Teacher Learns There’s a Thin Line Between ‘Lesbian Love Affair’ & Assault Charges. Also: Muppets, Guitars & Puppies!


Yesterday we posted a new DIY series “YourSpace” where Laneia gives excellent DIY tips for your home, dorm, apartment, workspace, or treehouse!

Wednesday we dropped our Fall Music Preview ’09: Where Crystal and Emily discuss hotly anticipated releases from La Roux, Tegan & Sara, Basement Jaxx, Jay-Z and more.

The Tuesday Televisionary was all about True Blood Ending Underwhelmingly, Glee Beginning Showmantically, and Hot Girls Outlasting the VMAs.

Check out our Fall Preview 2009 Guide to see what’s happened and what you can look forward to!

The Fall coverage thus far includes: Fall Books, Fall TV, The Fall Excitantcy Matrix and the Biggest Event of Fall — The National Equality March.

Yesterday’s Fix features Ilene Chaiken, Debt Collectors, High School Principals, EllDrew, Lady Gaga & Homophobic Actors Defy Expectations.

KELLY CLARKSON: Last night Kelly Clarkson & Melissa Etheridge performed together at the VHI Divas, singing “Somebody Bring Me Some Water,” it was hot and totally gay. Also, Paula Abdul dressed up as Ellen, I suppose to make fun of Ellen taking her spot on Idol, and I don’t know, the world has just been really weird lately.

SEX, LIES, AND GENDER: National Geographic’s new documentary, Sex, Lies, and Gender, is very timely and very compelling. Watch the replay on Saturday, then make someone close-minded and ignorant watch it. Change the world, etc. [Laneia says: “Saw this Tuesday night — loved it. <3 Josie!”]

THREE RIVERS: Look it’s a Kate Moennig interview!!!

Not a good day for lesbians and those posing as lesbians in the scandalous crimey part of the newspaper …

TEACHER-STUDENT LESBIAN AFFAIR: In The Toronto Star’s report of a teacher-student lesbian love affair (@The Star) we learn that 39-year-old Leslie Merlino’s track towards her now-ruined career began three years ago when she began her relationship with a then 17-year old student (16 is the age of consent, unless the assaulter is in “a position of trust or authority.”) Merlino pled guilty to common assault in ’06 — the girl herself did not press charges (we assume her parents did) — for stroking the girl’s hair during a class trip to Europe, an action which apparently kick-started the relationship. By all accounts, Merlino was one of the best teachers at her school. Edge Boston asked:  Was it indeed a tragic tale of doomed love? Or an inexcusable violation of a teacher’s sacred trust to maintain proper boundaries with a young person in her charge? Or both?

Well. After Merlino pled guilty to The Hairstroking Incident and cinched her spot on the Ontario Sex Registry for the next 20 years, the student then re-initiated the affair herself (@edgeboston) despite Merlino being ordered to stay away from her. There’s no excuse, of course, for teachers to have relationships with teenage students, Merlino’s at fault, and we also don’t doubt the 17-year-old was in love.  The Star reports that the girl, now 20, has written the following in her “25 Things About Me” on Facebook (sidenote: love it when old media tries to incorporate facebook into its journalism): “Sometimes, I freak out, that I made a mistake. And I shouldn’t be with the person I’m with. Other times, I don’t know how we’ve managed to spend so much time apart.”

But, to address Edge Boston’s question, there’s just a few things about the treatment of the case in The Star‘s article that seem off to us.

Many argue that female offenders get lighter sentences than men, which they claim an unfair double standard — but, when the “victim” is above the age of consent, how do we apply “politically correct” gender-blind laws to a politically incorrect incredibly gendered reality? A few key differences between this case and similar cases with a male teacher: First, the physical male body poses threats to a young female which an adult female body cannot, opening the door for a stronger consideration of fear-tactics and manipulation when considering the male teacher’s effect on a female student. Secondly, a female teenager can, presumably, date male teenagers rather than male teachers. Of course, a female teenager under the law isn’t assumed to have agency regardless of the teacher’s gender. But a young gay woman who doesn’t know any other gay women and who’s parents clearly don’t approve? Perhaps it’s not only her teacher putting her between a rock & a hard place, but society itself.

