By Richard Baker-Lehne
Once Removedâ€¦ is Ronald Henry Schmidtâ€™s story of growing up as a Roman Catholic â€“ serving as an altar boy and attending Catholic schools, but eventually coming out and, as an â€śoutâ€ť high school teacher, fighting for his studentsâ€™ rights. The author tells of his long struggle to admit his sexuality to himself â€“ as the husband of a mentally troubled wife, father of two sons and lover of several wonderful men.
How many of us have been like twelve-year-old Ron, attending the local Y swimming pool to watch naked men dive off the diving board? Or watching a beautiful older boy twist through the water and coming up out of the pool, resulting in an â€śexplosionâ€ť ripping through him?
Ron spent his youth deeply involved in his Church. He felt his â€śsalvation lay in complete dedication to Godâ€ť and pledged himself to celibacy.
Yet, at the same time, he was continually confronted by his carnal thoughts. Even books he read in his Catholic school could bring on such â€śdangerousâ€ť thoughts. A book about savages (being taught by Franciscan monks), portrayed in full nudity on the pages of his book, led him to feel that â€śGod must be killing me for relishing the naked heathens.â€ť
As an adult, Ron became a high school English teacher. He presents fascinating glimpses of his high school classesâ€™ encounters with gay topics. In one such scene, he describes his students watching Zeffirelliâ€™s Romeo and Juliet. When Romeo played suggestively with one of his male companions, one student called out, â€śFaggot!â€ť Ron immediately stopped the film, for a lively discussion regarding the studentâ€™s comment.
While Ron was teaching high school in Morgan Hill Unified School District (the last fifteen years of his teaching career), a thirteen-year-old girl in his district committed suicide. This led Ron to confront his schoolâ€™s principal, to discuss how to avoid more suicides â€“ especially of young gay and lesbian students. â€śI am myself gay,â€ť he told the principal, who reacted in horror. This conversation eventually led Ron to become very active in GLBT student workshops and sensitivity training.
The â€śInvisible Minorityâ€ť workshops he created with a PFLAG mother were very successful throughout Santa Clara County, except for Live Oak High School. Several students from that school complained to Ron they were still being continually harassed for their perceived sexuality. So, he took the students to an attorney in order to file a lawsuit. Six long years later, the District settled and paid the students $1.1 million (including attorney fees), the largest amount awarded to that date in such a case.
Ron closes his book with two very moving scenes: his two sons marching with him at a 2009 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, and, later, driving him to the airport to fly to Paris and his current lover. â€śHave a great time Dad! You deserve it!â€ť
I strongly recommend to all readers this moving, beautifully written story of one manâ€™s struggle for self-acceptance.