Standing with Sasha and Against Bigotry

December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


By a reader in the San Francisco, Bay Area

Oakland, California.  On a public bus ride home from high school one afternoon in early November, Luke “Sasha” Fleischman was catching a little nap. Sasha woke up on fire! Was there a terrible accident with the fuel tank of the bus rupturing and spilling flammable liquid through the bus which subsequently lighted—a terrible disaster? No. Another human being set the sleeping 18-year-old Sasha on fire, then got off the bus and ran. Sasha struggled to put out the fire but wasn’t able to. Passengers rushed to help and put out the fire, saving Sasha’s life. Sasha’s skirt had been set ablaze which caused second-and third-degree burns to Sasha’s legs which means months of surgery, skin grafts, etc. Sasha was just released from the hospital this past week and will continue to need treatment for some time.

Students at Maybeck High School in Berkeley wear skirts on Friday Nov. 8, 2013 to support 18-year-old classmate Luke "Sasha" Fleischman, who was set on fire by another student. Photo: AP/Bay Area News Group, Doug Oakley)

Sasha’s gender orientation is agender, or gender neutral—Sasha doesn’t identify as male or female.

There was an immediate outpouring of support for Sasha from Sasha’s friends and the community around Maybeck High School in Berkeley, California where Sasha is a senior. Maybeck is a small, private, college preparatory high school that tries to make room for all forms of diversity in its student body. Support also came from the school that Sasha’s alleged attacker attends, Oakland High School. OHS is the oldest public high school in Oakland, with a student body that is 96% Black, Latino, and Asian. Some of the students come from middle class families and many more come from the poorer neighborhoods of such as East Oakland and the Fruitvale district. Students there are very familiar with police brutality and at times have walked out to protest murders by the police, such as the murder of Oscar Grant and others. Some students also walked out in the past in protest against the war in Iraq.

Sasha got some tentative support from the family of the alleged attacker, too. But up to this point there has been little discussion of Sasha’s attacker’s motivation. Only a short police statement saying that the attacker admitted to police that he is homophobic, which the youth’s attorney now says was coerced from his client.

Where did this idea come from that anyone who doesn’t appear “normal” should be attacked? Because he/she doesn’t appear in step with the traditional norms of society, he/she should be burned? We don’t know the motivation of the high school student who attacked Sasha. But we do know that attacks on gay and transgender people (LGBT in general) are increasing, including murder.*

A San Francisco Chronicle article quoted Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay Straight Alliance Network saying that “I was horrified by what Sasha had gone through, but I was heartened by the I was struck by the dissonance. It’s that jarring contrast between support and rejection that presents a larger message about where we are as a culture.” The article went on to say, “few would dispute that gender nonconformity is taking a more prominent place in culture. More than 60 percent of public high schools in California have gay-straight alliance clubs on campus...”

In a dramatic and wonderfully defiant action, pretty much the whole student body of Maybeck HS (including faculty and staff) had a “Skirts for Sasha” day, which was colorful, stylish, and lots of fun. Oakland HS students have raised over $1,300 for Sasha, are wearing “NO H8” buttons and had made “Be Yourself” signs. In addition, they have held speak outs, and an anti-bullying assembly was held at the school. Students at Maybeck HS, Oakland HS and others organized a “Stroll for Sasha” march originating at Oakland HS and following the route of the 57 bus which Sasha was riding when attacked. These are great developments and need to be applauded, actively supported—and built on.


*See report of National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs 2012, page 58 and elsewhere.

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