What do you think, are we crazy to desire nuance here or wonder if there’s more to the story than meets the eye? Here’s a similar case.

PERV POSES AS LESBIAN: Oh yeah then also this man poses as cancer-stricken 18-year-old lesbian to lure girls on social networking websites to give him photos for his spank bank. Yeah, really. That actually happened.

YES!: Can A Man Be A Feminist? “So, can they? Can men be effective advocates for feminism? Given that men are voters, bosses, dads, teachers, friends, and partners, and that they still have more than their share of influence over policy in this country, we better hope the answer is yes.” (@jezebel)

VOTE: Primary Results Show Progress for Gay Candidates, in New York City. That’s good that’s how we can start taking over the world and stealing babies!

HANDS UP: Our Lesbian Jane Castor to become Tampa’s first Female Police Chief! Unfortunately she’s not on that Policewoman of Browwhipped County or whatevr show. Also, LGBT and women’s activist Glenda Testone Named Executive Director Of NYC LGBT Community Center, she’s the first lady to take the post!

Look! Gays give it another shot at So You Think You Can Dance:

POETRY: Friend of Autostraddle, Carissa Halston is kicking off her Portraiture Tour. Do you wanna hear this cute girl read poetry and stories to you? The answer is Yes, trust me. Go read some of her work online and click here to see if she’s coming to a nearby city! Tell her Autostraddle sent ya!

GAGA Kermit the Frog: I’m Not Dating Lady Gaga “Actually, no actual amphibians were harmed in the making of that frog coat. … As for what she was wearing to the VMAs – I was just happy it wasn’t made from anyone I recognized.”

And finally. thank god it’s friday! here are some puppies!


Auto-Straddler of the Day


The bcw award for bcw: on Ilene Chaiken, Debt Collectors, High School Principals, EllDrew, Lady Gaga & Homophobic Actors Defy Expectations: Daily Fix: bcw-comment
And We Still Don’t Know What This Has to Do With Polio Crutches
from Erin on Ladies Dominate MTV VMAs & Lady Gaga Wears Many Outfits, Ellen & Drew Bring Their Special Friendship to Toronto: Daily Fix:
polio crutches.
does anyone else get the sense that lady gaga never lasts through the morning? like is incredible in bed, knows exactly when to stop cuddling, maybe scratches your back until you fall asleep and is never seen or heard from again?

Sapphicsass Can See the Future, on Lesbians Dress Up for Lohanless C.Ronson Shows, Soccer Babe Festivals & Online Dating – Sunday Funday Daily Fixin response to music companies suing Ellen for using their music on her show:
What’s next? I’ll tell you… God is going to start suing those girls who are flashing for violating copyright laws. He’s going to go all… “hey, those boobies are my property because I made them so you can’t show them without my permission” on everybody. What is this world coming to? SHEESH.

carly-icon2from Carly:
Apartment Therapy has some beautiful letterpress alphabet posters for your perusal.

alex-iconfrom Alex:
Francoise Nelly‘s massive and brightly colored portraits are a real treat for your eyeballs. She has a video on her site showing how she makes one of her paintings using only a painting knife. I’m jealous. She’s kind of brill, only referencing a black and white photo to create her pieces.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3184 articles for us.


  1. Personally, I am going to be at Carissa Halston’s performance in NYC tonight. With or without pants. You should come too.

  2. I love the Francoise Nelly paintings. They make me wish I could do portraits. They also make me wish I could afford to buy one.

    • After being unable to stop looking at her paintings during each of my numerous visits to her website, I can honestly say that I really, really like Francoise Nelly

  3. I am so SO excited about Glennda Testone becoming the executive director at the Center! I was an intern there last year and I think it is so awesome to have a young out female directing the program even though I am no longer there to be apart of it.

    also slightly random but the old ED of the Center is now heading up a program called the Arcus Foundation. Here is their mission:

    “The mission of the Arcus Foundation is to achieve social justice that is inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity and race, and to ensure conservation and respect of the great apes.”

