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DUI Rehab Program, a Homophobic Joke

Judge if you will, but I am a bona fide criminal. In March I drank wine at dinner with friends and was pulled over on my way home for a broken tail light. After registering a 0.10 on the breathalyzer, I spent the next twelve hours in jail. For the next several months, my license-free life consisted of finding chauffeurs, mastering our substandard Metropolitan Transit System, paying legal fees and fines, and killing everyone’s buzz (more than once) by forgetting my passport when going out for drinks.

Drinking and driving is a serious offense that should neither be tolerated nor taken lightly, but that’s exactly what the court-ordered DUI program does. Flawed, pointless, and a hotbed of homophobia, it has nothing to do with affecting meaningful change.

Self-conscious and ego-wounded, I showed up to the first night of the program to a room of 15 other criminals. We were asked to go around the room and say our name, our blood alcohol content at our arrests, and then share about the past week. After everyone else had a turn, I was asked to tell my “story” (aka, share about the night of my arrest.)

“Hi, my name is Arlon. My Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was a point-one-O,” I said, and then everyone laughed because the lowest-ranking BAC in the entire room above mine was a 0.19. I continued, “My story is rather boring, really.” I recounted having dinner with friends, drinking wine, and then driving home.

Then, chaos and excitement ensued. Everyone in the room fired questions:

“What was jail like?”

“Did you eat?”

“Who was in there with you?”

“Were there any fights?”

And while none of the questions were inappropriate, per se, it was the mood in which they were asked that startled me. They wanted more drama and details they could laugh and joke about.

Then, the other first-timer shared her “story.” Much better than mine, she spoke for over twenty minutes about fighting with the cops, throwing up on her dress, yelling, swearing, losing her shoes; as the room roared with endorsement and glee.

Then she said it: “And there were these two LESBIANS in the cell with me!” The crowd eewed with disgust and delight. Seeing she had won admiration, the remaining 15 minutes of her time included the phrase “…and the two LESBIANS…” at least eight more times; each time bringing more eews and laughs. I have rarely felt so troubled – including the night I spent 12 hours in jail. The “counselor” did nothing to stop it.

It’s certainly disappointing that the DUI program actually has nothing to do with rehabilitating anyone or learning anything. It feels more like a statewide fundraiser- initial fees are high and the additional fees every time you have to reschedule one of the 18 mandatory sessions are $50- a little excessive in my book. Not to mention you need to do your rescheduling three months in advance.

What is even more intolerable is that homophobia exists in such subtle profusion in a state-funded counseling program. LGBT people are a joke. And it’s acceptable to laugh at us. That’s the reality. If I were to say “…and there were these two MEXICANS in jail with me,” that certainly would not be a welcome addition to anyone’s “story”.

Having just started, I have a long way to go in the program but the state has an even longer way to go in curtailing DUI (assuming that’s really the state’s objective), and we have a long way to go as a community in our fight for acceptance and equality.

Arlon Jay Staggs received his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Mississippi College in 2000 and practiced law in San Diego for as long as he could stand it. Even though Arlon is pretty much always spot-on (we’d guess about 98.6% of the time), the views expressed in his column are not necessarily the views of SDGLN.com, the Baby Jesus, or God.