Published March 26, 2017
Copyright by The New York Times
A Bisexual Teacher in Red Country Has a Mission
By BILL VOGRIN
Avalon Manly is proud of who she is and what she represents as a feminist, bisexual, social activist, writer, artist and teacher living in the famously conservative stronghold of Colorado Springs.
And defying what she sees as an unfair image of her fellow millennials as “lazy and entitled,” Avalon, 27, works hard. She teaches at a Colorado Springs middle school. She also does “part-time pittance work” to bridge the gap between her $44,000 teaching salary, in an area with a median income of about $54,000, and her bills. She calls them “side hustles.”
“Every millennial I know has a side hustle or two,” said Avalon, who does freelance design work, editing work and writing. “I don’t know anybody who has one job and makes a living at it.”
She scrambles because she is digging out of a financial hole she created when she lost her job in 2014 and turned to credit cards to fill the gaps in her monthly budget. It’s a choice that taught her a particularly painful lesson in personal finance.
“There were months during the great season of unemployment where I would send out 15 job applications and then I would sit on the couch and have panic attacks,” she said.
Her months of “unemploycation,” as she calls it, began when she lost a teaching job just a month after making a down payment on a $162,000 townhouse. “I ran up about $9,000 on my credit cards that I couldn’t pay,” she said. Soon she was in crisis, facing a 30-year mortgage, $15,000 in student debt and her credit-card bill.
“I was really dumb,” she said, explaining how she took temporary and part-time jobs to generate income and negotiated with her bank and credit companies for relief.
“We live in this system that correlates wealth with character,” Avalon said. “If you are doing well financially, you must be a good person. And if you are doing poorly, you must be a bad person. What an unjust narrative that is.”
She might have recovered from her financial woes more quickly, but chose a lower-paying teaching job in a neighborhood with one of the lowest per-capita incomes and highest crime rates in the region, turning down more lucrative offers.
“My friends and I tend to be very activist, very passionate about people and passionate about doing meaningful work,” she said.
She admits she would fit in better in more progressive Colorado communities like Boulder or Denver, but she is committed to staying here. “My family is here,” she said, and she likes to be near them.
Avalon moved back after a three-year stint in New Orleans, where she taught in a poor public school as a member of Teach for America. And she is making no compromises as she plants roots here.
She says she will not change to blend into her upper-middle-class Briargate neighborhood, more famously known for Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family Christian ministry and the New Life Church founded by the evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, who was ousted in 2006 after admitting he paid for sex with a male prostitute and bought crystal meth.
Instead, she wants the community to adjust. “There are more of us here than people realize,” she said, adding, “We are working to change Colorado Springs.”
She is tempted to take higher-paying jobs, but says her work is too important to leave. She points to a seminar she led for new Teach for America corps members.
“We had a very real conversation about supporting queer kids,” she said. “It was hard to watch all the new teachers’ faces when we talked about the need to support queer kids in states that legislate against them.”
Bill Vogrin has worked as a reporter, editor and columnist for 35 years, primarily for The Associated Press and The Colorado Springs Gazette. He has lived in Colorado Springs since 1994.