    Great apes as in monkeys?! Listen I am all for respecting and conserving monkeys but why and how did this happen!? I know this is random and not really related to the daily fix, I just needed other people to be aware of this because it is blowing my mind. thank you.

  4. lady gaga put on polio crutches in her vma performance, took like one step and then dropped them. surprisingly that was the weirdest part for me!

    couple of things on the teacher story: one– “In a Facebook note “25 things about me” get it together, The Star. two–is 18 the age of consent when one is in a position of authority? (similarly, how does the law define a “position of trust”, slap bracelets?) and three–if 18 is the age of consent in this situation, i want to think this is being approached from an unbiased, purely law-based standpoint. lines were crossed, presumably before they were supposed to, and action was taken.

    the only thing that seems off here is the sexual exploitation charge that lead to her recent 12-month probation. at this point the girl is 18, so the breach of probation and failure to comply with a court order make sense, but the sexual exploitation charge should be unenforceable now.

    • Disclaimer I watch a lot of Law and Order, where I’ve probs got a bizarre perspective on things largely based on Dick Wolf rather than actual life, but it seems whenever a girl over 16 wants to charge a man with a sexual crime, her unwillingness to testify becomes a major roadblock to the case.

      I think the question I had was would this case have gone this far if it had been a male teacher with a female student or a male student with a female teacher? Not because those situations are more condoned by society, but b/c the only motivation of the parents in those cases would be to protect their children from potential harm, rather than to protect their children from potential harm and from homosexuality.

      Considering Merlino didn’t use her position of power to seduce the student, nor was she the student’s teacher at the time … and the relationship seemed to have gone on, with the exception of a few months, after the girl graduated …

      Clearly the student did not press charges herself, so someone else made that choice — Obvs in cases where the students are WAY under the traditional age of consent — Mary Kay Letourneau’s affair with her sixth-grade male student, for example — charges are often brought even if the victim is unwilling to testify.

      Undoubtedly what she did was wrong and was clearly punishable under the law, I’m just not sure anyone would’ve been motivated to push this case to that extent if sexuality wasn’t at stake.

      • i agree, i’m sure the (parents) intentions weren’t based completely ‘in the name of justice.’ but i think there is something else at play that makes it hard for us to get a clear read on the sitch: people go absolutely nuts for cases that deal with “underage” victims. they immediately villianize and victimize the parties without any concern for circumstances or subtleties. so i sort of hope that’s what’s going on here. puppies! dreams! cotton candy!

  5. I have many feelings about the teacher story. I’m really reminded of when I took My Conservative Male Friend TM to see the Vagina Monologues, and we got to the end of the “coochie snorcher” one where the maybe sixteen-year-old girl is taken under the wing of a beautiful older woman and has awesome sexy times. And when the lights went up at the end, My Male Friend asked “So that was rape, right? She was too young, and that was wrong.” And I was so torn, because a 26-year-old sleeping with a 16-year-old is really weird and not okay and rape does exist and it would be lying to say our community is immune to these things and I didn’t want to give him the impression that gays are so sexually deviant that anything goes! But at the same time, it was so clear to me that this was a good and affirming and empowering experience for that girl.
    In the same way, it’s hard for me to believe that this relationship was really all that harmful or nonconsensual for the student involved. You know? Ah I’m conflicted

