Online Extra: Emeryville street to be named for fired trans gym teacher

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 20, 2020
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Former high school gym instructor Steve Dain. Photo: Mariette Pathy Allen
Former high school gym instructor Steve Dain. Photo: Mariette Pathy Allen

A year after the Emery school board declined to name a high school gym in honor of a trans former teacher, the Emeryville City Council decided to recognize the late instructor in another way.

The Emeryville City Council voted Tuesday to change the name of a street in front of Emery High School after Steve Dain, a trans teacher who was fired in 1976 after receiving gender confirmation surgery.

Last year's brouhaha saw the resignation of the school board president, though she maintained it was not related to the naming issue.

According to the Emeryville Tattler, the council voted unanimously May 19 to name the block of 47th Street between San Pablo Avenue and Doyle Street after Dain, who taught gym at Emery High between 1966 and 1976.

Emeryville Mayor Christian Patz attributed the school district board's 2019 decision to bigotry and in a May 20 statement to the Bay Area Reporter said "I take pride in the (city) council's decision."

"My intent is to celebrate Mr. Dain's life and accomplishments. He was a success as a teacher, in court against discrimination, and as a mentor and role model," Patz wrote in the email. "He did not focus on the school district's closed-mindedness but used it to find bigger venues for what he had to offer the world. The city of Emeryville is following his lead, once again the bigotry of the Emery School Board led to the city's decision to provide a signpost for residents, neighbors, and students at school.

"Steve Dain Drive says: be who you are, the city of Emeryville will not just accept you but celebrate your accomplishments," he added.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, Dain, a former teacher of the year, was terminated after returning from gender confirmation surgery at Stanford Medical Center in 1975.

He filed a lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by the B.A.R. and reads as a sign of the more transphobic times in which it took place: Dain attempted to keep his medical records sealed and private, but the court subpoenaed and read them during the proceedings. Dain's attorney gendered him as male in all filings, while the respondent's description of the petitioner ranged widely, defaulting to "he/she" in many places.

Dain won the lawsuit and was awarded around $19,000, as well as the cost of the suit and attorneys fees, but was unable to return to teaching. He completed a doctor of naturopathy degree in 2006, according to an obituary in the East Bay Times, but died the following year at age 68.

Last year, Dain was nominated to be the namesake of the Emery High School gymnasium and sports complex. Patz, then the vice mayor, thought at the time that renaming the gym for him would help right the school district's wrong in terminating his employment.

"It's an opportunity for visibility and inclusion," said Patz, a straight ally, contemporaneously told the B.A.R. "For the next 10 or 15 years, when people look at this building and ask who was Steve Dain, we can tell the story."

However at a school board meeting June 26 — the Wednesday before Pride was celebrated in San Francisco and many other major cities — the school board decided not to name the gym for Dain during what the B.A.R. referred to as an emotional and tense meeting.

"Steve Dain was the best candidate until other people came to the table," then-school board vice president Brynnda Collins said during the meeting. "But the nomination for Steve Dain is political. We don't want to make history or the newspapers by naming our gym. We want to make history with our test scores. The person this gym is named after needs to be a pillar of the community. It's about community, not politics."

"That's transphobia right there," Patz, who was in the audience, responded.

The school board decided to name the gym for 38-year Emery High School gym teacher and coach Elio Abrami, who died in 2018.

Then-school board president Barbara Inch, who is married to Patz, said that "the vote disappointed me more deeply than I expected." She resigned as president two days later. (Collins is now the school board's president.)

According to John Bauters, a gay man who serves as the lone LGBT member of the Emeryville City Council, Patz was instrumental in reviving efforts to honor Dain.

"Mayor Patz had the foresight to put together a small ad hoc committee of he and I to discuss ways to recognize people in our city, and the committee recommended renaming the street the gym is on and addressed at after Steve Dain last night," Bauters wrote in an email to the B.A.R. May 20. "I am honored to serve on a council as an openly LGBTQ person like the city of Emeryville with colleagues who are straight, cisgender allies like Mayor Patz, who understand what living your true life means to people in our community and who are not afraid to speak up for us."

According to the Tattler, Bauters was upset over the school district's "refusal" to make amends over Dain's termination. A school board member who voted for renaming the gym in favor of Dain in 2019 phoned in a supportive comment during the virtual city council meeting.

The renaming still needs to go through two more hurdles — an official vote in a future meeting, followed by a street sign replacement vote, the Tattler reported.

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