Back in May, local blogger Kira knew he would be stirring up controversy when he began a local blog compiling the media coverage of West Mifflin School District Superintendent, Patrick Risha. Risha has been front and center in a controversy over renewing the contract of the girl's basketball coach which brought to light allegations that Risha administers the district from home, just the latest in a long series of political scandals from the borough that has too often seen elected officials removed from meetings by the police.
Kira, a former School District employee, began his blog to bring to light the already public information that he felt wasn't reaching the parents, tax payers and residents of West Mifflin.
“I knew about his past,” said Kira. “I wondered why he was hired.”
Risha, a former superintendent of the McKeesport and South Allegheny School Districts, has an array of supporters who sprang to his defense in the comments section. The debate took an unpleasant turn when Kira accidentallly revealed his identity when posting a document.
That's when things turned away from the facts and focused on personal attacks on Kira, an openly gay man. Comments ranged from accusing him of pedophilia, to being a scorned suitor of Risha's adult son to downloading pornography to school equipment while he was employed there. Other comments about his competency and questioning the circumstances of his departure also circulated.
Things escalated when an individual claiming to be a WM parent and teacher sent a vicious email to Kira and various Administrators in West Mifflin. “Vinn Dogg” wrote:
Children's safety is not a priority to him as his type can never have kids unless they come up with a way you can do it by mixing semen and feces. Let me go on the record to say that I for one am glad that there are no more deviant [staffers] trying to corrupt the minds of the WM students. It is comforting as a parent and teacher to know that someone with [Kira]s mental illness is no longer anywhere near our children.
It is nice to know that there is no longer a reign of deviant terror in the district. Where there once was ball gags, KY Jelly, and Village People CDs is now cutting edge hardware, the latest software and fiber optics. Yes we know that [Kira] is unfairly taking out his frustrations on you that Mr. Risha's son did not take to his sexual advances.
A second letter soon followed, after Kira posted this rant to show people exactly the extent to which Risha's defenders are willing to use completely unsubstantiated homophobic slurs to defame him. He also questioned if the inclusion of the Administrators in the email was meant to send a message that they tacitly or, perhaps explicitly, endorsed these tactics.
Looks like someone is enjoying the “wiener” Looks like this tub of crap probably spent too much time when he was at West Mifflin stuffing pizza and donuts down his pie hole while using district resources to search gay porn. Fat boy's daddy issues are pretty obvious in this picture. Maybe that is why is likes the wieners better than tacos. The power bottom in him is attributed to his daddy not loving him enough. His daddy is so disappointed in him. Daddy's little girl couldn't be a man so he looks for other guy's pee pees. Good thing you guys dumped Megan's Law [Kira] before he could pull a “[name deleted]” and sleep with a student.
Well. I must say that you typically don't see a homophobe reference a ball gag and the Village People in the same slur, but that's the only thing remotely humorous about this. Kira has also posted this email message, but I'm not optimistic that any of the Administrators included in the distribution will publicly denounce this vile attack.
The question, of course, is how gay bashing Kira supports Mr. Risha? Is it possible that the extreme tact makes the others look more reasonable and plausible? Perhaps they don't have a real defense so they use a homophobic offense?
It gets worse.
Last week, anonymous letters were sent via US Postal Service to Kira's employers (the principals in his company) and to their top clients with a litany of accusations, including his use of company resources for his blog and accusations that he was engaging in homosexual sexual online activity. His company is standing behind him at this point after investigating and determining that Kira had not jeopardized the company with his blogging. Still, how much could they tolerate? There is no right to free speech in the private workplace. He could be fired at will at any time.
What on earth motivates someone to go to this extreme? Who could be this invested in shutting down a critic of Mr. Risha? The man still has his job and the support of the School Board. He was able to leverage out the girl's basketball coach and hire his chosen replacement. He continues to have the accommodation of working from home and has pretty much withstood attacks from all sides. So why is someone hurling such venomous homophobia at Kira whose crime is simply compiling materials published by other sources?
Kira has an unfortunate choice: keep blogging & potentially lose his job or stop blogging & allow himself to be shut down by bigotry.
He hopes to “find a way to walk away knowing he accomplished something.” One hope is that GLSEN could use this to open a dialogue with the school district as someone who is claiming to be a teacher is drawing the Administration into a homophobic attack.
Looking back, Kira sighs that he never anticipated this much stress. If someone could try to have him fired, how far will they go to silence him? Of course, the unspoken question is why they feel so compelled to silence him when Mr. Risha seems to be in the driver's seat?
The personal attacks continue on a local discussion forum http://www.topix.com/forum/city/west-mifflin-pa
These homophobic tactics are absolutely reprehensible and should be repudiated by the West Mifflin School District. I went through West Mifflin schools with openly gay classmates and it was a brutal experience. It is a good bet that the WM adults posting on these forums and the comments section of the blog are my contemporaries, demonstrating that more than a few haven't grown beyond the adolescent taunting.
The step of spreading the taunting to Kira's employer is downright chilling. Who wants their boss to hear their name associated with pedophilia or ball gags? Can you envision that conversation with your supervisor?
I'm sure I'm not the only blogger in town who worries about these things (ok, I might be one of the few who would ever worry about the ball gag reference, but still …). Kira shouldn't have to stop expressing himself because homobigots are throwing everything they can at the wall and hoping some sticks to him. I've known him for decades and none of it does.
But it will. Because we are gay in a homophobic society and people panic about it. I've been told to “tone down the gay” in the workplace so it is perfectly reasonable to expect that the clients of his won't want anything to do with the vile accusations, even if they are sympathetic to his persecution.
One also has to wonder about the escalation. The written letters were allegedly sent to miscellaneous WM residents as well, with information about Kira's identity. What is the next step?
Frightening moments in the Burghosphere and some we should take heed from. Patrick Risha is a School Superintendent in a medium sized Mon Valley community. Many of us tackle much more prominent public figures and issues that strike at the heart of egos significant larger than West Mifflin. I share Kira's identity as a LGBT person, but peruse the comments at other local blogs for examples of the hatefest done wrong — 2 Political Junkies is a great example where misogyny is the weapon of choice when Maria's opinions strike the wrong note.
It can become a little ho-hum after awhile, but Kira's experiences illustrate how quickly the political can become personal.