    • That’s really funny as I was looking for info on this situation I came across a message board where people were talking about how the vagina monologues was condoning ‘lesbian rape’ b/c of that specific monologue.
      I actually know a lot of gay girls and boys who’d been involved with older same-sex lovers while in high school & enjoyed it, just like in that monologue! And I also don’t want to be like “anything goes with the gays!” as you said. Maybe I’m distracted by this other point; that I wonder if sometimes we get so swept up in our gender equality aims that we ignore the truth of men having more physical & social power over women & the fact of a penis, and the fact that in cases where the “victim” refuses to identify as such or press charges; a straight female might have other romantic options (boys her own age) meaning it’s more likely her alleged consent is somehow not authentic for emotional rather than societal reasons. I guess w/r/t ‘age of consent’, we’re saying anyone under 16 can’t make responsible choices.But ’cause it was her teacher, the age of consent is raised to 18, to account for the potential of abuse of power on the teacher’s behalf … but was that a part of it here? The teacher has a clean record and was well-loved (miraculous in and of itself for a butch lesbian teacher!) in the school. If anything I think she’s kinda being a sleazebag to snag this hot young thing for sure …. but I don’t know if that warrants a sex offender register? Also The Star article was like E! True Hollywood story about it, the tone just annoyed me.

      • I think it also plays on this latent stereotype we have of the Predatory Older Lesbian. Like, I think this is what mainstream culture wants to believe about adult lesbian women, that they are desperate and a little unhinged somehow and also sexually predatory in a way that we usually think of straight men as being. Madeleine L’Engle was one of my favorite authors as a kid/teenager, but in A House Like A Lotus she has this older lesbian who makes a pass at the young, vulnerable, straight protagonist and I was so upset I had to put the book down. I’m not sure if this is making sense, but anyways I think that is part of what that article is about and also where the “E! True Hollywood” feel comes from.

        • That’s so true. When I was in middle school, we had this kinda butch older lesbian gym teacher. She was totally sweet and I was one of her fav students obvs. She was also really obsessed with calligraphy and used to write our names with pretty letters on the back of our gym uniforms. Anyway, people would always say that she was “hitting on us” b/c she was probably a… LESBIAN! I would always take the role of awkwardly explaining that just because she was most definitely a lesbian, it didn’t make her a pedophile. I feel like people just have a tendency to view adult lesbians as predatory and after (straight) girls and this totes needs to change.

  6. Ok, here are my thoughts/feelings about the case. Also, I have to preface this statement by saying that I too have been swayed/corrupted/enlightened by Law & Order SVU and Loving Anabelle, which may or may not have changed the way I think about sexual predators/ hot lesbians. Ok… so as much as I wholeheartedly believe that two people from significantly different age brackets can be in love, I also know that the larger the age gap… the larger the power struggle and variance in emotional maturity. Sure, I think it’s possible for a student and teacher to be in love without coercion, but that brings me to the argument of what coercion consists of. Is it possible to be coerced without even knowing it? A teacher will always have an amount of power over a student whether it is physically exerted or not. Also, the emotional maturity necessary to form healthy attachments and make healthy decisions is shaky in one’s formative years. Just being in a relationship or expressing the desire to do so with a person in their formative years creates a pull that a young person may or may not be able to choose to give in to or resist.

    So… my conclusion is that I am in no position as to say whether the teacher was WRONG, but I can say that I don’t think it’s HEALTHY. A young person needs to be allowed to fully develop their emotional maturity before being able to choose whether or not they would enter into a relationship with a person of authority. Just because you know you have the option to say no, doesn’t mean you actually have the ability to say no.

    • Oh yeah I actually fully agree that the age difference here is HUGE and in my opinion a serious potential problem for a healthy relationship, but I feel if anything now the girl is going to be more entrenched in it then she would’ve been if the people closest to her hadn’t persecuted her relationship through the courts. Now she has to deal with being responsible for the teacher being fired too, I’m sure their relationship is all kinds of fucked up, I can’t even imagine, but it wouldn’t have been punishable under the law if it had started only a few months later. I might just be playing devil’s advocate here, I can’t decide.

  7. Yay for puppies!!!! I don’t know what’s cuter… the puppies or the adorable little voices in the background that I pretended were coming out of the puppies’ mouths.

  8. Honestly, haven’t given much thought to male feminists; however, I was a tad peeved in high school when the NOW president and VP were guys. LOL.

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