to read your comments, which "attributed the reports of class-size problems to the way counselors at individual schools have divided their students among classes." The reason this statement is so puzzling to me is that anyone as familiar with the schools as you knows that a multiplicity of factors determine class size and that the problem of overcrowding certainly cannot be attributed solely to the way counselors divide students among classes. The reality is much more complex! It is, of course, related to having a diverse student body: like Gifted and Talented students, Special Education students, limited English proficient students, remedial reading classes, specialized elective classes, honors classes, and more importantly a master schedule that is the driver at each school. If you are implying that all of our students can be lumped together and then divided by 32 to determine a teacher-student ratio, you have overlooked all of the individual and diverse learning needs and programs that our students require. Furthermore, let us not overlook some other reasons like poor planning at the school sites, poor budgeting, lack of staffing, teacher turnover, and top-heavy spending.

While working in Oakland, I have seen many talented and committed students like Bao Truong ask similar questions about how to improve the situation. Many of my students are eager to learn and improve their lives. I believe it is the District's responsibility to provide our students the best education possible. They deserve more than empty promises, politics, and blaming.
Jenny I. Rienzo, counselor, OUSD, Oakland

"V-Day," Billboard, 12/3

Please pick proper pronouns
In your recent preview of the UC Berkeley event "Vaginas in Transition: Transgender Perspectives on Vaginas, Violence, and Gender," you referred to me as "a pre-op, male-to-female transsexual lesbian cross-dresser." I was upset and offended at your use of language in that piece, particularly the fact that you referred to me as a cross-dresser. A cross-dresser is a man who wears women's clothes. I am a woman. I may have been born male, but I identify as female, my legal sex is currently female, and I live my life as a woman. Me being female has nothing whatsoever to do with the clothes I wear (in fact, more often than not, I wear T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers). Like most of your female readers, I do not like to be reduced to either the clothing I wear or my body parts (as you did when you referred to me as a "pre-op").

I realize that most people use words like "transsexual," "transvestite," "transgender," and "cross-dresser" interchangeably, but they have very different meanings and connotations. If you covered an Asian-American event and described a Vietnamese or Korean performer as being "Chinese," I am sure that they would be offended. This situation is not much different. The fact that you are confused about different identities within the trans community does not excuse you from being sensitive towards them. In fact, as journalists, you should be taking extra precautions to ensure that you have your facts straight and are respectful of the individuals and communities you are covering.

Some might dismiss this incident as a minor mistake or an isolated incident, but that is simply not the case. Transgendered folks like myself constantly have to deal with people who recklessly make assumptions about our identities or lifestyles, who play fast and loose with pronoun use, and who make crass references to our anatomy. People are dismissive of transgendered folks because we scare the hell out of them. Our mere existence challenges most people's basic (and incorrect) assumptions about gender and sexuality. Some people express this fear and anxiety by being ignorant or disrespectful with regards to the language they use to describe us, others express it by making jokes about us, and some go so far as to commit acts violence against us. Part of what we are trying to do in the event "Vaginas in Transition: Transgender Perspectives on Vaginas, Violence, and Gender" is connect the dots between the language people use, the assumptions they make about our bodies, and the violence that is often inflicted upon us.

There are many thousands of transgendered people living in the Bay Area. We don't like writing you letters any more than you like receiving them. I hope that in the future, you will make the extra effort to ensure that you are using the correct language. There are plenty of trans resources and organizations in the Bay Area that would be happy to help you in that regard. I also strongly suggest that when writing about trans-people in the future, that you contact them personally to ask them how they identify and what pronouns they prefer.
Julia Serano, Oakland

Stefanie Kalem responds
The phrase I used was straight from the expanded press release for the event that was sent to me, and I figured that, since the promoter was okay with it, Serano would be, too. I'm really sorry if Ms. Serano felt reduced or demeaned in any way. This was never my intention.

"Singh vs. Singh," Feature, 11/19

The conspiracy of silence
Your newspaper has done a great service to the Sikh community of Fremont in particular and Sikhs across North America in general by exposing the operation of these self-declared leaders of the Sikh community. It is horrifying to see the invisible links running between the funds at the temple to gunrunning to drug smuggling. No Punjabi/Indian newspaper has either the resources or the will for such a thorough report. Given the history of violence, these activities have been going on for the last two decades and have become part of the community folk tales.

At the same time, it a very, very sad commentary on the role and attitude of local and federal law enforcement agencies. As your report documents, many among them knew about such activities but never bothered to pursue all sting operations and leads to the fullest. One wonders if their attitude had as much to do with the fact that most of the victims of this violence and crime were nonwhites or in faraway lands. How, otherwise, could one reconcile that in spite of open threats, intimidation, smuggling, misuse of charitable institutions and their funds, no charges were ever filed or prosecuted?

Something within me still says law enforcement agencies might drop the ball this time again and these individuals will be back to their old tactics.

I was equally dismayed by other letters blaming your publication for the story, and it is sad how those people easily dismiss charges of smuggling pot. Even I don't care about pot smoking or people crossing the border illegally. But it acquires a very different and sinister meaning when such activities are run by the same people who head religious institutions. If human smuggling or pot trafficking is fine for religious organizations, what is next? The Sikh community needs to reflect upon these events and share the blame for being silent witnesses.

Your story is as much an indictment of the politics of violence preached by certain groups as it is of law enforcement officials who knew all but remained silent spectators.
H. Singh, Sacramento

There are bad elements in every culture
Tremendous reporting ... keep up with true reporting and your good work will be rewarded! There are bad elements in every culture -- this one is right in our backyard and very typical of Gurdwara politics in other cities I've been to. However, there are excellent examples, as well, all over the world in the Sikh community. I'm very proud to be part of the Sikh community here in Arizona, where American Sikhs and Sikhs from India coexist beautifully.
Brijinder Singh, Phoenix, Arizona

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